REAMDE by Neal Stephenson

Book Quote:

“…what mattered very much to Richard was what an imaginary dwarf would encounter once he hefted a virtual pick and began to delve into the side of a mountain. In a conventional video game, the answer was literally nothing. The mountain was just a surface, thinner than paper Mache, with no interior. But in Pluto’s world, the first bite of the shovel would reveal underlying soil, and the composition of that soil would reflect its provenance in the seasonal growth and decay of vegetation and the saecular erosion of whatever was uphill of it, and once the dwarf dug through the soil he would find bedrock, and the bedrock would be of a particular mineral composition. It would be sedimentary or igneous or metamorphic, and if the dwarf were lucky it might contain usable quantities of gold or silver or iron ore.”

Book Review:

Review by Bill Brody  (SEP 30, 2011)

Neal Stephenson’s ReaMde, a play on words for the ReadMe file that accompanies many computer programs, is above all a wild adventure/detective story set in the present day. As one would expect from this author, current technology features prominently. The cast of characters is international, offering windows into such diverse types as Russian gangsters, Chinese hackers, American entrepreneurs, Idaho survivalists and second amendment fanatics among many others. A video game, T’Rain, is central to the tale. Most of the characters are addicted to the game; much of the detection is done by playing the game or by mining the data kept by the game. ReaMde as a story is something like a prolonged session of T’Rain. T’Rain is a play on words for terrain.

Reamde is a computer virus that hijacks data by encrypting it so it is unreadable. Victims get a computer message including a file named ReaMde, that they mistakenly read as ReadMe. ReadMe files are text files with important how-to information and are commonly bundled with downloaded computer programs. The victim opens the file, but instead of getting a text message with useful information, they activate the virus. The victim is told that they must pay a ransom in virtual currency within the T’Rain game in order to receive the encryption key that will free their data. The virtual currency is worth a fairly inconsequential sum in real money, something like $75. The action starts as a consequence to Reamde hijacking credit card data that has been sold to Russian gangsters. The gangsters kidnap the seller and his girlfriend, who just happens to be the niece of the founder of T’Rain, the computer game in which the ransom must be paid.

T’Rain is a game played on the Internet with thousands, maybe millions of players at any given time. The game play consists of the interaction of this massive cast of characters in an incredibly detailed world. ReaMde is played out in much the same way with a very large cast of fascinating characters. They include:

Richard Forthrat, billionaire founder of Corporation 9592, the parent company of the computer game, T’Rain, a game distinguished by the incredible richness of its simulation of an entire world, its underlying physics and 4.5 billion year geophysical history;
Zula, his niece, an Eritrean refugee with a specialty doing computer simulations of the geophysics of volcanoes, a skill she is employed to use to enhance the virtual richness of T’Rain; Ivanov, the Russian gangster who purchased the credit card data from Zula’s boyfriend and kidnaps the two to start off the adventure; CIA and M16 operatives, gun nuts, fundamentalists of all stripes from Christian survivalists to Islamic jihadists.

The story flows remarkably smoothly for all its complexity, and is immensely readable. All the ends tie together and the action never flags, just like an addictive video game. This is a great entertainment for anyone in tune with modern computer technology, gaming or just plain interested in a good adventure story. One wonders how an entire world’s physics could be simulated in such a game. The story itself is like the computer game that is itself a part of the story, raising the idea of recursive games within games. How could a game with such virtual complexity be supported? This is the only part of the tale that is science fiction in that even the much simpler complexity of atmospheric or ocean physics is beyond the reach of current technology.

ReaMde is like a video game, and recalls the serialized adventure stories from the pulp era with its intensely interconnected series of adventures and adventurers. The characters are all fascinating. They each embody an adventurer or geek type possessing exceptional luck, physical and/or technical prowess. Each spin of the adventure dial is within the realm of possibility, but there is no sense that this is realism. What we have is great escapist literature with a gaming twist. In short, just about perfect for the geek-gamer audience.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 508 readers
PUBLISHER: William Morrow (September 20, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bill Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Neal Stephenson
EXTRAS: Excerpt


The Baroque Cycle


Written as Stephen Bury (with his uncle J. Fredrick George):

September 30, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Allegory/Fable, China, Scifi, Thriller/Spy/Caper, US Northwest, y Award Winning Author

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