Monday, May 19, 2014

It's all about the details, but maybe there are too many details here

The first time I read Reamde I happened to take it to a computer security meeting that I attend each month. If you're familiar with Stephenson or with computer security geeks (read: hackers) then you won't be surprised that a lot of people noticed the book and wanted to know my thoughts on it. The group was well-read when it came to Stephenson but most of them hadn't seen this particular novel before - I let them know that it was generally good but not as heavy on the math as some of his novels are. I was a little surprised by the fact that most of the people there who had read the novel didn't like it; they seemed fine with the technical information, but bored with the story.

I think I dismissed some of their brush-offs as gender-based because one of the guys (but only one) told me that he just couldn't get behind a story where the main character was a tough woman (I think that may have been the last time that I spoke to that particular guy) and I may have projected some of that attitude on the rest of the group, which was tremendously unfair of me because now that I've re-read the book a couple of times I think that it mostly gets dismissed because it's so fucking long.

Now, yes, this is a Stephenson novel and Stephenson doesn't even get out of bed in the morning unless the book he's working on can be used as a doorstop for a Gothic cathedral so no one should be startled to find out that it's about a thousand pages. But they might be a bit startled by how slow some of it goes.

The book is full of complex characters all of whom do interesting things, but it's also full of the travel itineraries of those characters and gives the reader a play-by-play of some characters playing a MMORPG. I'm unwilling to watch people play video games (and even most sports) in the real world - translating these things into a fictional universe doesn't make them anymore interesting, which is problematic because a huge portion of the narrative requires the reader to understand a fictional universe within the book's fictional universe. And the travel bits are just odd - for the most part Stephenson is pretty good at making it interesting when characters move from one place to another, but in this case it's just as frustrating to be in the backseat for a six-hour drive in the novel as it would be on the Ten from LA to Phoenix. I don't get it.

In spite of these issues, the meat of the story is good and I actually really enjoy a lot of what's going on in the book; I just got a little bored here and there, but not enough to keep me from skimming those sections and having fun with the rest of the novel.

     - Alli

Stephenson, Neal. Reamde. Harper Collins Publishing. New York: New York. 2011.

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