Sunday, October 02, 2011

Book Review: Reamde

OK, I'm a HUGE Neal Stephenson fan. It's been three years since his last novel, and I was pretty, pretty, pretty excited to see a new one in the book store.  I've read all his books (save "The Big U" which has eluded me so far), and "Snow Crash" and "Anathem" both are among my favorites*. So when his newest, "Reamde" (no, it's not a typo) came out, I was on it** immediately. I tore through it (all 1000 pages) in a few days, and it was both great AND a disappointment.

At his best, Stephenson is a whirlwind of action and big thoughts -- "Anathem" is as much about the Platonic theory of ideals as it is about a first encounter with aliens, "Snow Crash" mixes Sumerian mythology, swordplay and a pre-Matrix Matrix and "The Baroque Cycle" covers the discovery of calculus, monetary theory, metallurgy, alchemy*** and some cryptology to keep you on your toes***. But "Reamde" is more of a straight-up techno thriller. The characters are Stephenson's usual mix of naïveté and extreme competence*****, but the ideas that keep you engaged when not reading are much further apart (aside from his ideas on using MMORPGs to solve real-world problems).

So, is it possible to be disappointed in a book I repeatedly stayed up til 2am reading? That's the problem with following up a great effort -- it happened with Barbara Kingsolver after "The Poisonwood Bible", M. Night Shyamalan after "The Sixth Sense", George Lucas after "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (I thought his movies from "Return of the Jedi" until "Revenge of the Sith" were, at best, meh), and Ricky Gervais after the "The Office" to name a few. Creating greatness is tough; repeating it is a bitch. 

The Verdict: 8 (out of 10).

* To be honest, "The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" and "Cryptonomicon" aren't far behind, either.
** Like Oprah on the proverbial ham
*** Did you know Isaac Newton spent his last 30 years investigating alchemy, specifically looking for the Philosopher's Stone? I'll bet your math and physics teachers never mentioned THAT 
**** To be fair, he had 3 really large books to do all this 
***** Pretty much the exact opposite of Belgian Beer Fest organizers

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