Reamde by Neal Stephenson (2011)
(Warning: this review contains potential spoilers; don’t read the second paragraph if you don’t want to know any of the plot points ahead of time.)
Reamde is a tremendously satisfying epic (I don’t use the word lightly here), with a tightly-woven plot encompassing multi-player online role-playing games, Russian mobsters, Al Queda terrorists, MI6 agents, and Christian militia freemen. The plot moves at a breathless pace, from Canada to Seattle to China, back to Canada and into the wilds of Idaho, with an international cast of characters so well-drawn that you find yourself rooting for all of them (well, except the terrorists).
Richard “Dodge” Forthrast is the creator of the MMORPG T’Rain, which has eclipsed World of Warcraft as the most successful game of its genre. A former draft-dodger and marijuana smuggler, Richard has amassed a fortune and lives in a cat skiing resort in British Columbia, which he also owns. Connecting with his adopted Eritrean niece Zula at a family reunion, Richard offers her a job with the T’Rain organization, and Zula and her boyfriend Peter travel to Canada to visit him. Unbeknownst to Zula, Peter has entered into a criminal enterprise involving stolen credit card numbers; when he borrows a flash drive from Richard, he unwittingly infects his contact’s computer with the REAMDE virus. Created by Chinese hackers to hold virtual gold for ransom in the T’Rain landscape (which can be converted to real-world wealth), the virus has locked the files with the credit card numbers, rendering them inaccessible. Peter’s contact is working for the Russian mob, and before they can figure a way to release the files, his bosses come looking for him. They kill him and take Peter and Zula hostage, flying them to China to find the hackers responsible for the virus. They manage to locate the hackers in an apartment complex, but Zula, in an act of compassion, misdirects the mobsters to the apartment upstairs, which happens to be harboring an Al Queda terrorist cell headed by a Welshman named Abdallah Jones. Following a firefight that destroys the building, Jones escapes with Zula in tow as his hostage. From there he hijacks the Russians’ plane and flies under the radar to Canada, as Zula’s new friends and allies attempt to follow and effect her rescue.
If this sounds outlandish, it is; however, the writing is so seamless that it all seems perfectly reasonable on the page (at least to me). By turns terrifically funny and absolutely harrowing, this is one of Stephenson’s finest works to date. Don’t be put off by the thickness of the book; you’ll find yourself deeply involved with the characters and completely absorbed in the pulse-pounding action right up to the (satisfying) end.
By B at the Main