I like Neal Stephenson’s books. Really. How much? I’ve been reading him since the original release of The Big U in 1984. By the time he hit it big (deservedly so) with Snow Crash I was already a fan. I’ve read almost all his books, including the two he did with his uncle as Stephen Bury. So this June I finally got Reamde from the library. All 1044 pages of it.
By late July I had read maybe 300 pages. The problem was that the physical hardcover was so big and heavy that I couldn’t carry it around (I tried on a few occasions) and thus my reading time in transit was severely cut. In late July I bought the trade paperback (there is no mass market paperback to date). Still bulky, it was manageable and I finally finished it a month later.
What a disappointment. It’s an utterly pedestrian thriller that is tricked out with more detail than is necessary, perhaps because Stephenson realized it was essentially a shaggy dog story going nowhere. Where his other books take us deep into worlds that may or may not exist, this was entirely superficial. If it was about internet gaming or the Russian mafia or jihadi terrorists, it would have been interesting. Instead we get information here and there on these subjects while also giving us lengthy discourses on Chinese office buildings, South Pacific shipping, and detailed descriptions of terrain that, in an afterword, he tells us may be mostly or entirely fictional.
What this book needed was an editor who would have gone after this bloated manuscript with a cleaver. Perhaps then he would have realized how uninteresting most of the characters are and how the story is essentially spinning wheels until the overlong showdown with those that survive. Oh yes, not only do we spend a lot of time getting to know characters who are killed off early on, but several of the major players aren’t even introduced until three hundred pages in.
I’ll come back to Stephenson sometime. I still have to finish his “Baroque Cycle” trilogy after all, but after wasting the summer on Reamde I won’t be coming back soon.