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Stray thoughts on Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE

A few weeks ago I finished reading REAMDE, the latest novel by renowned 700-page plus author Neal Stephenson. I’d read one or two Baroque Cycle books and Anathem is one of my favorite books of the last ten years or so and was the reason why I sought his other works. The basic premise of REAMDE is that a famous (fictional) MMO acts as a conduit for real-world money making for both the game publisher and its dedicated “gold miners”, kids who keep the game economy running. It’s all a bit hazy now that it’s been sufficiently long enough for me to forget a lot of details, but the parties involved in the plot comprise of rogue Russian mafia members (whose villain roles are almost hilariously, ludicrously replaced by extremist Muslims) and key employees of the game publishing company, including the founder himself.

Anyway this isn’t a review of the novel, although I will say that it was absorbing albeit not as engaging or as profound as Anathem (which if you haven’t read I really recommend that you do). I just wanted to present two main issues I had with REAMDE that kind of soured my enjoyment of it overall. The first is to do with the immersiveness of the MMO itself. Understandably, a lot of the plot is moved forward by the actions of the game’s founder (why can’t I remember the name of the goddamn game?) who uses his avatar to interact with other characters who also use the game in other parts of the world. However, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the “file/folder explorer” section in Michael Crichton’s Disclosure, which was made worse by the Michael Douglas movie of the same name. Case in point. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it feels a little contrived and perhaps a little limiting in terms of scope. But that’s just the technology used in the story, I mean of course it’s going to play a major part. Segueing to my second issue, which is, how well will REAMDE hold up for readers, say, twenty, even ten years from now? While a lot of the plot points will always hold relevance and won’t at all feel anachronistic, I just think that the online multiplayer bit just might feel a little.. hokey.

On the other hand, this book may serve as a time capsule, of sorts. A glimpse (more than a glimpse, really) of what MMOs were like back in the day. I personally don’t have the patience, time or wallet for subscription-based games like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars or EVE, but I do have a passing knowledge of how they work. Similarly for those who don’t, at least REAMDE implicitly informs those who don’t get it what all the fuss is about. What it all boils down to is that I guess I like my novels not to have such a dependence on tech that will eventually be completely archaic or redundant.

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