Capsule review of REAMDE for Stephenson trufans (even though we've all read it already by now): more Cryptonomicon than Anathem.
And here's what that means: REAMDE is a real-world international thriller, smart, topical, and precise. It's very much an ensemble novel, with an ever-shifting cast of characters, but everything stems from one central relationship between Richard Forthrast--a middle-aged techie who's turned a marijuana-smuggling past into a lucrative post at the helm of a MMORPG called T'Rain--and his niece Zula, adopted from war-savaged Eritrea as a child, raised by salt-of-the-earth Iowans, and in a doomed romance with Peter, a hacker whose shady dealings with the Russian mob lead to chaos. The book's title is the [sic] filename of a Chinese-gold-farmer-written virus, which hold its victims' data hostage until they pay up--not by Western Union or briefcase of cash, but within the sword-and-sorcery world of T'Rain itself, a scheme that plunges that universe into similar upheaval as IRL.
There's actually several more layers of complexity and intrigue to REAMDE's 1000-page narrative (including an absolutely hilarious rivalry between the two fantasy authors responsible for T'Rain's backstory), but I insist on some of them remaining surprises. I can tell you that the book never feels long. Stephenson writes action with fluid intensity, as assuredly in a wilderness gunfight as between magic-wielding avatars online. And he does a better job that any adult novel I've read in portraying people whose lives take place as much on the Internet as in "meatspace"--and the panic of being forced into pure analog existence--without dismissing them as freaks or shut-ins. To me (who's writing this review longhand due to a laptop power supply's demise), it's an instantly recognizable division of mental resources. It might be heavy to carry onto a plane or a train (unless you've a non-evil e-reader, of course), but REAMDE is solidly built to delight the action-movie-loving D&D nerd in all of us.