Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE

Lately I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE (no, that’s not a typo). At a little over 1,000 pages mark, it’s not for the faint of heart. I once tried to read his Hugo award winning Anathema, and didn’t get far… so I thought I’d give Stephenson another attempt, given that he is a popular author.

In one of the WritingExcuses podcasts they mention Stephenson and say that you either love him or hate him. I can understand why they say that… and at this point I still sitting on the fence in the undecided category. Perhaps I have not been reading it closely enough, but to me it seems as though he goes off on tangents to explore his world-building a little more than most. Hence why, you either love him or you hate him. (For example in describing the fictional computer game in the book T’Rain, he spends about 3 pages discussing the controversy around the placement of the hyphen). I’ll admit there are a few points where I have started to skip the occasional entire paragraphs…

Having said that, and not just because of its mass but the book does have a gravity of its own. I put the book down to go and do something else, and then find myself sitting straight back down and re-opening the book. Repeatedly. For hours. From this I can only conclude that it does have some attractional powers over me. (Granted I am a nerd and a closet gamer, so the subject matter is up my alley).

Some of the word choice is excellent. For example:

“Black Friday shoppers trying to force-feed their vehicles into the parking lot.” p29.

I’ll never enter a busy carpark again without thinking of this line. Well, at least until I forget it anyway. The imagery is superb though.

“He fired up the car’s onboard GPS device and began coping with its user interface.” p29.

The choice of the word coping is really good. He’s not just using it, he’s coping with it. That tells us either a) he’s not tech savvy, or b) the user interface is poor/not friendly. (Option a) is fantastic, for option b) I’d use something else like “He winced at the ugly user interface and entered his destination quickly to banish the ugliness from his life”).

“It [the cabin] was currently occupied by the wreckage of its own roof.” p31

Now, different strokes for different folks. I could understand if some people find this language flowery and don’t like it. It does cause you to read the sentence twice I think to understand it… but having said that I appreciate the flair with which it is done.

He [the boyfriend] seemed like a barnacle on Zula [the girlfriend].” p55

Nice imagery, but now that I look at it again I wonder if perhaps the level of presumed knowledge to appreciate it may be too high? I guess it depends on the target demographics of the book. But ultimately the author is free to write whatever they can get past their publisher, and sometimes I think books are supposed to be an educational force. (I love reading books that occasionally make me google word definitions).

[A meeting scenario with several people] “Like a tank rotating its turret, he swung to aim at Devin.” p63.

Oh, I think I’ve been in plenty of meetings like that.

“His ring hand was anchored by a fat gold signet ring.” p68

Again, I liked the imagery in this. On second reading though it is a hard sentence to read, especially given it is only introducing a minor character.

“When he looked at Zula, they [his eyes] were blue and showed no trace of personal connection, as if viewing her through a one way mirror.” p113.

I really like this one. It is discussing a psychopath-like person, so the fact that he doesn’t really see people is a great image.

Other unusual things

In REAMDE Stephenson has broken a number of rules (which you’re totally allowed to do when you’re established, but I find it interesting that he has done it).

  • The size of the book surely has to be fairly unusual?
  • The name of the book is kind of hard to say.
  • The book contains the occasional table, dot points and numbered lists.
  • The cover art is simple to say the least. (This is the most interesting to me, in that they always bang on about the importance of cover art).


One other thing that I have noticed, which is worthy of its own paragraph is how Stephenson capitalises the first three words of any new scene (i.e. when the point of view changes, or time has lapsed). It’s an interesting way of doing it. I tried it on my own novelette The Rebel Queen and depending on the first three words though, it can look a bit peculiar. But it is another way of doing it that I hadn’t seen/considered before.

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