Monday, November 14, 2011

Review roundup

1. Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson: 500 pages is a good faith effort, right? Because I can't make myself read anymore. This one's been marketed as a straightforward thriller, but I think that's just the kindest way of saying that it's mindless. Mindless in two ways. First, in 500 pages I learned no new fact, and noticed no keen insight. Second, the characters are brilliant hacker killers when it suits the plot, but helpless morons the rest of the time (Sokolov accidentally gives the terrorists a map to his partner's home? seriously?). At one point, a young woman captured by Muslim terrorists bluffs them by saying she used the phone hidden in her boot to call for help. And of course, why didn't she call for help?! The book also devotes far too much time to describing a Warcraft clone called T'Rain, whose distinguishing feature is that it has really, really realistic geology. (It's as interesting to read about as it sounds.) The only portion of the book I actually enjoyed was the short sections at the beginning about Richard Forthrast, sections that seemed to better belong in Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. All in all, an enormous disappointment. For a genuinely intriguing thriller about Chinese gold farmers, read Cory Doctorow's For the Win instead. That's available as a free download and for $7 at Amazon.

2. Speaking of, I also just finished Cory Doctorow's short story Clockwork Fagin (free at Amazon) about an orphanage for children maimed in steampunk factory accidents. Cliched concepts told masterfully.

3. Finally, Zero History by William Gibson ($10 at Amazon): It's more or less a remix of the plot points and characters from Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, but still a pleasure to read with a thrilling caper at the end. No one fetishizes objects as well as Gibson (this book features a denim jacket (+5 to cool), an ugly shirt (invisibility), and darts (always hits)).