‘He has the trick of taking concepts that most people will be unfamiliar with and going off on a couple of pages of explanation that makes you realise why real people in the real world would care about this stuff ‘ – Reamde by Neal Stephenson

I suppose one of the ultimate tests for how much you are enjoying reading a review copy of a book that’s been sent to you for free by the publishers, is how avid you are in getting a new one sent to replace the one that turned out to have such bad printing errors in it that it was unreadable.  Turns out I was extremely anxious to get a new copy! – the first version had a break that came right in the middle of a real page-turning section, that I’d mentally pegged at being only a few pages in – turns out, it was over 500 pages in and I was still staying up late to read more of this wonderful book!

Don’t let the premise put you off either: it is centred around a “massive online multi-player” game, the best equivalent in the real world being World of Warcraft.  But the action and plot is much broader and wide-ranging than that, and centres around a a virus – the “Reamde” of the title – that propagates through the game and encrypts the whole of your computer so that you cannot get access to any of your stuff without a password.  How do you get the password? – by paying the virus writes through t he online game… – which had been specifically designed to allow Chinese kids to create good characters and sell them to wealthy Westerners who had money but not enough time… – and there I go: about to go off on an exposition to explain stuff… – but the problem is that whatever I wrote would be nowhere as good as Neal Stephenson! – he has the trick of taking concepts that most people will be unfamiliar with and going off on a couple of pages of explanation that makes you realise why real people in the real world would care about this stuff – let alone the characters in his novel.

And that’s not even getting into the characters he creates: he can make the most implausible people intensely fascinating and understandable – such as a confirmed Jihadist and a Chinese computer hacker.  And then we get to the final component of the recipe for an outstanding book: the plot.  Even though there are some amazing turns, reversals of fortune and outrageous co-incidences, it all makes sense in the world of the book… – and more than sense: it’s feels right.

Any Cop?: This would be a wonderful introduction to the work of Neal Stephenson: I cannot recommend it enough! – it has only slight elements of science-fiction, more of current day with a few minor extrapolations.  It is more in the way of a thriller, with all of the page-turner connotations of that title.  Totally recommended!
James Robertson

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