I read the new Neal Stephenson novel, Reamde, over the holidays. It is less intricate than other recent Stephenson novels and more action-oriented. In other words, it is more Snow Crash than System of the World.
What caught my eye immediately about the book is that one of the protagonists is a CFD engineer. OK, an athletic, female, Eritrean-immigrant CFD engineer, as if just being a CFD engineer caught up in a wild adventure is not exotic enough. Since that is the field I work in, that hooked me immediately, and I enjoyed the whole story.
Even though this book is not as complex as most Neal Stephenson stories, it still manages to interweave several story lines involving professional Chinese video gamers, drug smugglers, Idaho survivalists, Filipino prostitution rings, Russian mafia, al Qaeda terrorists, and a CFD engineer into a fast-paced and coherent adventure. Don’t worry, no CFD computations are performed in the course of this story. That would have killed the pacing and excitement right away. There is plenty of action and lots of interesting concepts to think about.
One of the intriguing ideas to me was that people can make money off their characters in multi-player, online, role-playing games. (Think World of Warcraft.) I am not into role-playing games, but apparently people already do this. In the novel, Chinese video gamers work at building up their characters and collecting weapons and virtual wealth they can then sell to other video game players for real money. The character’s weapons, power, and wealth are transferred within the game, and real money changes hands outside the game. It makes sense in the story, so maybe this is something that already happens frequently in real life. If not, I bet it becomes a trend before too long.
I put Reamde right up there with Cryptonomicon as one of my favorite Neal Stephenson novels. If you like techno-thrillers, you might like it too.