Firstly there is the title. There are so many anagrams and I spent a good few mins thinking about these and even when writing this the autocorrect suggested another. What’s more is that the anagrams all neatly fit with the spirit of this book.
The initial scene places us at a family reunion in Iowa where Richard, a fifty something co-founder of a computer game company is introduced to us. We also meet Zula and the rest of the Forthrast family whose lives are about to be embrolied in a worldwide terror plot with the most inspired fictional baddie I have encountered in my recent reading
The book takes us into the fictional game T’rain which in some ways provides a parallel vision of the story in the book. T’rain is a MMORPG created by Richard’s Corporation 9592, and somewhat analagous to Blizzard and WOW. We learn a lot about the game and its structure. This important detail is vital for the front end and set-up of the plot. The whole T’rain element is dropped later in the book and it is slightly disappointing that it does not make it to the end.
I cant allude too much to the plot as it moves from one incredible situation to another but suffice it to say that the whole Xiamen sequence is as exciting as anything else you’ll read in any other book. There are very few times I would consider a book “unputdownable”, but this came very close.
There are many comments on American society on the way through and my favourite centres on the discussion regarding “recombinant food”. I had a real chuckle over this… :). The humour in this book stops it from becoming too serious. It could do this quite easily with a cast including: Russian gangsters, Islamic jihadists, Chinese hackers, a Cambridge don, an MI6 agent all coming into the melee. The characters run very true to their individual types and set-up. The only “double take” I made was over the use of the tampon. I could quite understand why the character would have used it in “that” way instead of what seemed obvious? Neal?
Then there is the plethora of locations including my personal favourite of the Isle of Man. Any book which includes this little place carries extra kudos in my eyes. And here’s the interest. Did the author visit? Did he merely look it up on Google Earth? I like to think he actually went as the description feels very authentic.
The detail in the book is incredible. The acknowledgements are very honest and I’m glad I did not have access to the Internet whilst I was reading it or I would have been trying to pick apart the vast liberties taken with geography. This is something which is acknowledged by the author. This led me to thinking about how we go about our lives and how we no longer trust anything but immediately seek to verify any information via the medium of the Internet. The problem with the Internet is that there is so much disinformation as well as information. My concern is that our advancing inability to trust anyone but instead putting our trust in this resource could lead to our society being directed by it. The very nature of it allows us to stop thinking for ourselves and all too happily we wish to consider that the internet is more correct than any other resource.
Read the book for what it is and it is far more rewarding.
This book is Stephenson back on form and, in my opinion, leagues better than the Mongoliad thingy.
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  1. Sarah Duncan says:

    Most of this is way beyond my level of comprehension so there wouldn’t be much point in reading it, although I did look up the Isle of Man which seems charming and, I suspect, so much more.

    I don’t think the internet is the only way in which truth becomes distorted. I think perhaps any medium can do this, including that of human speech and non-verbal communication. I wonder if it is better to look for a more general idea of truthfulness, judged on criteria such as constancy, consistency, durability under test?

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