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posted by CoolHand on Wednesday August 17 2016, @05:41PM   Printer-friendly

This review contains spoilers.

I thought I'd got a remaindered, 1000 page, hardback book, from a prominent author, at an absolute bargain price because the publisher made a typo on the cover. Unfortunately, that typo is deliberate. It was made by one of the characters in the book and gets propagated widely in malware.

I read this book to the end so that I could provide a fair review for SoylentNews but I really wish that I hadn't. At around the 75% mark, I wanted to abandon the book. Around the 95% mark, I was more interested in my bookmark than the book itself. The problem is that the book is too detailed and yet not detailed enough. The plot flips from a semi-autobiographical character to a dodgy Scottish accountant for the Russian Mafia to a needlessly exotic Black, Welsh, lesser-known contemporary of Osama bin Laden. Internal motive is rarely explained and therefore Welsh's Islamic subjugation of another needlessly exotic character makes her seem like a really irritating Mary Sue when it should have been a highly researched study of cultural belief.

Until reading What ISIS Really Wants, I thought the book would have benefited highly from Mary Sue being killed in the first half. Either way, it may be beneficial to read this book while referring to an atlas. It certainly seems to be written that way.

[More...]

Other reviews note the comic relief. This made me think "What comic relief?" Then I remembered the rivalry between a snob and a hack who provide a superfluous backstory for an inconsistent online game which adds very little to the plot. The snob, when he is able, has his email translated into a language of his own devising, written onto vellum and delivered on a velvet cushion. Unfortunately, Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (published in 1934) has superior observations about telecommunications and doesn't explain its Noodle Incident in full.

One seemingly outrageous section of the book involves a siege and building collapse. However, subsequent events in Paris made this a case of life imitating art. Unfortunately, this occurs in one of a series of exotic locations reminiscent of a James Bond film. (Quantum of Solace springs to mind but SPECTRE also fits.)

The plot isn't resolved in a satisfactory manner and an epilog doesn't help. Every bad guy dies. Every good guy lives. A character with dubious morals receives an injury which forces reform. What happens to the mafia guys? Who cares because it was just a device to get to the jihadists.

Three people are credited in the book as providing expertise for ships, guns and geography. Unfortunately, due to the repetition of "gunwales", "clip" and "talus", and the lack of editing thereof, it seems more like Neal Stephenson collected on three bets. This is the overall problem with the work. Light editing of a literary great has destroyed the value. Applying a firmer process between author and editor would have been far more beneficial.

Neal Stephenson's early novel, Zodiac, is preferable to REAMDE and this is generally regarded as inferior to Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon. On this basis, REAMDE is probably the worst Neal Stephenson novel ever published. Publishers, William Morrow and Atlantic Books, should be ashamed.


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  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday August 17 2016, @05:55PM

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @05:55PM (#389214)

    How about commentary in comparison to the culture of the era?

    The 90s were an awesome time for sci fi. Diamond Age. Snow Crash. KSR's trilogy. Heavy Weather. The peak of Star Trek in quantity if not quality, you got TNG, DS9 and Voyager in the same decade plus a pile of movies. Everything was awesome, wasn't it? Even side issue kinda sci fi but not really was totally awesome like "guns of the south".

    Now in the 10's, what we have to compare to? We got Reamde, and um. Well. Um... Oh I know, we got us some shit tier remake reimaginings of 80s trek and 80s star wars trying to turn them into kids action flicks. And um... thats it? So up against the contemporaries, reamde isn't that bad... I mean what are you going to do as an alternate choice, watch the trek action flick remake again?

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  • (Score: 2) by Zz9zZ on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:05PM

    by Zz9zZ (1348) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:05PM (#389219)

    Heh, no kidding! I enjoyed the first Trek remake but feel it should have been a stand alone. Or they should have moved back to real Trek values (science and exploration of the human condition!) instead of going the drama/action route.

    Recent Sci-fi movies/tv feels pretty lacking. Any suggestions?

    --
    ~Tilting at windmills~
    • (Score: 4, Informative) by tibman on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:36PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:36PM (#389241)

      The Expanse is a good TV series and just starting up. Season 2 starts next spring.

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      SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
      • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Friday August 19 2016, @05:27AM

        by RamiK (1813) on Friday August 19 2016, @05:27AM (#389936)

        Picked it up on your recommendation.

        Thanks!

        --
        compiling...
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by SunTzuWarmaster on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:45PM

      by SunTzuWarmaster (3971) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:45PM (#389245)

      SciFi isn't all the trifecta of "alien civilization", "orbiting spaceship", and "intriguing artifact". Shows/Movies such as Humans, Ghost in the Shell, Firefly, Stargate, Primer, Minority Report, The Martian, and Battlestar really do carry the water for the genre. I think that what you are really missing is "exploration" movies, which is a sorely lacking category.

      If you haven't watched Humans or Primer, you should really do yourself a favor immediately. They explore their respective concepts extremely well.

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday August 17 2016, @07:53PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @07:53PM (#389269)

      How about audio drama? Since writing my post I've been trying to think of 10s era sci fi thats good and I've failed.

      However, Nathan Lowell's "quarter share" series started in 2010 and I listened to the entire series in podcast format. I assume the books which are a later transcription of the podcasts are good?

      Are the Leviathan Chronicles any good?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Rich on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:09PM

    by Rich (945) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @06:09PM (#389225) Journal

    Now in the 10's, what we have to compare to?

    Well, we've got "Ready Player One", which I found halfway decent - but then, it celebrates the good ol' days themselves :P

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by tibman on Wednesday August 17 2016, @07:17PM

    by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 17 2016, @07:17PM (#389254)

    90's were awesome for sci-fi but the computer graphics weren't really there yet. We started to really see it in shows like Stargate (Atlantis especially). Firefly was good. Farscape was great. But then it seemed like computer graphics started substituting for story : /

    We have had some big production sci-fi movies in theaters recently: Oblivion, Interstellar, Prometheus (maybe good?), District 9, Tron:Legacy, Mad Max:Fury Road, Pandorum, Guardians of the Galaxy. Could use some help naming more.. sure there are some

    As for books.. Jack McDevitt, Alastair Reynolds, Dan Simmons, Gregory Benford, James S.A. Corey, Larry Niven, and plenty others are still writing books. I pretty much buy every McDevitt and Reynolds book on release day. Dan Simmons' Hyperion is supposed to become a TV series. Looking forward to seeing the Shrike : )

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    SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday August 17 2016, @07:57PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @07:57PM (#389270)

      District 9

      I watched that and got the impression that ET and the X-files TV show mated and produced an action/gore flick. It was mostly a special effects demo reel although there was some story in there somewhere.

      I'm just saying the sci fi skin was extremely thinly applied. Slap on some castles and you'd have a fantasy epic, give the aliens sharp teeth and it would be a chicks vampire movie, etc.

      It was a movie with a very thinly applied sci fi skin. Not really a sci fi movie that happened to be a fill-in-the-blank movie.

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by edIII on Thursday August 18 2016, @12:25AM

        by edIII (791) on Thursday August 18 2016, @12:25AM (#389396)

        You know, I have to disagree.

        The lack of English for the alien, and Copley's ability to still understand, turned the film into art piece as well as sci-fi. It was about his metamorphosis, in a literal Kafka-esque way. We saw him change from the antagonist to the protagonist, while being the protagonist during the whole affair. The aliens were always thought to be weirdly inferior, but were simply unprogrammed. The alien he deals with is in fact the only surviving crew member that stills possesses sophisticated intellect, as evidenced by him teaching his offspring. Having written off the rest of his race as unprogrammable, he spends the entire time hiding from humans and plotting to regain control over the ship and to leave. By the end of the movie, we understand the humans to be bigoted and cruel, and the aliens to be child like and refugees.

        It was gritty and full of gore, but there was an actual story there. Admittedly, more drama than sci-fi. If you think that is gory, watch Copley's new movie Hardcore Henry.

        --
        Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
        • (Score: 2) by VLM on Friday August 19 2016, @12:22PM

          by VLM (445) on Friday August 19 2016, @12:22PM (#390037)

          Its interesting that I agree with your analysis of disagreement completely. Its an interesting story. HOWEVER its not inherently sci fi, the sci fi part is extremely superficially applied. Could have been watercolored with any semi-genocidal "world war" in history from semi-prehistory to the Romans vs the Barbarians to the Crusades (that would be an interesting reskin). To obvious 20th century examples, maybe Japanese internment camps vs the local townies. Extremely soft sci fi.

          Also its sad that WRT quantity of gore you pretty much got 90% of the interesting part of the story in a paragraph and most of the movie was just filler, well we can't release this as a 5 minute youtube video even though thats all we gots so heres an hour or two of pointless gore around about 5 minutes of actual good story.

          To take you Kafka metamorphosis example to an extreme, it would be like calling a pr0n flick Kafka-esque if the first five minutes of "plot" had the actress reading the book and the rest of the flick was an hour of XXX sex. Thats not "really" a Kafka movie its a pr0n flick. Not that there's anything wrong with either...

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday August 17 2016, @08:21PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @08:21PM (#389280)

      Alastair Reynolds ... Larry Niven

      I didn't count those guys and Stross, because debatably their best books were pre 2010 or their genre defining series or big ideas predate 2010.

      Stross has a new Laundry book roughly every summer but that started in like 2005.

      Niven is still milking the ringworld from 1970 and the man-kzin wars from the 80s. I'm not saying he's doing it wrong, but he's like the most famous guy from the 70s or maybe 80s, not a guy you think of for 2010.

      Reynolds suffers from the Stross problem above, he had an AWESOME decade in the 00s but the decade of 10s for Reynolds is just Poseidons Children and I have no opinion on that. Terminal World JUST barely makes the cutoff and is pretty interesting... Still Reynolds is going to get the thumbs up as a cool guy of the 00s.

      Another guy writing in the 10s but his most famous was in the 00s is John Ringo. The whole legacy of the aldentata / posleen saga thing that just burned wild for like the whole decade of the 00s. OK sure again Troy Rising series starts in 2010 and its pretty entertaining, well, maple syrup WTF but whatever. Still people are going to look back at him as a king of the 00s not 10s (well probably)

      I suppose in a decade or two people are going to be sitting around talking about the good old days "wow man remember sci fi in the 00s it was awesome we had Stross and Reynolds and Ringo and ... but man the '40s are so dang boring nobody has wrote nothing yet worth commenting on and all we got is the 15th remake of star wars again, boring as heck"

    • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Wednesday August 17 2016, @08:30PM

      by tangomargarine (667) on Wednesday August 17 2016, @08:30PM (#389283)

      As for books.. Jack McDevitt

      Man, I wish they would make a TV show out of his Priscilla Hutchins [tvtropes.org] books. That would be terrific. Kind of like the 2010 movie IIRC.

      I've been reading Iain Banks' The Culture novels slowly, but he has a tendency to put at least one squick scene in each book for some annoying reason.

      --
      "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
      • (Score: 2) by tibman on Friday August 19 2016, @03:11PM

        by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 19 2016, @03:11PM (#390112)

        I like that there are deeper mysteries. Like the monument builders leaving that pleading statue on one of Saturn's moons. Little bits of information here and there about the monument builders is fun to piece together each book.

        The Alex Benedict [eyrie.org] series is pretty good too. The stories develop agonizingly slow though because not everything that happens is important. The main character could be tracking down a lead over 20 pages and then find out it was a waste of time. A talent for war is one of my favorite Jack McDevitt books. History has a way of distorting facts and we all know it. Are the heroes of WWII actual heroes? More importantly, who are they heroes to?

        --
        SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
        • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Friday August 19 2016, @03:43PM

          by tangomargarine (667) on Friday August 19 2016, @03:43PM (#390127)

          Yeah, I've read a couple of those, too. Interestingly both The Engines of God and A Talent For War were initially one-shot novels that JMD ended up turning into series.

          Since so much of the books is spent sitting around in the ship waiting to get where they're going, I imagine the writers would be like kids in candy stores vis-a-vis character drama/padding.

          --
          "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 17 2016, @08:54PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 17 2016, @08:54PM (#389291)

    How about commentary in comparison to the culture of the era?

    The 90s were an awesome time for sci fi. Diamond Age. Snow Crash. KSR's trilogy. Heavy Weather. The peak of Star Trek in quantity if not quality, you got TNG, DS9 and Voyager in the same decade plus a pile of movies. Everything was awesome, wasn't it? Even side issue kinda sci fi but not really was totally awesome like "guns of the south".

    Now in the 10's, what we have to compare to? We got Reamde, and um. Well. Um... Oh I know, we got us some shit tier remake reimaginings of 80s trek and 80s star wars trying to turn them into kids action flicks. And um... thats it? So up against the contemporaries, reamde isn't that bad... I mean what are you going to do as an alternate choice, watch the trek action flick remake again?

    Yes, 90% of what we have now is crap. 90% of everything is crap. Yay Sturgeon's Law [wikipedia.org]. You just don't remember all the garbage from the 90's because you only remember the exceptionally good and the exceptionally bad.

    I don't follow mass culture that much anymore, but off the top of my head, blog/book/movie "The Martian" probably passes muster for any science fiction fan. I've never seen it, but I've been told "Inception" is quite good, too. The BBC TV show "Black Mirror" would also qualify for many.

    From a video game perspective, "Portal," "Dead Space," "BioShock," and "Mass Effect" all came out in the last decade.

    I guarantee there is a ton of good stuff out there even now. You just need to sift through the 90% "let's remake Star Trek again, with more lens flare!" to find the 10% worth proverbially dying for... just like you always did... just like you always will (unless some science fiction becomes reality, that is).

  • (Score: 2) by Fnord666 on Wednesday August 17 2016, @09:31PM

    by Fnord666 (652) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 17 2016, @09:31PM (#389307) Homepage

    Now in the 10's, what we have to compare to?

    I found William Gibson's "The Peripheral" to be a pretty good read. I've also been reading a lot of "Singularity" type books such as William Hurtling's "Singularity Series", books by Harmon Cooper, William Massa, Hugh Howey and Colin F. Barnes. There have also been a number of good anthologies published recently. LEt's not forget "The Martian" either.

    As for movies we have "The Martian", "Transcendence", "Predestination" and "Ex Machina" for starters. Personally I liked the ideas explored in "Her" as well.

    Anyone else?

  • (Score: 1) by Gnuthulhu on Thursday August 18 2016, @08:27PM

    by Gnuthulhu (2718) on Thursday August 18 2016, @08:27PM (#389731) Homepage

    That was a pretty good Stephenson sci-fi from the 10's. Not to mention the non sci-fi trilogy starting with Quicksilver (forget the series title).