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.
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.
Stephenson is barely a pulp writer.
The vaunted "Snow Crash" contains self-conscious, laughable fantasy projections as female characters - causing one to actually wince and exclaim "really?!" to oneself.
The extreme contrivance of his characterization - when not mere cardboard construction - is matched by the improbably invented names they bear. Every one of them so earnestly intended to make an impression, rather than reflect some possible real arrangement. I suffer this of Dickens. Stephenson is not Dickens. He's more like a latter-day Ayn Rand, trying to cobble-up stories after reading Harrison and Spinrad.
Were he to produce outlines, with placeholders for character names, I'm sure some real writer could produce entertaining fiction from his theses. Such would have at least verisimilitude, that the reader would not be constantly drawn out of the story, to wonder about the author.
Cryptonomicon and Anathem put him far ahead of any pulp writer, IMO. And I've never read the Baroque Cycle but I hear it's pretty good too.
The Baroque Cycle is a masterpiece and when reading it one can scarcely believe it was the product of a single human mind. The audiobooks are also worth the massive time investment, adding another dimension just as rich as the text itself. I can't recommend it highly enough. It also improves your appreciation for Cryptonomicon, as many of the characters in The Baroque Cycle are the ancestors of the characters in that novel.
Sorry Jeremiah, you might be an expert on women, but I'm not, so I enjoyed Snow Crash enough to have read it at least three times...
And no, I'm not a teenager; I'm past fifty, with two marriages and several girl-friends in the past... So, clearly not the expert you are on women and fantasy projections, but I found the meme and Summerian language mix very interesting and disturbing. Kind of like watching Fox News and seeing its effects on people, who might otherwise seem inteligent.