Thursday, December 22, 2011
Book Club - Readme by Neal Stephenson
This is a 1,082 page novel that just hurdles from front to end. I'll tell you that it is hard to read because there are a lot of characters and a lot happening. But it never drags and is really hard to put down.
Richard Forthrast has become very wealthy by creating a massively multiplayer online role-playing game called T'Rain, with millions of players around the world. Being so popular, the game is a natural target for hackers. A Chinese hacker, nicknamed The Troll, has come up with the Reamde virus. It infects the hard drives of T'Rain players and encrypts their files. In order to get their files back, the player has to travel to a certain location in the T'Rain universe and leave some gold there. The genius of the T'Rain game is that players can amass gold in the game universe and somehow get it into the real world. The Reamde virus turns into blackmail on a world-wide scale.
Peter is a low-level hustler and computer security expert who has a stolen list of credit card numbers to sell. He's also a T'Rain player. He sells the list to someone working for a Russian mobster but the flash drive he used for the transfer is infected with Reamde. Worse yet, the buyer's hard drive also gets infected and he has files which are very valuable to his boss. They go into the game only to find that the place they need to drop the gold and get the decryption key is a free-for-all of thousands of players trying to do the same thing and thousands of other players trying to rob them.
Peter and his girlfriend, an African girl named Zula, end up kidnapped by the Russians who take them to China to find The Troll. Zula just happens to be the adopted niece of Richard Forthrast.
In China, the Russians plan an assault on the The Troll but end up in a fire-fight with a Muslim terrorist group headed by the notorious Abdulla Jones a black Welshman, turned Muslim, who is being tracked by the British secret service. Then the story gets complicated.
Although Stephenson is primarily a science fiction writer, this book is not science fiction. It is a thriller set in today's world. The computer game stuff is a bit beyond what is actually doable on today's Internet but not so outlandish you won't accept it.
There is also a lot of humor in the book. It's not meant to be funny but Stephenson has a lot of clever ways of describing a scene which help to make the read even more enjoyable. There are also some situations which are meant to be funny, or at least ironical. There is a section where Richard is telling about the early days of T'Rain. They had had a fantasy writer involved to set the original story rolling. They later hired a second writer who was also a language expert. He wanted it explained to him why so many place names and character names had apostrophes in them. There was no explanation of course, it just looked cool to the original writer. The new writer got rid of as many names with apostrophes as he could. In game history, this was forever after known as the Apostropocalypse.