Archive for American Gods

REAMDE

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2013 by xi'an

Being a great fan of Neal Stephenson (as shown by the previous review of Anathem), I was waiting for an opportunity to buy his latest REAMDE [no typo in the title there!], opportunity that I found in Providence during my short foray to the University bookstore. Having read the whole 1000+ pages of the book during my trip to India, I came back rather disapointed, even though I acknowledge it considerably helped alleviating the boredom of long train rides and short flights, and keeping the stress under control during the numerous delays that punctuated my visit. Because of its thriller nature.

In short, REAMDE is like a domino cascade: pulling out a first event/domino induces a cataclysmic event, due to an accumulating sequence of less and less likely coincidences. While it requires a strong dose of suspension of disbelief, as most thrillers do, it also creates the condition for addictive reading, once you are familiar and comfortable with the gallery of characters. However, once the book is over, you cannot but wonder why you got caught in this most unbelievable and rather predictable story.

Without providing too many spoilers (and no more than the reviews quoted on the book covers), REAMDE involves [among many other things] Iowan non-nonsense farmers, a reformed marijuana importer turned into a video game mogul, US computer geeks (with the appropriate amount of Unix code and Linux lore), Erythrean refugees, gun-crazy survivalist Idohans, Vancouver and Seattle locals, Russian gangsters, Chinese computer hackers, Cambridge history professors, a War of Warcraft replica, Taiwanese fishermen, MI6 spies, random generators, more CIA spies, Hungarian computer super-hackers, more Chinese tea peddlers, former Russian commandos, Philippines sex-tourists, Welsh and Canadian djihadists, and lots and lots of weapons… Not mentioning a fairly comprehensive description of the contents of Walmarts. This makes for a wee indigestible ratatouille and for a rather incomprehensible conclusion about the point of the book. Having picked djihadist as villeins turns about everyone else into a good guy, even though they all are trigger-happy and very little concerned about legality and justice. There may of course be a second level of reading to the book, namely that the debauch of weaponry and the insistence on how easy it is to get them from Walmart could be taken as a (too?) subtle criticism of the insane gun policy in America, as well as a criticism of the failed war in Afghanistan, compensating for the said failure by a fantasy revenge of the Americans (and Russians) on (Afghan and non-Afghan) talibans intent on entering the US to duplicate 09/11. Given the cleverness of Stephenson, this is not completely out of the picture, but I doubt most readers will follow this route! (This review by Cory Doctorow shows why.)

Once again, this is not such a terrible book and I enjoyed it at some level. (At least, I finished it unlike American Gods!) The part about the computer game is both enjoyable and central to the plot (no further spoilers!), even though the author tries too hard to convince us this is not World of Warcraft. I actually found many common features, based on the limited knowledge gained from watching my son play the game, and thought the idea of centering the plot on the game fairly clever, if somehow unrealistic. The second part of the book lost a bit of its appeal with the endless RV drive in BC and the even more endless pursuit/mini-war in the woods. And I could have done (once again!) without the very final “happy [well, not that happy!] ending”. Thus, read REAMDE at your own risk!

Books I cannot finish…

Posted in Books with tags , , , on January 15, 2011 by xi'an

Over the past two months, I have been trying to read through both Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Ian Banks’ Transition, but could not make myself read any further any of those two books! Not completing a book happens to me so rarely as, once I realise a book is terrible, I keep reading it with a vengeance! I had already read The Algebraist by Banks and enjoyed it very much, despite its complex plot, but Transition is simply uninteresting [at least up to page 100!] and it deservedly got mixed reviews… I am even more surprised at Gaiman’s American Gods falling from my lap as this is a Hugo and Nebula winning novel. It has been repeatedly praised as a major novel at the edge of fantasy, but I found the core idea of bringing old Norse gods into America rather predictable and unimaginative. The first half (that I read) of American Gods reminded me of an essay a friend gave me 15 years ago about the influence of Norse myths on modern fantasy (and U.S. serial killers),  although I cannot remember the title nor the name of the author… But I could not find any interest in the story or in the characters, no matter how well the book was written. (Incidentally, one character is called Wednesday, which links to the great The Man who was Thursday by Chesterton. A book I definitely finished reading!) As it happens, American Gods is about to make the top two in the list of the Best SFF Novels of the Decade, as just after Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and before (!) Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind….