leaflitter: Leaf litter (Default)
Apparently the reason it took me three years to review REAMDE was that I needed time to entirely forget that I'd read Abigail Nussbaum's excellent review:
What Stephenson is doing is trying to depict competence as a function of character. When really it's almost always a situational trait--a person may be extraordinarily competent in one setting and helpless in another, may have a firm grasp of their situation in one instance, and a completely unrealistic confidence in their abilities in another. Reamde, which valorizes confidence and the general competence that has been a hallmark of, yes, masculinity, in all of Stephenson's novels, doesn't quite know what to do when that confidence turns out to have been unfounded. In Peter's case, its response is to decide that he must not have been terribly masculine--which is to say, competent, intelligent, possessed of a firm grip on reality--to begin with. But in Richard's case, Stephenson's approach is to double down, to continue to insist that Richard is, as Zula thinks of him, the epitome of masculinity, even as he piles on the evidence to the contrary.

Most of the reviews I've read of Reamde have found Richard charming or heroic, but to my mind he is one of Stephenson's most aggravating creations, if only because it's not at all clear whether we're meant to be aggravated by him. Richard is a perpetual fish out of water--a black sheep among his staid, law-abiding, Midwestern family, but too steeped in their values to fit in among West Coast liberals or his fellow board members. In another man, this perennial ambivalence might have led to humility, a willingness to see the other guy's point of view. Richard uses it as a justification for feeling superior to everyone around him--to his Red State relations and his Blue State colleagues, to the fuddy-duddy Donald and the trailer trash Devin, to the Forces of Brightness and the Earthtone Coalition, to his young, gadget- and Facebook-obsessed cousins and his old, computer-illiterate ones. It is "a belief that had been inculcated in him from the get-go," we are told, "that there was an objective reality, which all people worth talking to could observe and understand, and that there was no point in arguing about anything that could be so observed and so understood." But for Richard, that objective reality seems to mean whatever he thinks about the world…
leaflitter: Leaf litter (Default)
Now I'm trying to work out what a plot for REAMDE would be that would preserve the existing (interesting) characters reasonably intact as far as personality and backstory goes, but make more use of the virtual world.


The opening of the novel remains much the same: Richard recruits the recently graduated Zula to work in the geology department of Corporation 9592 reporting to Pluto. Zula and Peter go to Richard's Schloss for a weekend, during which Peter delivers stolen credit card numbers to Wallace.

But in this version, the credit card numbers are a sideshow, because Wallace puts a bit more together in his background research on Peter, specifically, what Zula's job could mean for him and his employers.

Because this time, Wallace, Csongor and others in Ivanov's employ have a bit more going on in the virtual world of T'Rain, specifically, their own scams/viruses/extortion rackets. Richard is in deep trouble in this variant; he and Nolan Xu say, loudly and often, that they designed T'Rain to be gold farmer friendly, but an alternative interpretations. is that they designed it to be organised crime friendly, or perhaps even terrorist friendly. Judging from the Snowden leaks, the FBI, CIA and NSA believe it to be both and more, and it's not clear how compromised the systems are. Surveillance of virtual worlds is not an amusing footnote to the Snowden revelations in this world.

[I haven't quite worked out when REAMDE is set, but there's a pretty narrow range of options. It's after Michael Jackson's death in 2009, because that is mentioned, and some time before its release in 2011. Probably 2010. I'm moving it to late 2013 or 2014 because incorporating the Snowden leaks is amusing.]

So T'Rain is a place where there's money to be made before the governments shut it down, and Zula Forthrast is the niece of the founder, and works in the department that decides where the gold is buried. The Scottish financier Wallace (who in the original novel is the only person involved with Ivanov who plays T'Rain, and who is well worth keeping alive in this version) is heading up Ivanov's T'Rain related moneymaking schemes. The Russian criminals can't believe their luck in getting so close to Zula, and double down on Peter using the standard "oh, you thought you made a one off deal with organised crime? Ahahahaha, no" blackmail technique in order to use him as a tool to get closer to her. (Presumably Zula and Peter don't break up, or at least not as soon, in this model.) Their aim: to leverage inside knowledge of existing virtual gold deposits within T'Rain, or perhaps even to add gold deposits. They have contacts in China who can turn this into cold hard fiat money…

Meanwhile, in China: Olivia Halifax-Lin is still a spy for MI6, but she's spying on Corporation 9592 and its various badly or well-disguised criminal and terrorist clients, having obtained employment for 9592's Chinese arm under her false native Chinese identity.

Olivia has recently struck an unexpected jackpot: the ruthless and feared terrorist financier, the Welshman Abdallah Jones, long since having grown out of his blowing-things-up days and grown into the brains behind any number of financial schemes funneling tens of millions of dollars into jihadist terrorist causes, appears to be doing business in T'Rain, and may perhaps even be based in Xiamen presently in order to supervise things personally. This may coincide with the sudden change in activities of the well known Chinese gold farming and virus writing gang, the da G shou, under the leadership of a young man alias "Marlon", who contract out their extortion services to the highest bidder. But if they're doing business with Abdallah Jones, they are in way over their heads… and as hard as it is to feel sorry for Russian crooks, probably that mob that the da G shou used to work for ought to watch their backs too. And Richard Forthrast really could stand to beef up his personal security.

Something like that. It would need way more detail to work out how to get Seamus and Yuxia to show up, where Sokolov's loyalties lie (although at least this would bring him and Jones into fairly direct conflict), and such, and I very doubt I will spend the time, but if anyone has suggestions, go ahead.

Otherwise, there you go. Put a money laundering scheme in the centre of your novel, you may as well use it to launder money.
leaflitter: Leaf litter (Default)
I find Neal Stephenson's novels interesting in that they're stickier than my opinion of them would suggest. Would I tell you I liked REAMDE? Not really. Would I suggest you read it? Only warily and with a number of caveats. How many times have I read it? Probably five or six times (although as is usual with fiction, I re-read favourite scenes or at random, not cover-to-cover).

In addition, I really want to puzzle out what the hell is up with it, structurally.

Well, what is up with it? Spoilers. Also, no real conclusions. But some snark. )
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