Reamdeby Neal Stephenson
“Stephenson has a once-in-a-generation gift: he makes complex ideas clear, and he makes them funny, heartbreaking, and thrilling.”
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Neal Stephenson is continually rocking the literary world with his brazen and brilliant fictional creations—whether/b>/b>/b>… See more details below
“Stephenson has a once-in-a-generation gift: he makes complex ideas clear, and he makes them funny, heartbreaking, and thrilling.”
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Neal Stephenson is continually rocking the literary world with his brazen and brilliant fictional creations—whether he’s reimagining the past (The Baroque Cycle), inventing the future (Snow Crash), or both (Cryptonomicon). With Reamde, this visionary author whose mind-stretching fiction has been enthusiastically compared to the work of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace—not to mention William Gibson and Michael Crichton—once again blazes new ground with a high-stakes thriller that will enthrall his loyal audience, science and science fiction, and espionage fiction fans equally. The breathtaking tale of a wealthy tech entrepreneur caught in the very real crossfire of his own online fantasy war game, Reamde is a new high—and a new world—for the remarkable Neal Stephenson.
Richard Forthrast is a middle-aged videogame tycoon with a problem on his hands: Bad guys have figured out a way to hack his new shooter splatfest with a virus that "took advantage of a buffer overflow bug in Outlook to inject malicious code into the host operating system and establish root-level control of the computer."Richard has other problems, some big enough to pose a threat to the world currency market. Eek! Fortunately, nepotism be damned, he's hired his adopted niece to do a little consulting, and she turns out to have the wherewithal to give Geena Davis and Uma Thurman a run for the money in the hot-chicks-with-mad-ninja-skills department. Young Zula has solid possibilities. For one thing, she's babelicious, "black/Arab with an unmistakable hint of Italian." For another, she's got dual degrees in geology and computer science, which come in very handy when she has to scale impenetrable mountains on the hunt for renegade computer jocks. A bonus: She's quick to learn her way around a shotgun, and her boyfriend isn't too shabby, either, even though they have a habit of getting into bad predicaments: "As minutes went by and the novelty of being on a private jet wore off, Zula began to understand the same thing that Peter did, which was that they were not meant to get out of this alive." There are bad guys aplenty, and they're more diverse than an IHOP menu: There are Russians and Chinese, mutually distrustful, and a small army of very bad jihadists, the kind who give good Muslims a bad name. There are hackers and counterhackers, spies versus spies. And then there are Richard's kinfolk, the Brothers Karamazov with heavy weapons.
Who'll prevail? We don't know till the very end, thanks to Stephenson's knife-sharp skills as a storyteller. An intriguing yarn—most geeky, and full of satisfying mayhem.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt
By Neal Stephenson
William MorrowCopyright © 2011 Neal Stephenson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE FORTHRAST FARM
Richard kept his head down. Not all those cow pies were frozen,
and the ones that were could turn an ankle. He'd limited his
baggage to a carry on, so the size 11's weaving their way among
the green brown mounds were meshy black cross-trainers that you
could practically fold in half and stuff into a pocket. He could have
gone to Walmart this morning and bought boots. The reunion,
however, would have noticed, and made much of, such an extravagance.
Two dozen of his relatives were strung out in clumps along the
barbed-wire fence to his right, shooting into the ravine or reloading.
The tradition had started as a way for some of the younger boys to
blow off steam during the torturous wait for turkey and pie. In the
old days, once they'd gotten back to Grandpa's house from Thanksgiving
church service and changed out of their miniature coats and
ties, they would burst out the doors and sprint half a mile across the
pasture, trailed by a few older men to make sure that matters didn't
get out of hand, and shoot .22s and Daisies down into the crick.
Now grown up with kids of their own, they showed up for the reunion
with shotguns, hunting rifles, and handguns in the backs of their
The fence was rusty, but its posts of Osage orange wood were
unrotted. Richard and John, his older brother, had put it up forty
years ago to keep livestock from straying down into the crick. The
stream was narrow enough that a grown man could cross it with a
stride, but cattle were not made for striding, or bred for intelligence,
and could always contrive some way to get themselves into terrible
straits along its steep, crumbling banks. The same feature made it
an ideal firing range. Summer had been dry and autumn cold, so the
crick was running low under a paper-thin glaze of ice, and the bank
above it threw up gouts of loose dirt wherever it stopped a bullet.
This made it easy for the shooters to correct their aim. Through his
ear protectors, Richard could hear the voices of helpful onlookers:
"You're about three inches low. Six inches to the right." The boom
of the shotguns, the snap of the .22s, and the pow, pow, pow of the
semiautomatic handguns were reduced to a faint patter by the
electronics in the hearing protectorshard-shell earmuffs with volume
knobs sticking out of themwhich he'd stuffed into his bag yesterday,
almost as an afterthought.
He kept flinching. The low sun shone in the face of a two hundred
foot tall wind turbine in the field across the crick, and its blades cast
long scything shadows over them. He kept sensing the sudden onrush
of a bar of darkness that flicked over him without effect and went on
its way to be followed by another and another. The sun above blinking
on and off with each cut of a blade. This was all new. In his younger
days, it had only been the grain elevators that proved the existence
of a world beyond the horizon; but now they had been supplanted
and humbled by these pharaonic towers rearing their heads above
the prairie, the only thing about this landscape that had ever been
capable of inspiring awe. Something about their being in motion, in a
place where everything else was almost pathologically still, seized the
attention; they always seemed to be jumping out at you from behind
Despite the wind, the small muscles of his face and scalpthe
parents of headacheswere relaxed for the first time since he had
come back to Iowa. When he was in the public spaces of the reunion,
the lobby of the Ramada, the farmhouse, the football game in the
side yardhe always felt that all eyes were on him. It was different
here, where one had to attend to one's weapons, to make sure that
the barrels were always pointed across the barbed wire. When Richard
was seen, it was during terse, one-on-one conversations, spoken
DIS-TINCT-LY through ear protection.
Younger relations, rookie in-laws, and shirttails called him Dick,
a name that Richard had never used because of its association, in his
youth, with Nixon. He would answer to Richard or to the nickname
Dodge. During the long drive here from their homes in the exurbs
of Chicago or Minneapolis or St. Louis, the parents would brief the
kids on who was who, some of them even brandishing hard copies
of the family tree and dossiers of photos. Richard was pretty sure
that when they ventured out onto Richard's branch of the family
treeand a long, stark, forkless branch it wasthey got a certain
look in their eyes that the kids could read in the rear view mirror, a
tone of voice that in this part of the country said more than words
were ever allowed to. When Richard encountered them along the
firing line, he could see as much in their faces. Some of them would
not meet his eye at all. Others met it too boldly, as if to let him know
that they were on to him.
He accepted a broken twelve gauge side-by-side from a stout
man in a camouflage hat whom he recognized vaguely as the second
husband of his second cousin Willa. Keeping his face, and the barrel
of the weapon, toward the barbed wire fence, he let them stare at
the back of his ski parka as he bit the mitten from his left hand and
slid a pair of shells into the warm barrels. On the ground several
yards out, just where the land dropped into the ravine, someone
had set up a row of leftover Halloween pumpkins, most of which
were already blasted to pie filling and fanned across the dead brown
weeds. Richard snapped the gun together, raised it, packed its butt
in snugly against his shoulder, got his body weight well forward,
and drew the first trigger back. The gun stomped him, and the base
of a pumpkin jumped up and thought about rolling away. He caught
it with the second barrel. Then he broke the weapon, snatched out
the hot shells, let them fall to the ground, and handed the shotgun
to the owner with an appreciative nod.
"You do much hunting up there at your Schloss, Dick?" asked
a man in his twenties: Willa's stepson. He said it loudly. It was hard
to tell whether this was the orange foam plugs stuffed into his ears
Richard smiled. "None at all," he replied. "Pretty much everything
in my Wikipedia entry is wrong."
The young man's smile vanished. His eyes twitched, taking
in Richard's $200 electronic hearing protectors, and then looked
down, as if checking for cow pies.
Though Richard's Wikipedia entry had been quiet lately, in
the past it had been turbulent with edit wars between mysterious
people, known only by their IP addresses, who seemed to want to
emphasize aspects of his life that now struck him as, while technically
true, completely beside the point. Fortunately this had all happened
after Dad had become too infirm to manipulate a mouse, but
it didn't stop younger Forthrasts.
Richard turned around and began to mosey back the way he
had come. Shotguns were not really his favorite. They were
relegated to the far end of the firing line. At the near end, beside a
motorcade of hastily parked SUVs, eight and ten year old children,
enveloped in watchful grown-ups, maintained a peppery fusillade
from bolt-action .22s.
Directly in front of Richard was a party of five men in their
late teens and early twenties, orbited by a couple of aspirant fifteen
year olds. The center of attention was an assault rifle, a so-called
black gun, military style, no wood, no camouflage, no pretense that
it was made for hunting. The owner was Len, Richard's first cousin
once removed, currently a grad student in entomology at the
University of Minnesota. Len's red, wind-chapped hands were gripping
an empty thirty-round magazine. Richard, flinching every so often
when a shotgun went off behind him, watched Len force three
cartridges into the top of the magazine and then hand it to the young
man who was currently in possession of the rifle. Then he stepped
around behind the fellow and talked him patiently through the
process of socketing the magazine, releasing the bolt carrier, and
flipping off the safety.
Richard swung wide behind them and found himself passing
through a looser collection of older men, some relaxing in
collapsible chairs of camo-print fabric, others firing big old hunting
rifles. He liked their mood better but sensedand perhaps he was
being too sensitivethat they were a little relieved when he kept
He only came to the reunion every two or three years. Age and
circumstance had afforded him the luxury of being the family
genealogist. He was the compiler of those family trees that the moms
unfurled in the SUVs. If he could get their attention for a few
minutes, stand them up and tell them stories of the men who had
owned, fired, and cleaned some of the guns that were now speaking
out along the fencenot the Glocks or the black rifles, of course,
but the single-action revolvers, the 1911s, the burnished lever-action
.30-30she'd make them understand that even if what he'd done
did not comport with their ideas of what was right, it was more true
to the old ways of the family than how they were living.
But why did he even rile himself up this way?
Thus distracted, he drifted in upon a small knot of people, mostly
in their twenties, firing handguns.
In a way he couldn't quite put his finger on, these had an altogether
different look and feel from the ones who swarmed around
Len. They were from a city. Probably a coastal city. Probably West
Coast. Not L.A. Somewhere between Santa Cruz and Vancouver.
A man with longish hair, tattoos peeking out from the sleeves of
the five layers of fleece and raincoat he'd put on to defend himself
from Iowa, was holding a Glock 17 out in front of him, carefully
and interestedly pocking nine-millimeter rounds at a plastic milk
jug forty feet away. Behind him stood a woman, darker skinned
and haired than any here, wearing big heavy-rimmed glasses that
Richard thought of as Gen X glasses even though Gen X must be an
ancient term now. She was smiling, having a good time. She was in
love with the young man who was shooting.
Their emotional openness, more than their hair or clothing,
marked them as not from around here. Richard had come out of
this place with the reserved, even hard-bitten style that it seemed to
tattoo into its men. This had driven half a dozen girlfriends crazy
until he had finally made some progress toward lifting it. But, when
it was useful, he could drop it like a portcullis.
The young woman had turned toward him and thrust her pink
gloves up in the air in a gesture that, from a man, meant "Touchdown!"
and, from a woman, "I will hug you now!" Through a smile
she was saying something to him, snapped into fragments as the
earmuffs neutralized a series of nine-millimeter bangs.
A precursor of shock came over the girl's face as she realized he
isn't going to remember me. But in that moment, and because of that
look, Richard knew her. Genuine delight came into his face. "Sue!"
he exclaimed, and thenfor sometimes it paid to be the family
genealogistcorrected himself: "Zula!" And then he stepped
forward and hugged her carefully. Beneath the layers, she was bone
slender, as always. Strong though. She pulled herself up on tiptoe to
mash her cheek against his, and then let go and bounced back onto
the heels of her huge insulated boots.
He knew everything, and nothing, about her. She must be in
her middle twenties now. A couple of years out of college. When
had he last seen her?
Probably not since she had been in college. Which meant that,
during the handful of years that Richard had absentmindedly
neglected to think about her, she had lived her entire life.
In those days, her look and her identity had not extended much
beyond her back story: an Eritrean orphan, plucked by a church mission
from a refugee camp in the Sudan, adopted by Richard's sister,
Patricia, and her husband, Bob, re-orphaned when Bob went on the
lam and Patricia died suddenly. Readopted by John and his wife,
Alice, so that she could get through high school.
Richard was ransacking his extremely dim memories of John
and Alice's last few Christmas letters, trying to piece together the
rest. Zula had attended college not far awayIowa State? Done
something practicalan engineering degree. Gotten a job, moved
"You're looking great!" he said, since it was time to say something,
and this seemed harmless.
"So are you," she said.
He found this a little off-putting, since it was such transparent
BS. Almost forty years ago, Richard and some of his friends had
been bombing down a local road on some ridiculous teenaged quest
and found themselves stuck behind a slow driving farmer. One of
them, probably with the assistance of drugs, had noticed a
similaritywhich, once pointed out, was undeniablebetween
Richard's wide, ruddy cliff of a face and the back end of the red pickup
truck ahead of them. Thus the nickname Dodge. He kept wondering
when he was going to develop the aquiline, silver-haired good looks of the men
in the prostate medication ads on their endless seaplane junkets and fly
fishing idylls. Instead he was turning out
to be an increasingly spready and mottled version of what he had
been at thirty-five. Zula, on the other hand, actually was looking
great. Black/Arab with an unmistakable dash of Italian. A
spectacular nose that in other families and circumstances would have
gone under the knife. But she'd figured out that it was beautiful
with those big glasses perched on it. No one would mistake her for a
model, but she'd found a look. He could only conjecture what style
pheromones Zula was throwing off to her peers, but to him it was
a sort of hyperspace-librarian, girl-geek thing that he found clever
and fetching without attracting him in a way that would have been
Excerpted from Reamde by Neal Stephenson Copyright © 2011 by Neal Stephenson. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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