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Literature / REAMDE

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REAMDE is a novel by Neal Stephenson in which the worlds of international crime and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games intersect.

Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, a former marijuana smuggler, has founded the world's most successful MMORPG, T'Rain, which is built around the concept of allowing players to make real currency exchanges within the game's virtual world. Recently, a virus called REAMDE has infected millions of players in T'Rain, holding their computer files for a ransom of game currency.

Through a series of events, Richard's adopted niece Zula runs afoul of Russian gangsters whose criminal secrets have been hacked by REAMDE. She and a group of fellow hostages are abducted halfway across the world to help locate the hackers and deliver Mafia-style vengeance. What transpires is a globe-trotting cat-and-mouse thriller as Zula struggles to stay alive and Richard uses all of his own resources to scour the globe. Along the way, they face crack mercenaries, international spies, infamous terrorists, back-country survivalists and more.

In spring 2019, it got a sequel novel, Fall, or Dodge in Hell.

Tropes used:

  • Action Survivor: Csongor, Marlon, Yuxia and Zula. All but Marlon eventually take a level in badass.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Zula notes that two of the terrorists are either gay lovers or have a ridiculously close friendship for two men. We never find out for sure.
  • Badass Boast: Sokolov, to Jones: "Running away like fucking rat while brave men are dead in a city below. What a fine man you are, Jones. Still have Zula? Are you being nice to her? I suggest you be nice to that girl, Jones, because when I find you, I will kill you fast if you have treated her well and if you have harmed her in any way, I will do it in a way that is not so nice. I have sent a thousand jihadists to heaven to be with their virgins, but you I am going to send to hell."
  • Badass Family: The Forthrasts, a family of millionaire smugglers, survivalists and war heroes.
  • The Big Guy: Csongor is repeatedly described as extremely large, and appartently wears an XXXL jacket. He's even mistaken for some kind of hired muscle before revealing himself to be a hacker by trade. In spite of having been forced into violent sports in school, he's a pretty non-confrontational guy.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The name of Richard's castle in Canada, Schloss Hundschüttler, translates as "Castle Dogshaker".
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Played more realistically than usual, but there's still quite a lot of wit on display while the bullets are flying.
  • Car Fu: Used by Yuxia in an attempt to sink a boat.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Peter cuts himself after snapping a DVD in the beginning of the novel. Zula uses this information later, when Khalid tries to rape her.
    • Also a quite literal one: after being introduced to firearms at the beginning of the novel, Peter buys an AR-15. After it gets stolen, it falls into the hands of Sokolov, who uses it in the book's climax.
  • Chick Flick: At one point, Zula tries to take her mind off being kidnapped by watching a DVD she found of Love Actually. One of her kidnappers (a Jihadist terrorist) later secretly admits that he liked that movie.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In T'Rain, there is a war going on between players who dress their avatars in bright colors and those who use subdued colors.
  • Computer Virus: REAMDE; even the specific exploit is described.
  • Cool Old Guy: Richard
  • Crazy-Prepared: The hackers have a plan for escaping a zombie invasion.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Jake, his family and the other inhabitants of Prohibition Crick.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most characters. Richard notes that Jones likes to be the only one making the snarks.
  • Defiant to the End: John delivers a choice slur before getting executed by Jones.
  • Disposable Pilot: Used repeatedly.
  • Doorstopper: It's by Neal Stephenson so not a surprise.
  • Draft Dodging: As indicated by his nickname, "Dodge," Richard did this to avoid being drafted for The Vietnam War, only to come back to the U.S. during Jimmy Carter's blanket amnesty. This earned him the scorn of many of his family members although not the ones who really know him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Richard's nickname "Dodge" comes from him being a draft-dodger, though he's not ashamed of it.
  • Expy: Don Don shares a few traits with J.R.R. Tolkien. He's a Cambridge professor by day and medieval fantasy author by night who's written a sprawling fantasy Doorstopper as his masterpiece and invents languages for his works.
  • Extruded Book Product: Skeletor is hired to crank out book and video game text, with the focus being on quantity over quality.
  • Eye Scream: What Zula does to Khalid. With a broken dvd copy of Love Actually, no less.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Abdallah Jones almost always speaks respectfully and keeps a calm facade. He's actually a bloodthirsty, ruthless killer.
    • Ivanov pretends to be friendly to his captives and is almost cartoonishly chivalrous toward Zula, but she realizes that it's just a ploy to keep them docile and helpful.
  • Fingore: Zula blocks a pistol's hammer with her little finger. First, the finger is very painfully pinched when the pistol's holder tries to fire. Then she yanks the finger out.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Or, in this case, a DVD-ROM drive. Or maybe just some basic anti-virus software.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: So, it's about these guys that are picked up by the Russian Mob who go after a hacker that made all of their files useless. And it goes great... until they run into the Terrorists. Stephenson himself has said that it could have been two books, but the publisher has decided that his books should be of a certain length to maximize profit.
  • Handicapped Badass: John, a war hero who lost his lower legs in 'nam and can still mix it up.
  • Heel–Face Turn.
    • Csongor is a possible example, since he helps track down Peter and Wallace for the Russian mobsters, but he makes it pretty clear that he has no choice in the matter and is soon the same boat as the rest of the captives.
    • Sokolov starts out as a Punchclock Villain for Ivanov, but eventually decides that he'll try to protect Zula and later becomes an avenging angel for her.
  • Heroic Neutral: Richard Forthrast was perfectly happy running his computer game empire. Then the bad guys went and stole his niece.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Sokolov is more of a mercenary and honest security consultant than a hitman. This is an unusual job for him, and he vows never to take another one like it again.
  • Hollywood Encryption: Safely averted. The encrypted file on Wallace's hard drive has a ".gpg" file extension. GPG is a real-world program, the GNU Privacy Guard, that implements an encryption alogrithm (OpenPGP) that would work exactly as described. That said, there's nothing about GPG that requires a three-letter ".gpg" file extension as it instead embeds GPG/PGP header information in the file itself. GPG'd files can have any extension the user wants and GPG will still be able to identify and decrypt them by checking for the PGP header block in the file. Stephenson likely used a .gpg file extension because it was quicker and less awkward than explaining the details of GPG's functionality, and worked just as well as a shout-out for cryptogeek readers and wouldn't have made much difference anyway for those who didn't know what he was talking about in the first place.
  • Hollywood Game Design: Stephenson has obviously done his homework in regards to MMO games, but he still takes creative license. For example, T'Rain's main selling point of having geography based on realistic plate tectonics and biomes would get in the way of good game design rather than improve it.
  • Hollywood Hacking: An in-universe example:
    "They have convinced themselves," Csongor said, "that if the three of us get inside the building, we can determine which unit contains the Troll."
    "Why do they believe that?"
    "Because we are hackers," Csongor said, "and they have seen movies."
  • Hope Spot: Zula manages to escape the mobsters and make a break for it, only to run right into Sokolov, who just so happened to be coming the opposite direction at that moment.
  • Indy Ploy: First, Sokolov likens his situation to a game of chess. Then he realizes it's more like Go — there's a near-infinite amount of possible moves. He's never played Go, so he pulls an Indy Ploy instead.
  • Introdump: Used in the snippet of writing we see of Skraelin, which is constantly explaining who and what the characters are and what's going on, even though it's supposedly in the middle of the story. Skraelin is supposed to be a bad writer, but it's probably not a parody of the trope. Skrealin's reader wouldn't need that information to know what's going on, but readers of Reamde don't have any context, so they do.
  • Karma Houdini: Marlon, who steals $2 million from T'Rain players, keeps it and never suffers any ill effects for the rest of the story. Sokolov, who does a Heel–Face Turn, escapes with a happy ending but suffers an amputated leg in the process.
  • The Mafiya: Ivanov. The rest of his crew are either local American thugs or Sokolov, who's a mercenary. It's implied that Igor calls some of Ivanov's compatriots, but they never show up.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Sokolov is a hardened, badass Russian mercenary who has plenty of effortlessly macho lines in his thick accent.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: In Xiamen, a celebration/diplomatic meeting is said to be held on the 350th anniversary of Zheng Chenggong driving away the Dutch. The Other Wiki says this happened between 1661-1662, placing the events of the novel somewhere between 2011-2012. They also mention that Love Actually (2003) was released almost ten years ago. The book was published late September of 2011.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: At one point, when Zula has a close encounter with a bear (after already encountering gangsters and terrorists), she wonders when the pirates and dinosaurs are going to show up.
  • Only One Name: Sokolov, which is lampshaded at the end.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Richard's recounting of Zula's history reads like this.
  • Playful Hacker: Marlon
  • Plot Armor: Jones believes that God is on his side, and there's a decent case to be made that he's right with the amount of times he cheated death.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Zula recognizes pretty quickly that Sokolov is a decent guy who doesn't mean her any harm, and might protect her when push comes to shove. In fact, we find out that Sokolov feels guilty about serving a mobster and has planned to prevent any harm from coming to her.
  • Punctuation Shaker: A discussed trope. The "hack" writer Skeletor has created a number of names with apostrophes, but the literature don grills him at length to determine what system of grammar he's applying to the apostrophes. Finally someone has to break in and state the obvious, that it's following Rule of Cool. The don still insists on removing all the apostrophes in the "Apostropocalyse."
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Used to highlight the differences both between Jones and Khalid and Ivanov and Jones
  • Real Money Trade: A major theme in the T'Rain side of the story. The game is built for the express purpose of facilitating a real-world economy within the game. This helps Marlon create a virus that can extort money from players, which sets the novel's plot in motion.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: The story features an almost fetishistic amount of gun safety procedure. Nearly every time a gun is mentioned, we hear about whether the character is using proper or improper gun handling techniques. Stephenson even credits a man as his firearms copy editor.
  • Rule of Cool: The Punctuation Shaker names in T'Rain didn't follow any kind of system of grammar. They just looked cool.
  • Running Gag:
    • Richard's Wikipedia entry. It really overblows the money laundering.
    • Ivanov's leather man purse
    • People getting Xiamen confused with Xi'an, another Chinese city, but inland.
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: Richard's character in T'Rain is called Egdod, which is his nickname "Dodge" spelled backwards.
  • Serious Business: The colors you use on your avatar in T'Rain. The entire gamer population spontaneously divided into two warring factions based on whether you use bright or earthtone colors.
  • Shout-Out:
    • At one point, the opening sequence of T'Rain is described as being ripped off from the opening sequence of Google Earth, which is in turn (accurately) described as being ripped off from some old science fiction novel. The novel in question is one of Stephenson's earlier books, Snow Crash.
    • The book mentions World of Warcraft a few times as T'Rain's chief competition.
    • The hack writer Devin Skraelin is nicknamed Skeletor when he loses weight.
    • Sokolov, when taking inventory after the party splits up, makes sure he has his towel. It's noted that he's aware how important his towel is, then goes on to use it for various things.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: Once things start picking up, the book has a habit of splitting off the characters and following one around until one character affects another, and then start explaining how that character got there.
  • Stylistic Suck: Skeletor is described as a hack writer several times before we see a sample of his writing. It's ridiculously Purple Prose.
  • Take That!: Skeletor is repeatedly described as a terrible writer, but his books and video game text are eaten up by the masses. Sheesh, people must have horrible taste, huh?
  • Talking Is a Free Action: There's an awful lot of witticisms being traded by people in gunfights who should probably be using that time to shoot someone or avoid getting shot.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Wallace, the self-styled cyber-criminal who has his lap top set up so it will auto-run whatever arbitrary .exe that happens to be on any USB stick plugged into it. Presumably he just clicked through the UAC warnings.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Stephenson has always had soooooo much fun with these.
    • When dealing with custody issues for Zula: "Richard, at the time, was in regular contact with motorcycling enthusiasts who had a branch in Southern California, euphemistically describable as 'active.' Through their good offices, he got a line on some private investigators, unconventional in grooming and in methods. These then made it their business to learn more about Bob's private life." Notice how he lampshades "active", but leaves a bare bulb hanging over "motorcycling enthusiasts". (Which certainly has nothing to do with "biker gangs".)
    • Sokolov and his men are "security consultants," and certainly not "Russian Mafia Goons". It turns out that Sokolov really is a security consultant by honest trade when he's not hiring himself off as muscle.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Richard is Zula's adoptive uncle and quite rich.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Ivanov completely snaps in the end. Sokolov realizes that Ivanov might be losing his sanity well beforehand.
    • Abdallah Jones is another example. Right in the middle of a gunfight with Richard, he starts ignoring Richard and shooting frantically at a mountain lion. Even when Richard pops out of hiding to shoot him, Jones is babbling about the cat.
  • Utopia: Prohibition Crick comes across like this, particularly Jake's household. They acknowledge that they might seem strange to outsiders, and Sokolov in particular thinks that they're paranoid proto-terrorists, but what we actually see of them is faultless. Everyone is friendly, level-headed and well-adjusted in spite of being isolated survivalists, and there seems to be no downside at all to their unusual lifestyle. The fact that they're paranoid gun nuts is actually vindicated by the plot, since catastrophe really does strike their community and they're perfectly prepared to meet the danger.
  • Wham Line: "Allahu Akbar."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The fate of Jack the helicopter pilot is never revealed.
    • The color-coded war in T'Rain is given a lot of pages, but it never influences the plot and is never resolved.
    • The fate of Richard's T'Rain character, Egdod, is left hanging as it wanders across thousands of miles of virtual terrain on auto-pilot while being attacked by glory-seeking characters.
  • Word Purée Title: Like several of Stephenson's previous novels, the title is a made-up word found within the story. It's apparently supposed to be "README" with the letters transposed, either as a result of a typo or a lack of writing proficiency. Stephenson pronunces the titles as "REAM-duh"
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: This whole novel reads as a big game of this.