While there was a really interesting book in there somewhere, there were also way too many coincidences, characters that I could only keep track of by what I was told about them, and just simply too much book.
Summary via Goodreads:
Four decades ago, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa family, fled to a wild and lonely mountainous corner of British Columbia to avoid the draft. Smuggling backpack loads of high-grade marijuana across the border into Northern Idaho, he quickly amassed an enormous and illegal fortune. With plenty of time and money to burn, he became addicted to an online fantasy game in which opposing factions battle for power and treasure in a vast cyber realm. Like many serious gamers, he began routinely purchasing virtual gold pieces and other desirables from Chinese gold farmers—young professional players in Asia who accumulated virtual weapons and armor to sell to busy American and European buyers.
For Richard, the game was the perfect opportunity to launder his aging hundred dollar bills and begin his own high-tech start up—a venture that has morphed into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Corporation 9592, with its own super successful online role-playing game, T’Rain. But the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred when a young gold farmer accidently triggers a virtual war for dominance—and Richard is caught at the center.
In this edgy, 21st century tale, Neal Stephenson, one of the most ambitious and prophetic writers of our time, returns to the terrain of his cyberpunk masterpieces Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, leading readers through the looking glass and into the dark heart of imagination.
If the book had just stuck to that, I would have loved it! The best part of the book was this core plotline, around an advanced multi-player computer game, and a group of hackers that stashed the cash from the computer virus (REAMDE) they wrote there. The details of the game and the people involved in it were rich and rang true, and the plot itself was ingenious.
I can see the plot necessity of the Russian gangsters that came into it, to provide the conflict to make the plot move. These characters never quite clicked for me, but didn’t upset the balance of the book.
Where the story went overboard for me was when the Islamic terrorists got involved. They convoluted the plot, and added chapter after chapter of running and chasing, and for very little payoff.
The book started with a set of fairly outrageous coincidences. I can deal with this as part of the setup. Unfortunately, there was another round toward the end. This was probably necessary to wrap up everything that was thrown in, but didn’t add to my enjoyment of the book, but rather to the feeling there were just too many pieces needing to be dealt with.
It took me a month to read the 1000+ pages, which is a very long time for me. I enjoyed the core story and some of the primary characters enough to keep me going, but not to find time to keep picking it up, and I can’t quite find the payoff for the time it took.