Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1687
Neal Stephenson’s Reamde is a thriller set in contemporary America. The novel follows the lives of Richard Forthrast and his niece, Zula Forthrast, who is a refugee from Eritrea. The novel focuses on Richard’s business, built around his creation of T’Rain, a massive multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG,...
(The entire section contains 1687 words.)
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Neal Stephenson’s Reamde is a thriller set in contemporary America. The novel follows the lives of Richard Forthrast and his niece, Zula Forthrast, who is a refugee from Eritrea. The novel focuses on Richard’s business, built around his creation of T’Rain, a massive multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG, and Zula’s adventures. During the novel, Zula is abducted by Russian mobsters, taken to Xiamen, China, and there abducted by Islamic terrorists, who take her back to North America as they try to enter America to launch a terrorist attack on Las Vegas.
Richard Forthrast is an outsider in his family since he dodged the draft (earning him the nickname “Dodge”), fled to Canada, and began to work as a wilderness guide. Richard shot a bear defending one of his clients, who then asked him to skin the animal for him. Richard elected not to allow the client to take the skin with him, instead choosing to smuggle the bear across the border. Richard navigated tunnels built during the prohibition era and discovered “Prohibition Crick,” near America Falls. Realizing that he could make money from this, he then began to smuggle marijuana across the border and became a millionaire. Richard would go on to buy the land around Prohibition Crick and America Falls, before allowing his youngest brother, Jacob, to farm there with his gun-loving, deeply Christian family.
Richard managed to leave the drug business behind him, but had to find ways to launder his money. He founded the Schloss, a ski resort in British Columbia, Canada, with his money. During this time, Richard played World of Warcraft for ten years, finally discovering he could make money from gaming. Richard creates T’Rain, a detailed fantasy game similar to World of Warcraft. T’Rain is distinct from World of Warcraft because the latter actively restricts the actions of Chinese gold farmers, who are virtual gold farmers that harvest gold online and sell it to Western players. T’Rain rather allows these virtual gold farmers in China to make money and thus, make a modest living in China’s economy. The depth of T'Rain's design at times causes it to defy Richard’s direction. For example, players' avatars were originally divided into good and evil, but players have since redivided themselves into two new races based on fashion. The “Forces of Brightness,” dressed in clashing colors, have attacked the more traditionally attired “Earthtone Coalition.” Although T’Rain at times presents unexpected problems, it has nevertheless added to Richard’s wealth and has become one of the world’s most popular MMORPGs.
Reamde opens in Idaho, during the Forthrast family’s Thanksgiving. The family celebrates by firing off many rounds: the entire family is highly trained in the use of firearms. They are also very knowledgeable about their property and Second Amendment rights. Richard’s older brother, John, fought and lost his legs in Vietnam. He and his wife work a farm with their adopted daughter, Zula. Zula has just finished college, where she majored in mathematics. Upon hearing that she is looking for work, Richard invites her to work for his company, Corporation 9592.
Zula later comes to visit Richard at the Schloss with her boyfriend, Peter. Peter is a hacker and has accompanied Zula to British Columbia to snowboard, and more secretly, to drop off a DVD of hacked credit card numbers to a client. The client, Wallace, works for the Russian mafia. On their way back to Seattle, Peter explains to Zula what he has done and she breaks up with him. However, when they get back to Peter’s building, he receives a call from Wallace. Apparently his laptop has been hacked, which means that he cannot send the credit card numbers on to his mobster superiors. This means that both Wallace and Peter are about to have a very big problem.
It turns out that Wallace is a habitual T’Rain player and he has fallen victim to a virus that is affecting many T’Rain users. “Reamde” is a file that many players open, mistaking it for a harmless “Read Me” file, only to find the information on their computer encrypted. To obtain the code to decrypt their files, players must travel to the Torgai Foothills and leave gold with a troll avatar that lives there. Peter and Wallace try to do exactly this, only to find that many other players have already arrived to deposit money, and still others have arrived to rob those affected by the virus.
By the time they finish a few attempts to buy the decryption code, a Russian mobster, Ivanov, arrives in Seattle with his head of security, Sokolov. Sokolov’s men cut all contact with the outside world, murder Wallace, and dispose of his body. When Ivanov realizes what has happened, he decides to fly by private jet to Xiamen, where the user controlling the troll is located. He takes Zula and Peter with him. During the trip, Zula is able to deduce that Ivanov’s actions are unusual for a mobster, and she realizes that he is acting out of desperation. Regardless, before long, Ivanov has paid off Chinese authorities and smuggled her into Xiamen, China. Ivanov has brought some muscle, Sokolov, and Csonger, a Hungarian hacker, with him. It does not take long for them to find the troll, thanks in part to Yuxia’s help. Yuxia is a Hakka Chinese tea saleswoman who kindly offers to guide the foreigners around Xiamen. For her generosity and her admiration of Zula, her life is threatened by the same people that hold Zula hostage.
When Sokolov’s men prepare to invade the troll’s apartment, Zula manages to convince them to break into the apartment below the troll in order to prevent murder. Unbeknownst to her, she has sent them into an apartment kept by an Islamic international terrorist cell run by the notorious Abdallah Jones. Sokolov’s attack is a disaster and he just manages to escape out the window. He crosses the street on a wire and breaks through a window into a room where he meets Olivia Halifax-Lin, a British spy monitoring Jones’ activities. In the aftermath of the attack, Ivanov kills Peter and is killed himself. Zula is abducted by Adallah Jones and taken to the pier. Csongor, Yuxia, and Marlon, the Reamde troll, try to save Zula, but fail. Yuxia is taken hostage by Jones’s terrorists, who travel by boat into the ocean. Csongor and Marlon pursue the boat and are able to capture it, defeat the terrorists, and liberate Yuxia. They set a course into the ocean and end up in the Philippines.
Zula, meanwhile, remains in Jones’s custody. Jones uses Zula to convince Ivanov’s pilots to take him and a few other terrorists to North America. His ultimate goal is to launch an attack on Las Vegas. They fly under a jet across the ocean and drop below radar before they can be picked up again in North America. When one of the terrorists attempts to rape Zula, she manages to take his gun, kills him, and blows a hole in the plane’s fuselage, causing it to crash in Canada. However, Jones is both resilient and resourceful, and he begins calling on terrorist sleeper cells in Canada. He also begins buying camping gear and weapons from WalMart. He searches the Internet and discovers that Zula’s uncle, Richard, once smuggled marijuana across the American-Canadian border. He decides to take Zula to Richard in order to force the latter to take him and the other terrorists into America.
Richard, meanwhile, tries to track down Zula, but makes little progress. He is able to deduce that she has gone to Xiamen in search of the Reamde troll. However, before he leaves, he meets Olivia Halifax-Lin, who informs him that she has tracked Jones from China to somewhere in North America. Richard soon is given notice that the Reamde troll has come online to collect his money and convert it to real-world currency. Richard goes online and activates his most powerful avatar, Egdod (“Dodge,” spelled backwards). He confronts the troll and learns more about what has happened to Zula. However, he is abducted by Jones’s terrorists before he can do any more, leaving Egdod to wander alone across the virtual terrain of T'Rain.
Although Olivia is unable to convince her superiors in London that Jones is in North America, she is able to call upon Seamus Costello, a CIA operative based in the Philippines. He tracks down Yuxia, Csonger, and Marlon, and manages to get them into the United States through his American military contacts, though none of them have visas. The group journeys north to Idaho. Olivia also contacts Sokolov, and he begins the travel to Idaho as well.
All of the parties converge at American Falls, where Richard’s youngest brother is raising his family. Zula escapes the terrorists, but it makes little difference to them as they already have Richard. Zula pursues them and rescues Richard, but by the time she does this, the terrorists have already crossed the border and are descending into America. A man-eating cougar has begun to follow the terrorists, who in turn pursue the Forthrasts deeper into Idaho. A prolonged shootout follows. Sokolov and Richard's youngest brother, Jacob, shoot many of the Islamic terrorists. However, Sokolov is buried beneath rubble during the shootout. Abdallah Jones kills John Forthrast with his prosthetic legs. Jones corners Richard and is about to kill him when he is attacked and killed by the cougar.
In the aftermath, it is revealed that Olivia and Sokolov, Yuxia and Seamus, and Csongor and Zula have formed relationships. Although Richard and Zula are still in counseling and not yet able to use firearms yet, the terrorists have been defeated. Readers leave the Forthrast family where they met them: together, at another family reunion on Thanksgiving. Yuxia and Seamus are present as well, and when Richard asks Seamus whether he is "ready to go in and give thanks," the CIA operative replies “you know it.”