Reamde

novel by Neal Stephenson first published in 2011

Reamde is a technothriller novel by Neal Stephenson, published in 2011. The story, set in the present day (relative to the novel's publication), centers on the plight of Zula Forthrast, who is abducted by two different criminal organizations after one of the organization's financial data is compromised by a ransomware virus called "REAMDE." Many of the characters are either customers or employees of a fictional MMORPG game company founded by Richard Forthrast, Zula's uncle. Phenomena and topics explored in the novel include in-game gold farming, social networking, Russian organized crime, autism spectrum disorders, Walmart, Islamic terrorism, fantasy authors, Idaho survivalists, "bizjet" aviation, emotional availability, urban China, as well as the tradecraft of British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6), Russian Spetsnaz and American CIA Special Operations Group operatives.

Ha ha noob, you are pwned by troll. I have encrypt all your file. Leave 1000 GP at below coordinates and I give you key.
“It’s one of a large block of IP addresses allocated to an ISP in Shyamen,” Corvallis said. "X-I-A-M-E-N. A port city in southeastern China, at the mouth of the Nine Dragons River, just across the strait from Taiwan. Pretty generic, for a Chinese city."

Part I: Nine DragonsEdit

ThanksgivingEdit

  • 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. … The sun above blinking on and off with each cut of a blade. … 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 corners.
 
In high school she’d been quiet, a little too assimilated…an all-American girl named Sue whose official documents happened to read Zula.
But now she had got in touch with her Zula-ness.
  • 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.
  • 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!”
  • Black/Arab with an unmistakable dash of Italian. No one would mistake her for a model, but she’d found a look.
    Richard 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 creepy.
  • He was a quick study. An autodidact. Anything that was technical, that was logical, that ran according to rules, Peter could figure out. And knew it. Didn’t bother to ask for help. So much quicker to work it out on his own than suffer through someone’s well-meaning efforts to educate him — and to forge an emotional connection with him in so doing.
  • Richard’s ex-girlfriends were long gone, but their voices followed him all the time and spoke to him, like Muses or Furies. It was like having seven superegos arranged in a firing squad before a single beleaguered id, making sure he didn’t enjoy that last cigarette.
  • The girl in the passenger seat said she had never before been in “a car like this,” meaning, apparently, a sedan. Richard felt far beyond merely old.
 
The girl in the passenger seat said she had never before been in “a car like this,” meaning, apparently, a sedan. Richard felt far beyond merely old.
  • The Walmart was like a starship that had landed in the soybean fields. … They went inside. The young ones shuffled to a stop as their ironic sensibilities, which served them in lieu of souls, were jammed by a signal of overwhelming power.
  • Gold, he learned, was considered to be a reliable store of value because extracting it from the ground required a certain amount of effort that tended to remain stable over time. It didn’t take a huge amount of acumen, then, to understand that the value of virtual gold in the game world could be made stable in a directly analogous way: namely, by forcing players to expend a certain amount of time and effort to extract a certain amount of virtual gold.
  • The opening screen of T’Rain was a frank rip-off of what you saw when you booted up Google Earth. Richard felt no guilt about this, since he had heard that Google Earth, in turn, was based on an idea from some old science-fiction novel.
  • And so it was that Richard had conceived Corporation 9592’s Writers in Residence Program. Years later, he was astounded by the naïveté of it. Writers, as it turned out, rather liked having residences. Once they had moved in, it was nearly impossible to dislodge them.
  • As a fantasy writer, Skraelin was not highly regarded…
    “…one cannot call him profoundly mediocre without venturing so far out on the critical limb as to bend it to the ground…”
    “…so derivative that the reader loses track of who he’s ripping off…”
    “…to say he is tin-eared would render a disservice to a blameless citizen of the periodic table of the elements…”
    But he was so freakishly prolific…and prolific was what Richard needed at this point in the game.

Day 0Edit

  • Schloss Hundschüttler was a cat-skiing resort. They had no lifts. Guests were shuttled to the tops of the runs in diesel-powered tractors. The diesel-scented, almost Soviet nature of the experience filtered out the truly hyper-rich glamour seekers drawn to the helicopter option, who tended to be a mixture of seriously fantastic skiers and the more-money-than-brains types whose frozen corpses littered the approaches to Mt. Everest.
  • Zula could only talk about what had been made public about T’Rain security, which was that her boss, Pluto, was the Keeper of the Key, the sole person on earth who knew a certain encryption key that was changed every month and that was used to digitally sign all the fantasy-geological output of his world-generating algorithm. It was sort of like the signature of the Treasurer of the United States that was printed on every dollar bill to certify that it was genuine.
    • A similar virtual Key becomes an important plot device in Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.
 
Do you know anything about Xiamen?”
“It is a curious place. Maybe a little like Hungary.”
“What does that mean?"
“Too many neighbors.

Day 1Edit

  • "Ha ha noob, you are pwned by troll. I have encrypt all your file. Leave 1000 GP at below coordinates and I give you key"
    • The REAMDE virus’ accompanying message
  • “Maybe they’ll just take us into Russia and—”
    “What?” Zula asked. “Kill us? They could have done that in Seattle.”
    “I don’t know,” Peter said, “sell us into white slavery or something.”
    “I’m not white.”
    “You know what I mean.”
  • “This isn’t the first. People have been making malware that does this for a few years now. There’s a word for it: ‘ransomware.’”
  • Richard resumed reading the T’Rain Gazette, a daily newspaper (electronic format, of course)... which summarized what had been going on all over T’Rain during the preceding twenty-four hours:
    Notable achievements, wars, duels, sackings, mortality statistics, plagues, famines...untoward spikes in commodity prices.
  • “I don’t think you are actually retired,” Corvallis pointed out mildly.…
    “It’s a selective retirement,” Richard explained, “a retirement from boring shit.”
    “I think that’s called a promotion.”
    • Corvallis Kawasaki, or C-plus, is a major character in the sequel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.
  • "Do you know anything at all about Xiamen?” Zula asked.
    “It is a curious place,” Csongor said. “Maybe a little like Hungary.”
    “What does that mean?"
    “Too many neighbors.”

Day 2Edit

 
In Spetsnaz, it was a fixed doctrine that you should be in continual motion and most of that movement should take place at an altitude of considerably less than a meter.
  • Spies were supposed to have a strong intuitive sense of when they had been noticed, when someone else’s eyes were on them. Or at least that was the line of bullshit that the spycraft trainers liked to lay on their students. If true, then no Western spy could tolerate even a few seconds’ exposure to a Chinese street… If they had dressed up in clown suits, strapped strobe lights to their foreheads, and sprinted out into traffic firing tommy guns into the air, they would not have drawn more immediate and intense scrutiny by entering this public space as non-Chinese persons… They were not merely noticed. They were famous.
    • Sokolov's reflections on his utter failure to move discretely through the streets of Xiamen
  • Waging war on his enemies had been Sokolov’s habit and his profession for a long time, but being chivalrous to everyone else was simply a basic tenet of having your shit together as a human and as a man.
  • This was always the hard part. If you knew what was normal to the enemy, then everything became easy: you could lull them to sleep by feeding them normal, and you could scare the hell out of them by suddenly taking normal away. But normal to Afghans and Chechens was so different from normal to Russians that it took a bit of work for a man like Sokolov to establish what it was.
  • “There is nearly always a chthonic link. The object-imbued-with-numinous-power tends to be of mineral origin: gold, perhaps mined from a special vein, or a jewel of extraordinary rarity, or a sword forged from a shooting star. The vast popularity attests to the power of these motifs to seize the reader’s attention, down at the level of the reptilian brain, even as the cerebrum is getting sick.”
    • Donald Cameron, flashback to development of T'Rain
  • Men always made crude jokes about people pissing their pants with fear, but in Sokolov’s experience, shitting the pants was more common. Pants pissing suggested a total breakdown of elemental control. Pants shitting, on the other hand, voided the bowels and thereby made blood available to the brain and the large muscle groups that otherwise would have gone to the lower-priority activity of digestion.

Day 4Edit

 
With a short list of plausible Jones hideouts, Olivia's gut feeling was strongly in favor of a large, locally notorious dump of a place, five stories high, enmeshed in the finely reticulated streets of an old neighborhood. (Xiamen)
  • “Why do they believe that?”
    “Because we are hackers,” Csongor said, “and they have seen movies.”
  • In Spetsnaz, it was a fixed doctrine that you should be in continual motion and most of that movement should take place at an altitude of considerably less than a meter. Standing there like an asshole looked good in cowboy movies but was not a viable tactic in a world filled with fully automatic weapons.
  • He had found an image of one of the big Western-style business hotels along the waterfront: one of those places where it was possible to be a white person without attracting one’s own personal Stonehenge of cataleptic, openmouthed gapers.
    • in Xiamen
  • Hungary, severed from half of the population and most of the natural resources that it had once claimed, had now to practice a sort of economic acupuncture, striving to know the magic nodes in the global energy flow where a pinprick could alter the workings of a major organ. Mathematics was one of the few disciplines where it was possible to exert that degree of leverage, and so the Hungarians had become phenomenally good at teaching it to their children.
  • That, as far as she could tell, was the purpose of the religion she had been brought up in: It made people feel better when really horrible things happened, and it offered a repertoire of ceremonies that were used to add a touch of class to such goings-on as shacking up with someone and throwing dirt on a corpse.

Part II: American FallsEdit

Day 6Edit

  • But Richard had already gone the cop route and found it not nearly as productive as driving around with a sledgehammer and retaining the services of men with oxyacetylene torches.

Day 8Edit

  • One way to be strong was to be knowledgeable. In so many areas, it was not possible to be knowledgeable without getting a Ph.D. and doing a postdoc. Guns and hunting provided an out for men who wanted to be know-it-alls but who couldn’t afford to spend the first three decades of their lives getting up to speed on quantum mechanics or oncology.

Day 10Edit

  • Jones began to draw up a shopping list. “Cooking oil…mosquito repellent…matches…cordless drill…”
    “Tampons,” Zula called out.
    “What brand?” Jones asked without skipping a beat. “Lite, Regular, Super, Ultra?”
    “You’ve actually had a girlfriend?”
    “Anything else, as long as I’m in the pink-and-pastel aisle…or can I get back to planning atrocities?”
    “Knock yourself out.”

Day 15Edit

  • This was part of Corporation 9592’s strategy; they had hired psychologists, invested millions in a project to sabotage movies—yes, the entire medium of cinema—to get their customers/players/addicts into a state of mind where they simply could not focus on a two-hour-long chunk of filmed entertainment without alarm bells going off in their medullas telling them that they needed to log on to T’Rain and see what they were missing.
  • Uncle Richard,
    …This is my first damsel-in-distress letter, so I hope I am striking the right tone…
 
“I’m sorry I touched your doll,” Olivia said. “I had no idea how important Thorakks was to you.” Silence, as none of the men knew how to cope with her tactical use of the word “doll.”
  • Since her immigration status had become impossible to make sense of, Olivia was met, at the top of the jetway, by a man in a uniform and a man in a suit. She had always read of people being “whisked through” certain formalities, but this was the first time she had ever been personally whisked and she had to admit that it had its charms. Particularly when you were hungover and bleeding.
  • “You’re reading [Sokolov] all wrong,” Olivia said.
    They all just gazed at her, hoping she’d say more.
    “He’s a gentleman,” she explained, for want of any better way to put it.
    “Oh. Why didn’t you just say so?” said Uncle Meng.
    • Olivia debriefed in London
  • “The American national security apparatus is very large and unfathomably complex,” was all that Uncle Meng would say. “It has many departments and subunits that, one supposes, would not survive a top-to-bottom overhaul. This feeds on itself as individual actors, despairing of ever being able to make sense of it all, create their own little ad hoc bits that become institutionalized as money flows toward them. Those who are good at playing the political game are drawn inward to Washington. Those who are not end up sitting in hotel lobbies in places like Manila, waiting for people like you.”
    • Prepping Olivia for meeting Seamus Costello
  • “Costello has been after Jones for a long time,” Olivia guessed. “He takes pride in his work, or used to. Jones got the better of him more than once…”
    “He is just your type,” Uncle Meng said gently. “Please do try not to fuck him.”
    “How come it’s okay for James Bond?”
  • Seamus had a Boston accent that could scrape the rust from a manhole cover.
  • “Welcome to the GWOJ.”
    “GWOJ?”
    “Global War on Jones.”
 
And then the economy crashed, and the hip people discovered that they were, in actual point of fact, blue collar, and probably always would be.
  • None of Seamus’ crew gave her more than a glance and a nod. They were intensely focused on their laptops: some sort of pitched battle.
    “Fuckers are trying to flank us on the left!”
    “Disengaging from the Witch King and pivoting to get your back.”
    …Fierce clicking and typing, punctuated by roaring, anguished laughter, as (Olivia guessed) each man’s character died in the game world.
    Planted around the dining area were plastic dolls: troll- or elf-like fantasy characters…Marked on the underside of each was the logo of Corporation 9592.
    So that answered the question she’d been afraid to ask, for fear of seeming like the stupidest person in the whole world: Are you playing T’Rain?
  • “I’m sorry I touched your doll,” Olivia said. “I had no idea how important Thorakks was to you.”
    Silence, as none of the men knew how to cope with her tactical use of the word “doll.”
    “Wow, how do you rate having a doll made of your personal character?”
    “It’s called an action figure.”

Day 17Edit

  • “Is this a real blue-collar bar or a simulacrum thereof?”
    “Both. It started out as a pure simulacrum, a few years ago, when it was hip for twentysomethings to move down here and dress in Carhartts and Utilikilts. And then the economy crashed, and the hip people discovered that they were, in actual point of fact, blue collar, and probably always would be. So you’ve got guys here who run lathes. But they have colored Mohawks and college degrees, and they program the lathes in computer languages. I was trying to come up with a name for them. Cerulean-collar workers, maybe.”
    • Olivia and Richard in Seattle

Day 18Edit

 
“Did you notice his leapfrogging cavalry screens?”
“Yes, I fucking noticed them.”
  • “The Troll is really smart. And fast. I’ve watched him take down a few wandering bad guys. And the kids in his posse are every bit as formidable.”
    “Ever make a raccoon trap?”
    “No,” C-plus said. “I was told they carried rabies, and I couldn’t see why it would be desirable to catch one.”
  • “I notice you’re not referring to him as ‘the little fucker’ anymore,” said Corvallis.
    “Okay, okay, he stopped being a little fucker when he raised an army of twelve hundred high-level characters and deployed them in battle array around his projected route of advance,” Richard admitted. “I have to admit I was wondering why he was taking so long to move away from that cave. I didn’t reckon that he was going to set the whole thing up like Sherman’s march to the sea.”
    “Did you notice his leapfrogging cavalry screens?”
    “Yes, I fucking noticed them.”
    • Corvallis and Richard discuss Marlon, aka the Troll, player-name REAMDE.
  • There was a common saying in the biz/tech world that “A's hire A's, and B's hire C's,” the point being that as long as you continued to recruit only the very best people, they would attract others, but as soon as you let your standards slip, the second-raters would begin to sign up third-raters to act as their minions and advance their agendas.
    • This saying was popularized by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his "Rumsfeld's Rules" document, dating back to his tenure on the Ford Administration transition team.
  • Far from wanting to pull a gun and shoot the man, Csongor now wanted to stand here and ask him questions all day. It was such a pleasure to be around someone who actually knew what the hell was going on.
    • Csongor, Yuxia and Marlon meet "James" (Seamus Costello) in the Philippines.
  • James had also been playing T’Rain. Csongor was interested to note that James’s character seemed to be tromping around in an environment very similar to the Torgai Foothills. As a matter of fact, the mountain peak in the background looked awfully familiar; James’s character was within a few kilometers of Marlon’s.
    “You’re following us,” he said, “in two worlds at the same time.”
 
“What is this place?” Sokolov asked him.
“This is Golden Gardens Park.”
“What is name of city, please?”
“Seattle.”
  • Half a dozen teenagers, boys and girls, were huddled together around the remains of a campfire. As Sokolov approached, one of them rose and staggered down the beach until he felt he had gone far enough to fish out his penis and urinate without giving offense to any female members of his party who might be awake. Sokolov approved of this.
    He was still pissing, with the enviable vigor of the young, as Sokolov approached within hailing distance.
    “What is this place?” Sokolov asked him.
    “This is Golden Gardens Park.”
    “What is name of city, please?”
    “Seattle.”
    “Thanks. Have nice day.”
    “You too. Take it easy, man.”
    “Is not my objective. Nice thing to say though. Enjoy piss.”
    • Sokolov had just swam ashore from a container ship.

Day 19Edit

  • The channel through which these images had reached them was extremely confusing (decryption key pulled out of a dead man’s wallet by a Hungarian in the Philippines communicating with an American in Canada, the conversation taking place on an imaginary planet), and Olivia had to intervene and explain matters. And that was just the Seattle FBI part of it.
  • Except for the part about his niece being held hostage and he himself being the captive of murderous jihadists, this was the best vacation Richard had had in ten years. The only vacation, in truth. … He was seriously thinking that, if he survived this, he might try to launch a new venture: a vacation services provider for wealthy, hardworking people that would work by showing up at their homes without warning and abducting them.

Day 20Edit

  • Northward from Spokane the businesses and dwellings stopped feeling like farms and began feeling like outposts. Decidedly eccentric signage began to show up: billboards inveighing against the United Nations, and hand-lettered jeremiads about the existential threat posed by the federal budget deficit. But of course Olivia just noticed those things because she was looking for them; it was mostly fast-food joints and convenience stores like anywhere else in America.
 
When a thunderstorm was headed your way across the prairie, you took the washing down from the line and closed the windows.
It wasn’t necessary to have a meeting about it.
The sales force didn’t need to get involved.
  • Olivia cast an eye over the contents of his cart, wondering whether this was totally random stuff, to perfect his Walmart shopper disguise: 5.56-millimeter cartridges, a water purification device, jerky, bug repellent, roll of black plastic sheeting, batteries, camouflage binoculars.…
    It turned out that Sokolov really did want to buy all that stuff. Not because he envisioned any particular use for it. He just believed in stocking up on such things, on general principles, whenever an opportunity presented itself.
    He would fit in well here.
    • Northern Idaho
  • “Seamus?”
    He looked up. Csongor was there, and Marlon, and Yuxia, all freshly showered and looking like the Xiamen branch of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Fan Club.
    • All wearing camouflage clothing bought from Cabela's
  • This was probably rooted in a belief that had been inculcated to him from the get-go: 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.
    When a thunderstorm was headed your way across the prairie, you took the washing down from the line and closed the windows.
    It wasn’t necessary to have a meeting about it.
    The sales force didn’t need to get involved.

Day 21Edit

  • Richard understood that the spryness he had been envying Yuxia for was at least partly an act, a willed refusal to show pain.
    Because she didn’t want men covering for her.
    Because chivalry sometimes came with a price.
 
Richard found something hugely enjoyable about the fact that, at the same moment, both he and Egdod were wandering alone across their respective worlds, seeing everything close up in a way that they rarely had a chance to.
  • Csongor noticed Marlon craning his neck to get a sidelong view of the speedometer. Glancing down, he saw that he was going ninety.
    “It is not kilometers per hour,” Marlon informed him. “In the metric system, you are going at something like five thousand.”
  • “Before California, we have to get into trouble. Then out of it.”
    Marlon shrugged. “But that is what we do.”
    Csongor nodded. “That is what we do.”
  • Richard envisioned the aged wizard wading through swamps, trudging doggedly across deserts, scaling mountain ranges, and walking through forests. Kind of like he was doing.
    Egdod, of course, carried a wizard’s staff, just a simple stick, no fancy carvings or jewels. Just like what Richard was carrying now. Richard found something hugely enjoyable about the fact that, at the same moment, both he and Egdod were wandering alone across their respective worlds, seeing everything close up in a way that they rarely had a chance to. Getting back in touch with the terrains from which they had sprung, autochthonously, early in their lives.
    • Egdod (Dodge spelled backwards) is Richard's god-like wizard character in the game T'Rain, but it is also the name he adopts for himself in Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.
  • It came to him then that he was overthinking this. This was a shoot-out. Nothing could be simpler. But he was making it too complicated by trying to use his wits to work the angles.
  • “It’s nothing more than a great bloody cat!”

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