Tortilla Tuesday: Harry Tortilla "reviews" Reamde by Neal Stephenson (also a contest)

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Tortilla Tuesday: Harry Tortilla "reviews" Reamde by Neal Stephenson (also a contest)

Posted on 2012-11-14 at 3:0 by montsamu

[Editor’s note: Tortilla Tuesday will be a very irregular and quite irregular guest column from one Harry Tortilla, whose single-minded concern about the dangers of Omnicorp tends to, er, overly color his thoughts on fiction… Also: There is a simple-to-enter contest giveaway, details at the bottom, for the audiobook of Reamde.]


By Harry Tortilla:

With the publication of Reamde, there can now be no further doubt that Neal Stephenson has been replaced by a cybernetic entity. A cybernetic entity able to narrate and string together a long series of events and simulated experiences supposedly undergone by “characters”, but that is incapable of doing so in any larger context of meaning or association. A cybernetic entity capable of only the crudest imitation of the science fiction novelist beloved by millions of readers around the world, and with seemingly no understanding that another being is meant to read this garbage; a human being no less, with friends, a spouse, a job, maybe a child or two. A human being who has been led to expect warmth, ideas, adventure and fun wrapped up in a neato sci-fi speculation by the original Neal Stephenson, a slightly arrogant looking dude with a beard and a sense of humor.

We’ll call this cybernetic entity “Neal2.0.”

See, our Neal, the original, flesh and blood Neal, was a daring, bodacious, human writer who seemed to possess every talent a sci-fi writer could ever wish for: neat, imaginative ideas, great pacing, cool characters, a willingness to do research, a sharp satirical wit, a no-bullshit understanding of the idiocy of mass culture, even an understanding of computers and technology gained from actually working with them for most of his life.

And best of all, the motherfucker could write. He had a knack for putting together pithy sentences that made you pump your fist and say “fuck, yeah!” Like so:

His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachno-fiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest.
He had a way of approaching each scene or event in a fun and surprising way. Here is how he begins a description of a ride on the London subway, circa 1942:
Waterhouse and a few dozen strangers are standing and sitting in an extraordinarily long, narrow room that rocks from side to side. The room is lined with windows but no light comes into them, only sound: a great deal of rumbling, rattling, and screeching. Everyone is pensive and silent, as if they were sitting in church waiting for the service to kick off.
His first widely published novel, Zodiac, had all of those qualities in their fresh, unformed states. We had interesting science facts to learn, a quick, page turning plot, effortless  and effective prose style. We had a fun, brash young narrator with a great, cynical point of view. It was an underdog fantasy brought to life: an obnoxious know-it-all sticks it to the corporate man and has a rip-roaring good time doing it. All that in 320 pages. You put the thing down and felt hungry for more.

Snow Crash

And more we got. Snow Crash was a genuine achievement. The only word I can use to sum it up is just—fun! Here we had all the good points of Zodiac: cool characters, fast, page-turning plot, little bit of science, a streetwise distrust of authority … and a whole fuck of a lot more: Original and insightful speculations about the future of technology, the origin of human intelligence and the nature of language; a biting, concise and hilarious critique/send-up of the privatize-everything, homogeneity of libertarian corporate culture; a wild, wooly future-world that despite it’s absurd, cartoonish contours feels real and right in all the ways that count; a supervillian so bad-ass that killing him would be just the start of your problems. The thing rocked and rolled along, action-packed and dense with info, interest and dark comedy. HumanNeal was enjoying the hell out of himself.

There were a few idiocyncracies, sure. Some complained about the abrupt ending, but that was only because they were disappointed that they had to stop hanging out with Hiro, Y.T. and Uncle Enzo. Some didn’t like the odd digressions in the story—Jason “the Ironpumper” Breckenridge, or the motorcycle salesman—but those existed just to frame Hiro & Y.T.’s stories in a larger context. They were short, comic interludes that felt like a fun vacation. They were fun-to-read little vignettes in their own right.

HumanNeal could pull this off, because he was human. We felt like he was right there with us, rapping in our heads, and we trusted the guy. We could forgive some weird digressions and unsatisfying endings because everything else was just so much fun. HumanNeal became famous.

The Diamond Age

Then things started to get a little grander, and if it was possible, more ambitious. The Diamond Age was a sprawling futuristic-Victorian bildungsroman with a borderline-incoherent plot that worked only because we loved our protagonist Nell so much that we kept turning those pages. The writing was still top-notch, even if we couldn’t quite follow the machinations of Dr. X, Miranda or Lord Chung Sik-whatever-the-fuck. It all ends with a bang and is chock full of cool nanotech gadgets and speculations, so whatever Neal — laissez le bon temp roules!

And then came Cryptonomicon, and you gotta hand it to HumanNeal- at least he went out with a bang! Every page of this wild, disjointed, digression-fest just seemed to leap off the page. The goddamn thing was 1,100 pages but read like a novel half that size. Again, we had some weird digressions (that 20 page thing about the root canal?) but they were fun, and funny and just seemed to add to the general spirit of free-wheeling mayhem that we had grown to love in a Neal Stephenson joint.

But shortly after this, something terrible happened to HumanNeal. Something in the physical world. A car wreck maybe? A stroke? A permanent acid-flashback? Brain hemorrhage from birthing out so many rad novels and ideas? My research has found only dead ends and fun house mirrors. Maybe it was something as simple as a fall from a ladder. Or maybe he was just sick of it all and decided to split, leave his family and his career, hit the road Jack Kerouac style. Maybe the hollowness of fame sucked the will to live out him.

The only thing we can be certain of is that sometime between the publication of Cryptonomicon in 1997, and the first volume of the Baroque Cycle in 2004, the HumanNeal that we had spent the nineties loving and revering like a literary God became incapable of writing.

His novels still sold like Frisbees. His renown was greater than ever. He had muscled his way out of the SF ghetto and was racking up tremendous sales for Bantam, a division of Omnicorp. What was Omnicorp supposed to do, let one of it’s biggest earners just disappear from its balance sheet? No way.

But what to do?

Only people like me who have studied the organizational charts and intertwined oligarchical ownership threads of Omnicorp know that Omnicorp also owns Cybernetic Design Studios, a small but very well-funded research company. Their specialty?

Artificial Humanity.

And that is the only explanation for what came next in the Stephenson oeuvre. CDS created an artificial intelligence meant to imitate, to within a grammatical tolerance of .7%, the writings of HumanNeal. They would have fed it all of HumanNeal’s previous writings of course, plus loads of ancillary data and background materials: every issue of Wired, huge volumes of data on geography, military history, computer programming, codes, WWII, select pop culture references. Presumably it got some of Neal’s lesser known writings: those couple of crummy short stories, his non-fiction writings, the Big U, those weird thrillers he wrote with his uncle or whoever. Perhaps this was where the problem came in.

Neal2.0 was born.

Things looked good at first. Neal 2.0 immediately revealed the subject for its first novel: Europe’s Baroque era. Seemed promising. No wild future tech, sure, but plenty of opportunity for fun adventures. A sample chapter was attached to the end of later editions of Cryptonomicon. Not a lot happened in it, but it seemed like it could be interesting. You had a young Ben Franklin- that was kind of a neat idea. We assumed that our old buddy HumanNeal was back on the case.

But behind CDS’s high-security doors the massively parallel circuits that made up Neal2.0 were churning through thousands of digital story algorithms. The scientists charged with fabricating the Neal2.0 narrative engine got their calculations off by an order of magnitude. The thing wouldn’t shut up, wouldn’t end the story it was creating. It went from novel to novels, from novels to epic. Epic metastasized into saga. The Baroque Trilogy (Or was it eight books? Estimates vary.) would not end until every last narrative thread was terminated with extreme prejudice. An editor was brought in and locked in a room with the Saga, to no avail. Where was she supposed to even begin with this thing? After the third suicide attempt she was allowed to return to her family, a broken ghost of the vibrant publishing professional she had been.

In the end, the suits at Omnicorp didn’t care what Neal2.0 produced, as long as it had a product they could slap Neal’s name onto. The fact that there were three books was even better! Roll them out every twelve months. Force his devoted fans to keep buying and buying.

This is exactly what they did. Over 3,000 pages of mind-numbingly detailed, carefully described STORY. We didn’t read this thing because we enjoyed it. That was impossible. We persevered against the adversity of those books because we still believed in the Neal, the HumanNeal, we had grown to love. But it was like sticking with a spouse who has developed a mental illness. You keep hoping that they’ll pull through, that you’ll see a flash of the lovely brilliance you fell in love with, but it never comes. It’s too buried in all this other crap. Characters tromping all over the Earth for reasons unknown. Endless dialogue that does nothing to move the plot (what little there is of it) along. Feuding mathematicians. Caper after caper after caper.

Somewhere in there was the outlines of a great 350-500 page novel, but it was totally obscured, like the skinny person that hides underneath the morbidly obese person’s neck rolls.

This was when I began to have my first suspicions about the fate of HumanNeal. I tried my theory out on some friends and was thoroughly scoffed at.

“He’s just got a lot of ideas,” they said. “He likes to do long books so he can thoroughly explore a topic. He’s ambitious.”

“No,” I said. “There’s something wrong here. This is not the writing of a human being. The novelist we loved is no more.”

No one listened, of course, but the next two “novels” proved me correct.


Excitement was very high for the publication of Anathem, mostly at the prospect of reading a complete story that you could hold in one hand. CDS’s technicians obviously tightened Neal2.0’s story algorithms down to produce a product under 1,000 pages, but only barely. Neal2.0 continued to emulate the worst parts of its source material: Stephenson’s wordiness, philosophical pretensions, his digressions and needlessly convoluted and episodic storylines. It was a story about some monkish type-dudes that ever-so-slowly figure out that there’s an alien spacecraft orbiting their planet. The denouement of this novel was so underwhelming that I struggle now, only a couple years after finishing it to remember the details. They were from another dimension or something? There was a Frenchman on board from our dimension? That was a big reveal? All sense of fun, kick-ass high-tech adventure was long gone, buried with HumanNeal, unreconstructible by the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence.

And now comes Reamde.

The title alone was confirmation of my darkest suspicions. What human writer would name their book something this dreadful? “Reamde?” It felt like some kind of sinister joke. Like a hint: this is what you’re in for if you read this thing. I was embarrassed to be seen with the thing in public. It was like I was carrying around a copy of “Barely Legal” or something. I read it alone, at home, in the bedroom.

Neal2.0’s technicians had set him for “Thriller, Modern High-Tech,” probably at the behest of the Corporate Overlords at Omnicorp. They wanted to take the Stephenson brand into respectable, airport bestseller land. They had to appeal to your average golf-playing business traveller who’s used to reading manly, military exploits like Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler. They probably figured it wasn’t too much of a stretch, since HumanNeal’s books were basically about technology and were pretty damn thrilling.

But Reamde is “about” technology in the same way that the Bible is about camels. Sure, it’s in there, but Neal2.0 doesn’t have anything to say about it. There’s a massively-multiplayer online game, and there’s cell phones, but they don’t mean anything. They’re just things that exist in the world, the same way that cars or indoor plumbing do. Occasionally they move the plot (if we dare call it that) forward, but that’s about it. The game, T’rain (more stupid names!) has a (sort of) novel speculation about how to make more money for goldfarmers, but this just amounts to “wouldn’t it be neat if they made a game that made more money for goldfarmers.”

So the book begins in America at the family reunion of a bunch of crazy, gun-loving free-men types. We’re introduced to dozens of characters, including what appear to be our protagonists, Zula and Richard Forthrast. (If only we could be blessed by a book by Neal2.0 with only two main characters. Soon enough we will have at least five, and we will care nothing for any of them.) A lot is made of the clan’s gun love. We book-reading elites are supposed to (I guess) shake our heads at Neal2.0’s broad mindedness. He can see things from the point of view of a bunch of devout Christian gun-nuts. What a visionary. I suppose it is impressive for a cybernetic entity to pretend to see the world from anyone’s point of view, but this wouldn’t be a stretch for any human novelist worth a damn. Zula is alleged to know how to handle a firearm, but after the opening scene she never again gets the opportunity. (More on that in a minute.)

At first we thought this novel was going to be about Richard Forthrast, since we get a lot about his family, a lot of his ruminations, and a lot about his business. But, then a few hundred pages in, we stop hearing about him, and we’re mostly with Zula as she gets swept up in whatever dumb caper Neal2.0 has cooked up for us. This is a problem throughout the book- there are so many shifts in perspective, we’re following so many characters, engaged in so many long, tedious travels that we just shut down. By the time we re-meet the gun-nut family for the big, dumb finale, we’ve forgotten who any of them are. And naturally by this time we don’t care.

The book is really just a series of bait-and-switch plot operations. First we think we’re reading about Richard’s business problems, then we think it’s about a computer virus, then it’s a kidnapping, then we’re fighting terrorists, then it’s a hundred fifty page shoot-out finale. It’s as if Neal2.0’s narrative generators wrote four complete novels and then was ordered to Frankenstein them together. Well, not every random assemblage of corpses will get up and walk.

The synthetic nature of this random assemblage is nowhere more obvious than in the central event of the novel, the scene in the apartment building in Xiamen, where the entire course of the story changes because of a single completely random event. Zula purposely tells the Russians the wrong apartment number, an apartment that just so happens, out of all the zillions of apartments in China, to be inhabited by a bunch of Islamic terrorists, including one Abdullah Jones. (Another dumb name!) What if there had been no one in that apartment? Or just a Chinese family? What are the odds of a black Welsh terrorist from a middle class background being holed up in a random apartment building in a random Chinese city that a bunch of random Russian gangsters (who are themselves on a pretty random mission to find some random hackers in China) raid, based on a random decision made by a young American woman that they’ve randomly kidnapped? I mean, really?

We’re asked to swallow too many things that make no logical sense just so this whole ridiculous narrative can unfold just the way Neal2.0 wants it to. Satisfying, human narratives do not spring out of random chance. One thing has to lead to another with at least some small bit of believable causality. When you pile up too many unlikely scenarios, and then have them all depend on one chance encounter it shatters all believability. The narrative is revealed to be completely contrived. It certainly doesn’t add up to a plot engaging enough to sustain a reader’s interest for 1,100 pages.

Another side effect of this random, bait-and-switch plot is that I never know whose story I’m meant to be following, or who I’m supposed to be rooting for. Zula, presumably, but she never does anything except get more and more captured, so I don’t care about her. Or maybe Richard, but after the novel’s (300 page!) opening we don’t really spend much time with him, and the little bit we do see him, he’s wasting his time with these writers who are completely incidental to the plot of the novel. Then, I guess, we’re meant to root for Sokolov, but his motivations become so hazy after the shootout/explosion in Xiamen that it’s really difficult to understand or care about what he does. He has his doubts about Ivanov, but he never does anything about it. He never has a dramatic, interesting moment where he decides to defect or rebel. Ivanov dies, conveniently absolving Sokolov of any moral choice. What about Csongor? He’s a likable character, sure, but his affection for Zula is based on such a tenuous, Stockholm-syndrome-interaction. He has no idea if she reciprocates those feelings, so we feel no tension or excitement for them as a couple. We have no idea if she would even consider him as a boyfriend when she’s finally rescued.

Then there’s Seamus. And Yuxia. And Marlon. And Olivia. Most of these characters we don’t meet until we’re already 500 pages into this mess, and we’re already bogged down with four or five characters we don’t give a shit about. We don’t need any more. These characters’ romantic entanglements seem, like the plot, totally contrived. Seamus and Yuxia’s attraction seems perfunctory. It’s there because they’re characters in this novel, and Neal2.0 knows that male and female humans partner up, so why not them?

All of this is just what you’d expect from a high-powered cybernetic entity that has never had any personal relationships of its own. Neal 2.0 can only derive simulated relationships from the source material it was given, it has no experiences of its own. And this would explain the other main problem with its attempts at characterization: Neal2.0 seems to labor under the notion that a close and lengthy recounting of a character’s internal monologue, or a detailed history of how a character came to be in their particular situation is the same as characterization. It’s like asking an autistic person to describe a personality. They could tell you many details, but not all of them would be helpful for you to get to know what sort of person you’re dealing with.

The thing about characterization is that it can be done very subtly, and with just a few details. Without stopping the story dead in its tracks to explain how the character got there. Take HumanNeal’s description of Hiro Protagonist in the opening of Snow Crash. We know that he’s  smart, aggressive and sarcastic from his job and from the tone of the writing. We get, very quickly, that he’s way too smart for his job delivering pizzas. And then HumanNeal gives us this amazing paragraph:

The Deliverator used to make software. Still does, sometimes. But if life were a mellow elementary school run by well-meaning education Ph.D.s, the Deliverator's report card would say; "Hiro is so bright and creative but needs to work harder on his cooperation skills. So now he has this other job. No brightness or creativity involved–but no cooperation either.
Boom. In just a few creative sentences HumanNeal has given us a flavor, a feel for who this character is. It’s a detail about his personality, not a detail about his history or situation, and it’s delivered with verve and humor. Compare that with Neal2.0’s endless descriptions of how Olivia got to be in China, or Sokolov’s interminable strategic analysis of what it would be like to engage in urban combat in the streets of Xiamen. These tell us nothing about what sort of people they are, and they’re deadly boring to read. We already know that Sokolov is a combat vet and that Olivia is a spy, we don’t care about the intricacies of how they got where they are.

And speaking of unnecessary details, Neal2.0 took HumanNeal’s fun little digressions in Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon and expanded them from narrative cul-de-sacs into eight lane highways to nowhere. Prime example being Richard Forthrast’s feuding writers Devin Skraelin and Don Donald. For the amount of time we spend hearing about these useless fucks I would have thought that they were essential to the plot. But it turns out — no! I stopped being able to remember which one was which about halfway through, and it didn’t matter. They could have been completely excised from the book and no one would ever have wondered who wrote the plot for T’rain. The book would have been better for it.

It may not quite qualify as a narrative dead-end, but the on-again-off-again investigation of Zula’s disappearance by Richard, then Olivia and Seamus is as mind-deadening as can be. Mystery Writing 101: an investigation that is hundreds of pages long is only interesting when the reader doesn’t already know the answer. We know perfectly well where Zula is, and to have every other character in the novel hell-bent on figuring out what we already know is beyond dull to read. Never mind that the believability of these character’s efforts is slim to non-existent. Does Zula have some kind of magical ability to charm everyone she meets into trying to save her? None of these characters decided “Well, that’s a job for the police. I’d better get on with my life?”

HumanNeal would have given these characters some other bit of business to do, something interesting and fun to read about that was germane to their pursuits and interests. They might figure out where Zula is as a side-effect of that adventure, but he would never have a plot motivation as tenuous and cliché as rescuing the girl. In Snow Crash, remember, Juanita is in no need of rescuing, and that’s not what Hiro’s trying to do.

Neal2.0 must have been fed a bunch of truly retrograde pulp stories from the late fifties. Zula, despite being from a family of Original American Badasses, remains completely helpless through the entire novel. She makes a couple of feeble attempts at escape, but for the most part spends her time cooking for the bad Islamic terrorists. Y.T. would have told them to go fuck themselves. Gender politics aside, the main effect this has on most readers is to become completely uninterested in Zula as a character. HumanNeal used to give us awesome, resourceful characters (think Nell in The Diamond Age). Neal2.0 just gives us a hostage, the most boring female character anyone could write.

And then there’s the books muddled politics and morality. Exactly what you’d expect from an AI simulation with no deeply held beliefs or experiences of its own. The big villain is an Islamic terrorist, which is obvious enough. Terrorism is axiomatically bad, right? Any cybernetic entity could infer that after three seconds exposure to our mass media. We’re never given a chance to see what might motivate such a man, we’re just given to understand that he’s BAD. Obviously, tautologically — he’s a terrorist, and terrorists are bad. There’s never a mention of the economic, political or moral causes of terrorism. Neal2.0 simply imports the mainstream view of al Qaeda terrorists and asks no further questions. HumanNeal would never have provided us with such an obvious, shallow and jingoistic villain. Raven was the baddest of bad guys, but by the end of Snow Crash, after we’d spent some time with him, we got to know what made him tick. It didn’t make him any less evil, we still wanted Hiro to kick his ass, but it did make him interesting.

But in Reamde, who are the good guys? A billionaire former drug smuggler; a Russian soldier of Fortune who was part of the oppression of Chechnya; a Chinese hacker who infects thousands of computers with a virus in order to rob them of real money in a virtual world; a computer hacker who works for the Russian Mafia; a bunch of gun-loving Bible thumpers. We’re meant to root for these people? Why? The Chinese hacker literally gets away with millions of dollars of stolen money, and we’re supposed to cheer him on? None of the other characters in the novel says anything to him about how all of that money was stolen, that the people who dropped it off in the game were coerced into doing so by his computer virus? Neal2.0 makes a really clunky and obvious attempt to get us to dislike Zula’s boyfriend Peter right from the get-go, because he’s willing to sell a bunch of stolen credit card numbers. He’s a THIEF and a CREEP. But Marlon’s virtual ransom money is a way bigger crime, and we’re supposed to get pumped about it? Only a computer program with no sense of morality would throw these characters together and expect us to root for them.

And then there are the Bible-thumping gun nuts who provide the firepower for the book’s interminable finale. Neal 2.0 must have absorbed some of HumanNeal’s occasional and rather mild observation that people with religious conviction can often be more durable in crises than their atheist friends and taken it to its reductio ad absurdum. The more guns you have, the more virtuous you are? Only heavily armed religious nuts are truly fit to survive? Well, survivalism isn’t a virtue, it’s not even a world-view. It’s a skill set. Idaho freemen love their Guns and Jesus (in that order), but that doesn’t make them engaging or sympathetic heroes.

Abdallah Jones is a gun-toting religious nut full of resourcefulness, self-reliance, and every other manly virtue that HumanNeal revered. Why is he the bad guy? Neal2.0 is attempting (I guess?) to throw our pencil-necked, East Coast, liberal arts college, politically correct prejudices back in our faces. “Muslims really are out to get us, you know!” It’s the old Bush-Cheney mentality: attempting to understand terrorists is the same as giving aid and comfort to the enemy. These tricks work on the gullible and the stupid, but science fiction readers are made of smarter stuff.

I suspect that this entire aspect of the novel was insisted upon by the Mind-Control department of Omnicorp (formerly Public Relations) The “hoo-hah!” enthusiasm for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is waning, so they’re trying to rally the troops with this kind of thinly veiled propaganda. It feels like the whole complicated, thousand page mess was written just to have a scene where a bunch of Real Americans blast the shit out of a bunch of Real, Bad, Honest-to-Golly Muslim terrorist invaders of Our Sacred Homeland. Not being human, Neal 2.0 has no idea how tedious this is to slog through, or how disappointing a conclusion it is.

And this brings me to Reamde’s most offensive deficiency: it’s complete and utter lack of ideas. The thing that made HumanNeal so compelling and readable was that behind the baroque plot constructions and wacky sci-fi happenings was a core of critical thinking and interesting ideas. HumanNeal had a perspective that he was writing from. Of course he was a good enough novelist to not devolve into using his characters as mouth pieces for his own thoughts, Ayn Rand style. But you could tell that there was an engaged, caring human being in the background who didn’t care for the stupidity around him, and wanted to shine some light into dark corners that the rest of us didn’t care to think about. In Snow Crash it was the corporate homogenization of human culture. In The Diamond Age it was the amorality of atheistic modern culture. In Cryptonomicon it was the absolute and bloody ruthlessness of civilization.

In Reamde it’s…I don’t know. Terrorists are bad? The world is a crazy high-tech place? Video games are neato? What? Who? Why? Neal2.0 is capable of stringing together actions into linear patterns, but it’s incapable of any of the higher arts of fiction: tone, meaning, subtext. Reamde is basically a thousand page list of things that happen. It’s a new form of fiction that Neal2.0 has invented here: Incidentism.

We may never know, without breaking into CDS’s high-tech, high-security compound buried deep beneath the Rocky Mountains, battling it out with Omnicorp’s half-human cyborg guards, dodging the poison darts, disabling the laser drones and finally storming into the freezing, air-conditioned server room that houses Neal2.0, exactly how much of my theory is true. Are they perhaps keeping some portion of HumanNeal’s brain alive in a glowing blue nutrient bath? Perhaps this pathetic excuse for a novel is a cry for help from what’s left of HumanNeal. Or perhaps he’s truly gone, and all we have are the verbose ramblings of a rather shoddy Cybernetic ghostwriter. All I have to go on are a few suggestive facts, some wild conjecture and a creepy feeling.

The one thing I’m certain of is that it’s impossible for a writer as amazing as HumanNeal to write a novel as thoroughly, insipidly terrible as Reamde.



Harry Tortilla is an interdimensional prophet/refugee from a future Earth that has been destroyed by the selfish machinations of Omnicorp and it’s subsidiaries. Some of his dire warnings and desperate imprecations are in a form that some might mistake for a book review or literary criticism. That’s because Harry recognizes the plain fact that Science Fiction is the most important form of literature for our survival. If you’d like to publish his warnings you would be aiding the cause of truth, clear thought and helping to create a true humanity in the universe. The choice is yours.

Editor’s note, part two:

Harry sent me this review with the following rambling introduction: “this is highly important data, crucial to the survival of a species that we might be able to refer to as human. great dangers lurk behind seeming trifles. omnicorp’s tentacles are everywhere and ever growing. be advised. communication follows”. I wasn’t sure if I should publish it, but I wasn’t sure how safe it would be not to publish it, because Harry seems fairly unbalanced. Anyhoo… THE CONTEST!


  1. Leave a comment with the title of your favorite Neal Stephenson novel.
  2. A random number generator will be used to select a comment posted prior to 12:05 AM EST on Tuesday Nov 27.
  3. The commenter wins a copy of the audiobook of Reamde, read by Malcolm Hillgartner for Brilliance Audio.
  4. Winner must have an address served by USPS Media Mail. In the event the winner does not, a second winner will be selected, etc. until a valid winner is found.
Posted in columns, harry tortilla | Tagged harry tortilla, neal stphenson, reamde