If I had read Neal Stephenson and L. Frederick George’s Cobweb when it was released in 1996, I would have said “this isn’t much like Neal Stephenson at all.” Because here we are with a mainstream political/intrigue thriller, at a time when Stephenson was known for writing the post-cyberpunk Snow Crash and the neo-Victorian nanopunk The Diamond Age.
But here in 2013, Stephenson has written Reamde, which is a mainstream political/intrigue thriller, so it seems a lot more up his alley. And, in fact, that’s probably the best way to describe this book: It’s as if Stephenson wrote Reamde with his writing skills circa 1996, rather than his (rather more formidable) writing skills circa 2013. It’s enjoyable, there are characteristically Stephensonian moments throughout, but it’s thinner, less developed, and less rich.
So by the standards of Stephenson’s novels, this is a decidedly minor work; but by the standards of thrillers… well, Neal Stephenson in 1996 was still about a million times the writer Dan Brown is. If you’re looking for a light little thriller about the (first) Bush presidency and the (first) Gulf War, and you’re not expecting too much, this is an enjoyable read.