This is a big book filled with plenty of adventure and thrills. The story line utilizes every current communication/electronic device available today, only more so. What I mean by that is that the story describes a world with technology much the same as we now have except that the computing power is stonger, the smart phones with GPS are more ubitquous, and the on-line/virtual/game world more compelling than what's currently available in 2011. I kept speculating on how far in the future the novel is set until the author provided a clue--the character Zula reminises that she enjoyed watching the movie "Love Actually" 10 years ago. Since that movie was published in 2003 and we know the story takes place during the "mud" season, we can calculate that the story takes place during March and April of 2014.
The story starts with a family reunion in Iowa, jumps to Canada and Seattle, then goes to a boomtown in China, jumps to Taiwan and the Philippines, and then back to Canada and across the border into the U.S.A. The cast of multi-national characters is so broad that you'll need both fingers and toes to count them all. The plot has a conclusion that all gun nuts will love; a multisided battle between the good guys and a pack of jihadist terrorist who are trying to sneak into the United States to carryout a Mumbai style terror attack in Las Vegas. This final battle is so complicated that I hope some fan of the book will take the time to prepare maps and charts as required to make sense of the final battle.
Some of the most compelling parts of the book are scenes of a double game of cat and mouse, where those stalking prey in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), T’Rain, are simultaneously being stalked in real life. There's also a liberal sprinkling of social satire throughout the story that gives the novel a bit of edge. Several examples are listed below:
1. The on-line game, T'Rain, is riven by a user-generated civil war between the Earthtone Coalition and the Forces of Brightness, which can be read as an example of how societies tend to divide into competing coalitions such as the American two party system.)
2. One of the Russians shrewdly pegs a homestead of off-the-grid Idahoan evangelicals as "the American Taliban".
3. Walmart – particularly its well-stocked guns and ammo department – proves essential to the plans of both the jihadis and their opponents. (It's impossible to accomplish anything in America without at least one trip to Walmart.)
Stephenson went out of his way in this book to explain the technical details of on-line gaming, computer viruses, GPS navigation, guns, ammunition and mountain terrain geology. I suppose he was trying to make sure that the reader was aware that no magic was involved in the book's plot.
This is a book that you can recommend to all your redneck gun toting survivalist acquaintances who hate Muslims. The book is filled with descriptions of gun action that were beyond me, and its descriptions of Muslims are a bit less than politically correct.