Thursday, August 22, 2013

China tea, by Neal Stephenson

As a thesis-writing diversion, I have finally gotten around to delving into Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Reamde. A longtime fan of Stephenson's speculative fiction, I've had it on my nightstand for nearly a year waiting for the right moment. This month was definitely that.

Reamde is a surprisingly white-knuckle techno-thriller, the first part of which involves several hackers kidnapped and dropped into some wild hijinks in Xiamen, China. So there are some tea moments worth mentioning. For instance, some international terrorists stop to have tea at one point, a ritual that "involved a lot of spillage" and employed a riot shield as a tea tray. One character, Yuxia, is a Chinese woman inadvertently mixed up in the intrigue. She is introduced by way of the leaf:

And then suddenly this woman had been in front of her, blue boots planted, smiling confidently, and striking up a conversation inn oddly colloquial English. And after a minute or two she had produced this huge bolus of green tea, seemingly from nowhere, and told Zula a story about it. How she and her people ... lived way up in the mountains of western Fujian. They had been chased up there a zillion years ago and lived in forts on misty mountaintops. Consequently, no one was upstream of them — the water ran clean from the sky, there was no industrial runoff contaminating their soil, and there never would be. Blue Boots had gone on to enumerate several other virtues of the place and to explain how these superlative qualities had been impregnated into the tea leaves at the molecular level and could be transferred into the bodies, minds, and souls of people condemned to live in not-so-blessed realms simply by drinking vast quantities of said tea.

Stephenson's a mind-expander. Every title of his is recommended, though chronological order has served me well.

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