What Changed in the New Version of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde?

Last night I received an email from Amazon stating that the copy of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde was “missing content” and that there was a new version available.  Specifically:

We’re writing about your past Kindle purchase of Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected.

An updated version of Reamde: A Novel (ASIN:B004XVN0WW) is now available. It’s important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.

I didn’t deal with it right away because I knew I had at least one highlight that I wanted to save.

This morning, it occurred to me that, since I’m 14% into the book, if I keep reading from the same spot I might never see the “missing content”.  Since I still had the old version, I decided to make a copy of it and see if I could figure out what changes they were delivering to me.  I saved my current position and the highlight, then responded to Amazon’s email to get the new copy.

While waiting for the new copy, I googled around a bit to see if I could details of what changed elsewhere.  I didn’t turn up those details, but I did find a few sites noting that the book had been pulled from Amazon (it’s back now), as well as lots of complaints about formatting issues.  I hadn’t noticed those issues myself.

After I got the new copy, I ninja’d up a text copy of both the old and new version, then massaged them a bit to make diffing easier.  Specifically I deleted blank lines, and then made each sentence its own line.

As expected, the vast majority of the changes were formatting.  The most common change was the removal of an odd character at the beginning of some words.  The character is 0xC2AD.  It renders as a dash in some tools, and I think it was probably not rendered at all in the Kindle software.

The rest of the punctuation changes were the addition and removal of dashes (“sledge-hammer” became “sledgehammer”), the occasional smart quote fix, and moving some commas around.  I have the original diff, but I’m not sure how interesting it is so I’m not posting it.

Now for the meat – were there any meaningful changes to the text?  There were indeed, though nothing so dramatic as a missing chapter.  Here are all the meaningful changes that I could find:

Two sentences were elided and combined in first version:

- Details of history that Geraldine and herm it was like a dog whistle.”
+ Details of history that Geraldine and her staff wouldn’t necessarily put together into a bigger picture.
+ But his fans—to them it was like a dog whistle.”

This entire sentence was missing from the original.  previous and next sentences provided for context:

  And if there is some other such thing I have not heard of yet—none of that either!”
+ In Russian, Csongor said, “What if we need to go into the world of T’Rain?”
  In English, Ivanov said, “Only exception to rule: Zula can play T’Rain if necessary.

Another example of sentences being combined:

- Probing been preparing for the Wor one month in advance, who’s to say they weren’t preparing for it six months or even twelve in advance?”
+ Probing attacks on what would soon become the Earthtone Coalition’s front lines.
+ Which leads to the question, if certain people had been been preparing for the Wor one month in advance, who’s to say they weren’t preparing for it six months or even twelve in advance?”

I’m not really sure if this is a meaningful change or not, but it’s certainly bigger than punctuation:

- “Yes, but—”to do with each
+ “Yes, but—”

Some missing words from the original:

- She called you at 8:42 and told you this story about REAMDE investigation and said she needed to know who had cast a healing spell on her character.”
+ She called you at 8:42 and told you this story about working with me on the REAMDE investigation and said she needed to know who had cast a healing spell on her character.”

Here’s a change that’s not especially meaningful but I’m including because it’s actually a new typo, which is interesting:

- The thin smile came back. “I believe we have that adequately covered.”
+ The thin smile came back. “I believe we have that adequately covered.”1P

Last one – never would have gotten this far if I hadn’t been doing this, but it looks like they messed up the cover design credit.  Oops!

- Cover design by James Iacobelli
+ Cover design by James Lacobelli

And that is that – nice to have a cleaned up version, but nothing to worry about missing if you’ve already started the book.

(Thanks to Perl, diff, and WinMerge)

18 thoughts on “What Changed in the New Version of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde?

  1. I didn’t just start the book, I finished it. I spent the morning worrying large chunks of text were missing, but after reading your post I can stop worrying. Thanks for posting! I really appreciate it.

  2. Cool, thanks for posting this.

    If that 0xC2AD character is UTF-8, then it’s a soft hyphen (U+00AD). I’d expect to see those in the middle of words (marking places where hyphenation is allowed, but maybe the auto-hyphenation algorithm doesn’t identify correctly). I have no clue why they were inserted in front of words.

  3. Thanks Derek. I can’t really say if it was supposed to be UTF-8 or not, but your explanation makes the most sense. I started looking for the character in Unicode, realized that was wrong, then lost interest before I got deep into UTF-8.

    The lack of character encoding also explains why some of my tools rendered it as raw high-bit ASCII, some rendered it as a dash, and some chose not to render it at all.

    I have a pet theory that some Kindle viewers showed it as a dash and some didn’t show it at all, which is why some readers complained of awful typesetting and some weren’t that bothered. I swear I never saw the leading dash in the Kindle app for Android, but there were a ton in the text, so if, for instance, the web viewer of Kindle for iPad did show it, I could see being upset about it

  4. Thank you for posting this. I am only about 22% of the way in, and I have already encountered most of these errors. So I guess I don’t need to download the new version and lose my highlights.

    I am reading this on an actual kindle and I have definitely noticed the dashes. I thought they were some sort of clever formatting trick that would be explained at some point. I was quite intrigued by them and a little sad to hear they are just errors!

  5. The new error (adding “1P”) was in the printed hardcover.

    Those soft hyphens before words were probably InDesign metacharacters to prevent the word from hyphenating.

  6. Thanks for this analysis. Having English only as a second language and now being 54% into REAMDE, I was wondering too what the update would change – and why there are so many ‘-people’ in the book. I even thought I wouldn’t ‘get’ (understand) something that could be obvious to any native speaker…

  7. Nice work.

    My co-worker pointed out that Stephenson fans were EXACTLY the wrong kind of fans to do this sort of jiggery with. Of COURSE dozens of them are hacking the files and checking for the differences!

    You were the first one I found who posted it all. I am much obliged (75% of the way through the book, and worried maybe I’d missed whole chapters or something)

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  9. Thanks for this!
    I read the book on a Kindle and I can confirm that there were strange leading dashes all over the place. Oddly enough almost all of them seemed to be on words ending with “le.” The phrase “a -couple” appeared so many times that I was actually starting to wonder if that was actually the correct way to write it, though when I started seeing references to “Chinese -people” I figured something was definitely wrong with the text.

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  11. I found this post a couple of days ago and – having been bothered by the same thing – poured over the details. Having been satisfied that I didn’t miss anything I happily went on my way. Then, playing with Twitter in IOS 5 I looked back at your tweets and saw this was actually your blog post. Small fucking Internet. Cant remember where I originally found the link. Did this post blow up?

    • Small internet indeed. A few sites included links to this post (I saw a cnet article and a CNN link), and a few smaller posts from the electronic publishing community, but mostly just google. As far as I can tell I’m the only person who published this information so google has it ranked pretty high.

  12. I didn’t see this mentioned too many places, but the meatspace version of the book that I pre-ordered from Amazon contained many of these errors as well. Reading (or “reamding”) them, I just figured I was outclassed by the text or missing out on some in-joke (esp. “1P”).

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