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Stephenson's Quicksilver Slated For March 7th 114

Posted by chrisd
from the hopefully-this-one-ends-less-abruptly dept.
Swampper writes: "New Neal Stephenson novel Quicksilver is available for pre-order from Amazon UK. It's due out on March 7th. There is also another Stephenson book on the horizon; Interface. It will arrive May 2nd." Actually, Interface was previously offered through the psuedonym "Stephen Bury" Note the discussion of this book and others on the Cryptonomicon site.
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Stephenson's Quicksilver Slated For March 7th

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  • Interface (Score:1, Redundant)

    by adamjone (412980)
    You can get Interface here [amazon.com] from Amazon [amazon.com].
    • Why buy at Amazon if you don't have to?

      I found that my local dealer (the not so small type, but three shops in three different larger cities around here) offers the same books at about 25-50c(EUR) less for the same service (or you can choose to pick it up in town).

      If you go to the site of Libri.de, you can even choose almost any book shop where you want to pick up your delivery.

      And afterall, we surely know where to buy books online.
  • Recommendations (Score:2, Informative)

    by ZaBu911 (520503)
    For anyone who isn't familiar with stephenson, he is the popular author of novels such as Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash.

    Cryptonomicon is great for any "security"-minded or interested person. It's a great read. Snow Crash I liked, but it was a bit confusing in the beginning. Once again, recommended for the typical slashdot reader.

    I expect Quicksilver to be equally interesting
  • by Nilatir (179045) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @01:48AM (#2945047) Homepage
    Amazon.co.uk has had Quicksilver in their data base for a year now. I'd want more info then just a pre-order from Amazon.
    • Yes, seriously - is this the only basis for reporting this? Somebody just now discovering it on Amazon.co.uk, when it has been there for months? That is the ONLY place any kind of date has been announced, and it hasn't changed there in a loooong time. Not likely - perhaps SOME sort of checking on this should have been done?
  • by kubrick (27291) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @01:49AM (#2945051)
    I already have Interface, but never saw the second Stephen Bury book for sale anywhere here (serves me right for not living in the US, I guess).

    Is that flagged to be re-issued as well? Given that copies of Zodiac have popped up again here recently, I'd imagine The Cobweb would be stocked more widely with the Stephenson name on the cover.

    I'm looking forward to Quicksilver, of course -- all that detail combined with amusing narrative :)
  • by adamjone (412980) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @01:50AM (#2945053) Homepage
    For anyone who has not read Neal Stephenson, In The Beginning Was The Command Line [artlung.com] is an essay he wrote dealing with the evolution of the UI from the command line to windows based. It is a funny and interesting rant on how the graphical widgets we use today have softened us.
  • by farrellj (563) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @02:03AM (#2945078) Homepage Journal
    I know it sounds like a Tabloid Headline...but it's true. _Interface_ was written by Stephenson and Dr George F. Jewsbury. It's accurate description of the physiological problems and experiences of a person who has undergone a stroke and that they may have potential blood clots clued me into something that happened to my mom just before I visited. Based upon what I had told my mom that she had probably experienced a minor stroke and should go to the hospital, and that the stiffness & hardness in her calf was probably a blood clot. She and my dad didn't think it was all that serious...Well, within 24 hours, she was in the hospital, and stayed in the hospital for nearly 3 months...she had all the major artories between her heart and her legs replaced because they were so clogged...probably from 30+ years of smoking. She hasn't smoked since she went into the hospital

    I got to thank Mr Stephenson in person a couple of years ago at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2000 conference held in Toronto. I sort of made a fool of myself since I only briefly said thank you and explained why...then ran off since a few tears started, and having some claim to being a little bit macho, didn't want him to see me cry.

    So thanx again Neal and George!

    ttyl
    Farrell

    p.s. The two of them also wrote another novel called The Cobweb, which seems a little prescient considering Sept. 11!
    • My father was a big follower of Nicholas Wirth's
      (actually, many CS professors in europe.) teachings.

      During the Vietnam war, he returned from europe
      to the US, and he was required to join the armed
      forces and fight.

      The man was an emaciated grad student, and failed
      every physical exam they threw at him. During the
      2nd day of try-outs, he developed asthma and a long
      list of other illnesses and complexes.

      USMC knew they will support this man to the grave
      if they ever enlist him, so they decided to save
      the public money from an evidant premature medicare.

      As soon as they certified him "unfit", he returned
      healthy and kicking -- back to terminal radiation,
      and eliminating left recursion.
  • by tds (128757) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @02:26AM (#2945108) Homepage
    This a brief interview in which Stephenson talks about Quicksilver. "related -- loosely -- to "Cryptonomicon". I won't say it's part of a trilogy, but it's a somewhat related work. It's a historical novel, set farther back in time, about 300 years ago, and it deals with a lot of the same themes" http://www.onmagazine.com/on-mag/reviews/article/0 ,9985,46833-1954,00.html
  • List of Books (Score:3, Informative)

    by theMacDude (132844) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @02:28AM (#2945114) Homepage
    FWIW- Here are the books that Neal Stepehnson has written:

    * The Big U (1984)
    * Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller (1988)
    * Snow Crash (1992)
    * The Diamond Age (1995)
    * Cryptonomicon (1999)
    * Quicksilver (2002)

    He has also written two books under the psuedonym of Stephen Bury:

    * Interface (1994)
    * The Cobweb (1996)
  • What a waste (Score:1, Insightful)

    by GCP (122438)
    I keep waiting for somebody to take the breathtaking implications of things like nanotech, hacking matter, hacking biology, quantum computing, AI, the Internet, etc., and weave them into a breathtaking, serious novel.

    [flame suit on] Instead, all we get are comic books. William Gibson is just goth mood music in print with a little tech thrown in for effect. In person, he admitted as much, but said that was fine with him. It was all about the style, nothing deeper.

    Stephenson starts to get imaginative regarding tech, then throws it all away with goofy comic book plots. Lots of ideas I thought were clever enough to build intelligent novels around -- but no such luck.

    (All I've read of his have been Snow Crash and Diamond Age, but that left me uninterested in trying again. Maybe Cryptonomicon is different....)

    And don't get me started on Speilberg and AI!

    The implications of what we can reasonably assume we'll be able to do within a few decades are mind blowing. Surely there must be someone who can bring it to life, to put us there and make it feel real, without wimping out and turning it into just a big joke.

    I don't think I have the talent to do it myself, but I can't believe that nobody else does either.

    Instead, we have a wasteland of black leather and sunglasses, of elves and trolls, of light sabers and aliens that all look like humans with lumpy heads....

    Where is the "2001" for our age?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      OK, I'll write it.

      Check back in a year.
    • I keep waiting for somebody to take the breathtaking implications of things like nanotech, hacking matter, hacking biology, quantum computing, AI, the Internet, etc., and weave them into a breathtaking, serious novel.



      Try Greg Bear's "Slant", "Queen of Angels", and "Moving Mars".

      • Try Greg Bear's "Slant", "Queen of Angels", and "Moving Mars".

        I enjoyed all those, but they didn't feel all that serious to me. Moving Mars, especially, flew off into comic-book level speculation at the end...

        Bear's a good writer but he has an unfortunate tendency to the epic (IMHO).
    • Re:What a waste (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Murdock037 (469526) <{moc.liamtoh} {ta} {nrohtnartsirt}> on Sunday February 03, 2002 @03:19AM (#2945205)
      I agree with a lot of what you say, but I think you may be asking a bit much.

      All the truly valuable science fiction-- which I've heard referred to as the most interesting genre being used today, although I'm not sure I'd go that far-- deals with man's relationship with society and technology (which grew, on a side note, out of the western, which dealt with taming the frontier, or the big scary world; the next natural step was to ask where we go from there).

      But you're right, there's nothing out there (with which I'm familiar) right now that's utterly breathtaking. A few reasons for this, in my mind:

      1. Sci-fi has been disregarded in pop culture, despite the "rise of the geek," as fetishistic and childish. Because it's not respected, respectable people don't stick up for it.

      2. The sci-fi we get is utterly commercial-- Star Trek, movies passing themselves off as sci-fi, etc.-- and so the money behind it doesn't want to tackle weightier issues.

      But some things to ponder:

      1. Stephenson's doing a pretty fine job. He's examining important ideas in a still-relevant medium, the novel, and he does so in a way that gets him at least a modicum of notice out in the real world. He'll be remembered down the line as one of the people that really gets it.

      2. Sci-fi was pretty silly to start with, you know. The B-movies of the fifties-- giant bugs and such-- had the subtext of fears of communism and the dangers of atomic power, but they were still movies with GIANT BUGS AND SUCH. There are gems that we do get these days-- Stephenson, Spielberg's "A.I." (and sorry, folks, like it or not, it wasn't a BAD movie by any means, no matter how misdirected the ending)-- that are just as good, if not better, than anything from the bygone eras.

      3. You can't expect a new "2001" every few years because there is nobody out there now operating at the level of Kubrick in 1968. He was, at his peak, probably the finest filmmaker in the world, and "2001" was his opportunity to indulge in his grandest delusions. If he wasn't such a genius, it would have been an atrocious movie. As it stands, it's the byproduct of one of the medium's greatest creators, and something like that's not going to come along every day.

      There's talent out there capable of doing wonderful things. You've just got to sift through the rest.
    • Re:What a waste (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Muggins the Mad (27719) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @04:09AM (#2945298)
      > The implications of what we can reasonably assume we'll be able to do within a few decades are mind blowing. Surely there must be someone who can bring it to life, to put us there and make it feel real, without wimping out and turning it into just a big joke.

      In that case I'd recommend Greg Egan.
      http://www.netspace.net.au/~gregegan/

      As can be seen from his web site, he's a geek too :)

      Pretty much any of his books rock, but I especially like Diaspora and Axiomatic. He puts
      a lot of his short stories online so you can even try before you buy.

      Of course, as with anything like this, it's up to personal taste, so YMMV.

      - Muggins the Mad
      • I'd say he is the (objectively ;) best scifi writer currently active. Man... To come up with a novel like "Permutation City" - plain genius.

      • He's more than a Geek, he's a published physicist
        and as you can see from the web site with stories
        like the plank dive, is not a afraid to put really
        heavy physics in to his hard sci-fi stories.
    • All I've read of his have been Snow Crash and Diamond Age, but that left me uninterested in trying again. Maybe Cryptonomicon is different....)


      For what it's worth, I've read all three of the above books, and Cryptonomicon is by far the best of the three. I agree that Snow Crash and Diamond Age were both comic-book-like, but I didn't think Cryptonomicon was at all. Give Cryptonomic a chance, you will be pleasantly surprised.

    • Hm, not an exact match for what you want, but still: try "The Collapsium" by Wil McCarthy [sff.net] if you haven't read it. It's a bit silly, too, in places, but not when it comes to the core ideas (programmable matter, matter made out of tiny black holes, and stuff). I enjoyed it.
    • I agree with you about Stephenson. THE DIAMOND AGE is probably the best thing he has written, but half-way through it becomes a cliched pot-boiler. CRYPTONOMICRON and SNOW CRASH spill into geek-boy fantasy. I am not Asian, but the way in which his novels characterize Asian cultures irritates me tremendously.

      I think you're being too hard on "A.I." though. The film lacked a clean ending (the "failed quest"... succeeded because man can create God in his own memory????) but it was probably the most thought provoking film of 2001. From the very opening shot (of cascading waves) we're ushered into a realm of complex visual symbolism. Everyone picked-up on the Pinnochio aspects because the heavy-handed script hammered them home, but the film was more a treatise on reality, and used fairy tales as a general vehicle for commenting on stories as giving life meaning....

      Anyone else catch the Sleeping Beauty references? Hint: listen for the Tchaikovsky....
    • I agree that early Stephenson was intentionally absurd, or "comic book"-like as you say. However, Cryptonomicon isn't like those at all, nor do I expect Quicksilver to be. However, if your definition of "science fiction" must deal with the future, then perhaps you won't like it. It's science fiction in the sense of fiction about science -- Cryptonomicon had two ongoing stories one about WWII codebreakers, and one about modern dot-commers setting up a data haven. Cryptography plays a major role in the book and unlike most fiction about the subject, it is clear that Stephenson actually has done some background research.

      Quicksilver is going to be about the author of a Renaissance treatise about cryptography -- a sort of fictionalized version of Johann Trithemius.
    • vernor vinge. a deepness in the sky.
    • Gibson has some good stories but really he is not much of a visionary. He admits to a dislike for most technology and I don't think he really understands it.

      Stephenson does large amounts of research for his books and they are based largely in fact with a little artistic license to make the stories interesting. Snow Crash foretold the Net and the rise of Multi-player VR enviroments, P2P file sharing, etc. The Diamond Age is a good look at how nanotechnology will effect our society. Of course it keeps within bounds of the near future because nanotech will change us to such a degree that the average person can't even comprehend it. My only complaint is the silly idea that we'll figure out to hack everything in the world but won't be able to generate speech that sounds like a real person.

      You might read some of Bruce Sterlings books too. Books like Distraction are good peeks at the possible future. It deals somewhat with genetics and neural hacks but more importantly addresses how society might evolve once everyone can be self-sufficent but can't find work.

      If you could take Distraction and The Diamond Age and merge them into a single book and jump 20 years in the future you'd have an excellent story that would sell to nobody but geeks because only geeks could understand it.
    • read sterlings schizmatrix plus and everything will be ok... (if you don't mind a bit of space-opera)

      chris

  • by Glowing Fish (155236) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @02:59AM (#2945172) Homepage

    One of my first questions after finishing Cryptonomicon was whether Enoch Root was indeed human or wasn't some sort of angelic presence sent to meddle in human affairs. Since Cryptonomicon depicts Enoch as seeming to not age very fast, and this book is set almost 300 years ago, it will be interesting to see whether Enoch is still alive and the same age at that time.


    For more about the Enoch Root, click here [everything2.com] to read a little essay written by my colleague, e2 Glowing Fish.

    • Three hundred years ago? Are you completely mad? Have you actually read the book? The narrative switches between that set in the first world war and that which is set _now_.
      • Actually, it's partly set in the second world war.

        And if Enoch Root was 20something in WW2 it's not
        unreasonable that he should be knocking around in
        the 90s.
        • I'm referring of course, to Cryptonomicon, not Quicksilver.
        • Well, it is not unreasonable. Enoch does seem to be pretty active for a man in his mid-seventies. Of course, it is nothing that requires a supernatural explanation, but it does perhaps suggest one.


          In any case, we will find out.

          • I'm reminded of one of Enoch Root's lines in Cryptonomicon, about a quarter of the way through the book, when asked if he could speak Italian.

            "But my Italian is heavily informed by the Latin that my father insisted that I learn. So I would probably sound rather old-fashioned to the locals. In fact, I would probably sound like a seventeenth-century alchemist or something."

            The seventeenth century sounds about right for Quicksilver. Interesting, huh?

  • I find it odd that the book is being published by Heinemann [heinemann.com], who doesn't publish any other fiction. I wonder if Mr. Stephenson is going to get a bigger cut of the profits from Quicksilver.
  • Stephenson Online (Score:2, Informative)

    by nanotech (34819)
    You can read [wired.com] a good essay by NS in Wired's archive.
  • Thank God! When I heard that he had said he was planning to write the novel after Cryptonomicon with a fountain pen, I didn?t know whether to laugh, cry, or go find him in order to strangle him. Stephenson is a great author and all of his books deserve to be read multiple times. Thus far, Cryptonomicon has been my favourite, I can only hope that these new book(s!) will be as good.

    I think I have an idea for his next novels though. It?s a story that involves joy and despair, victory and defeat, and an intense struggle between a man and the technology that enfolds the world....and that was just me trying to connect to a damned server to download some files. My attempt at upgrading my glibc files and the subsequent realisation that they were perhaps somewhat important to the system as it crashed, are ample fodder for at least another book or two.

  • Writing style. . . (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stevarooski (121971)
    I know many people who consider Neal Stephonson a visionary, but as far as authorship goes I wasn't too impressed with his work.

    'Daimond Age' was required reading in a politcal science class here at the U, and I borrowed it from a friend who said it was good but confusing. I quickly arrived at the same conclusion. I loved the nanotech and the detail lavished on describing this technology. He had some great ideas on how it would work in our society--I especially liked the 'reactives' and the 'toner wars'. Oh, and I can't forget the ten terabyte nano hardrive. Can you imagine? 'Oops, I just dusted the entire library of congress off my left shoulder.'

    Meanwhile, while much of the book was brilliantly creative, I have to say that I hated the splintered plot that only made sense in the last few pages. There were many aspects of the story that I'm still unsure about. For instance, 'Cryptnet' sounded like a great plot idea that simply died off unexploited. Likewise for the 'drummers'.

    At any rate, if you haven't read any Neal Stephenson, please do! Especially if you like visionary works of dark futures, or are especially fascinated by nanomachine technology. I hope is later books will be a bit more cohesive, but I'm sure they'll still be good reads.
    • Whoa, Nelly! If you think Cryptnet and the 'drummers' are not fully explained and exploited, you missed the point of everything John does since Dr. X gets ahold of him. You many want to read this one again. Stephenson plays with your mind a bit in the second half of the book, but if you are reading carefully (and maybe more than once), you will see the drummers are the key. (Pun intended) He lets you put it together for yourself, though, no spoonfeeding from NS.


      Hint: The Cryptnet people seem to mysteriously disappear after they reach a certain high level. The drummers appear out of nowhere and enable John to decrypt stuff that is theoretically undecryptable, using methods that go beyond (or perhaps below) cryptography into the realm of the collective consciousness. Read it again and see.


      I love the way Snow Crash makes you put together all the pieces yourself, too. He's a master at sketching the really visionary ideas, without actually hitting you over the head with them. If the first read didn't do it, try again, it may be worth it!


      Steve snailshell petabit tinycircle com
      if you want to talk to me.

  • by peripatetic_bum (211859) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @05:05AM (#2945369) Homepage Journal
    I just had re-read his books recently (except Zodiac and Cryptonomicon, but I read Cryptonomiocon recently enough to remember it well) and I have to say that (in reply to the "what a waste" post among others) that N.S and William Gibson's and actually many other really good SF writers main concerns have never really been about the technology itself. It is true that whats gets them noticed is the exciting imagery that the describe new possibilities of tech but really what I have noticed and what keeps peopoe coming back is they are really concenred with the effect of all this tech, and they are concerned with it in a surprisingly humanistic way (which makes it very surprising to me that they are held in great regard by geeks as elite 'tech' type writers)

    I'll stick with Neal S. for now, but having read his most all his book, you can detect even way back in Snow Crash that Neal believes that what technology is really doing is making it clear that what really makes people different is not race (remember, the Protangonist, "Hiro" is a black/asian) not race, or genetics, but the culture that they acquire (the software that is written into the bio-Hardware, if you will).

    In a A lady's Illus. primer I was surprised that this book really was a modern versioin of many philosophical tracts that were popular in the 18/19th centuries. IN A.L's.I.P, N.S. is really concerned with what is key about education, what is key about a culture that makes it successful. While his grip on his understanding culture seems to be (from reading) kind of unsophisticated, I have to give them man extreme props for even trying to tackle what seems to be the most contentious issue of our times. He directly attacks "cultureal relativity", "the dumbing down of society", "The real reason for poverty", and in both A.L's.I.P and in "..The Command line" Essay, he tries to describe what is about cultures and even sub-groups of the cultures (Hacker, vs, End_user, for example).

    What I am trying to say that Neal is using tech as a way to strip away the mere happenstance that makes people a certain way and is trying to understand fundamentally what is going on with culture and where it is heading.

    I look forward to his new book, and will not be surprised if I see these same themes play out, once again.

    I would appreciate hearing you comments on what you guys think Neal's real themes are ( and no they arent about what new tech thing is coming up, btw :)

    Thanks for reading
  • I have been rereading Interface.

    It is an enjoyable book. It is not one that you read for the plot, however. it is one that you read for Stephenson's screeds on opinion polsters, politics and the like. It does have some interesting things to say, as well as some very interesting and satisfying momments. The end it telegraphed way in advance, but the writing is enjoyable enough that you don't really care.

    It is one I recommend.

    I have not read "The Cobweb". The description did not interest me that much. Maybe I do need to go back and read it.
  • If you want a big book with lots of narrative and detail, Stephenson. If you want well written, Larry Niven. If you want implications Robert L. Forward or Rudy Rucker (physicist, mathemetician respectively). I read them all and enjoy each in a different manner.
  • It can't be that hard to find, as I picked up a copy within the last two years or so, sorry I can't remember where. Expect it to be republished very soon in light of its "prescience" with respect to middle eastern-types infiltrating the US and working on biological weapons. Be forewarned though, it really is an early work and not nearly as well written as the larger releases (Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, etc.) but it is FAR better written than The Big U, which was just horrible. That being said, the plot and premise are compelling, even if the characters are a bit flat.

    If it helps your search, I have a US edition Bantam Spectra published in September 1997; ISBN: 0553575457

    BTW, if you're doing a search for other works by Stephen Bury, don't get thrown off by the Head of of Modern English Collections, Stephen Bury, who has a book coming out this month.
    • The Cobweb was co-written by Stephenson after Snow Crash, Interface and Diamond Age (see theMacDude's bibliography in message #2945114 [slashdot.org]). The Cobweb is an OK read, but I'd recommend reading any other book first, except The Big U of course. If you read the other books an like them, read The Cobweb.
  • IIRC, Mr. Stephenson was writing (by now it'ld be 'wrote') this novel with a fountain pen, to keep himself from being long-winded. At the time I read that comment, however, he said it wasn't working.

    As a sidenote, this is perfect timeing: I read Cryptonomicon two years ago & loved it, & I read Zodiac I liked that, but I just started reading Snow Crash last week -- I've barely put it down since. It is a little comic-book -ish, but to me that only helps it. (I.e. I found the one Gibson novel that I read too serious.)

  • My copy of Cryptonomicon has a blurb that briefly compares it to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow , though in truth I think that the flow of the story line makes it a little bit more like V , since both follow several different dramas unfolding at different times in history, all related to the same mystery--one story-line being placed during the war, the other in modern times (which at the time, was the early 60's).

    In anticipation of Quicksilver , however, I've finally gotten around to reading Pynchon's Mason & Dixon . Why? Because it, too, is a potboiler of an historical novel "set about 300 years ago" Mason & Dixon's focus, like Gravity's Rainbow is science, instrumentation, and man's relationship with his tools and mechanical creations--similar themes to Quicksilver and Cryptonomicon, except rather than the focus being on mechanical creations, the focus is on digital creations.

    The number and variety of historical, scientific, engineering and philosophical references is one aspect that make Pynchon's V , Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon so fascinating--as well as Stephenson's Snow Crash , The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon , and from it's description alone, I would surmise Quicksilver . The characters in these books are intimately involved with the pursuit of understanding some scientific or technological challenge, and their discoveries of different parts of the puzzle challenge their personal philosophies and relationships, as well as having some pivotal but largely underrecognized impact on the historical events unfolding around them.

    What I love about these books is that they're not about "A Great Man Of Science" or "The Mad Scientist That Saves The Day". All of them place scientists and engineers where we normally sit -- in our own little world of fascinating details and connections -- and rather than the scientific process being depicted as "The Big Breakthrough"--it's rather depicted more like it really is: a lot of false leads, mistakes, insights, going over the same ground again, tangled up with personal crises both major and minor which are related to which ideas and lines of reasoning are pursued -- and tangled up with each character's family history. Eventually a few of the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, which tend to make the pieces that don't fit look curiouser and curiouser.

    Pynchon originally studied mechanical engineering, "dropped out" into liberal arts and went on to write technical documentation (aAARGH!) for Boeing prior to publishing his first novel. Likewise, Stephenson did quite a lot of programming before, and during, his literary pursuits. Their backgrounds play no small part in their characterizations of the concerns and daily lives of scientists, engineers and programmers -- in academic and military research contexts as well as in amateur pursuits. Far more realistic than the breathlessly admiring "Great Man Of Science" characterizations of Scientists by science journalists and popularizers.

    If you like Stephenson, you might want to give Pynchon a whirl, particularly V , Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon .

    • Speculative fiction, that is. Thomas Pynchon writes about the 18th British scientists Mason and Dixon, who eventually became famous for a massive work of surveying -- laying out the Mason-Dixon line that defines the southern border of Pennsylvania, and separates the northern US from the southern US.

      He turns it into a stunningly brilliant, witty, profound "buddy" story. It's written in an amazing pseudo-18th century English, a mix of high class diction and lower class slang, that is actually quite readable and entertaining. The two guys (one a surveyor, one an astronomer) are first teamed up by the Royal Society in London, to go to South Africa and observe a transit of Venus (this really did happen). Eventually they get the commission to survey the famous Line in America.

      Along the way there is much detail about astronomical history -- the discovery of Uranus, the struggle to figure out how to use the stars to determine latitude from on board a ship, and how astronomy and land surveying complement each other -- and also stuff about the intense rivalries among the most prominent (real) 18th century British scientists. There is also a lot of humor, some of it based on wordplay and anachronisms, some of it based on a kind of "magic realist" approach (there is a funny Talking Dog character, and an old astronomer/alchemist who shows his students how to levitate and fly around the country along "ley lines").

      Oh, don't let me forget the Chinese feng shui master who somehow ends up in North America, accompanying the surveying expedition (and introducing them to the Asian sauce called k'tsiap, which evolves into a condiment we all know well today), and the crazed French chef, pursued by a vengeful robotic duck built in Paris years before. It sounds nuts, but it all works beautifully. And in places the book is profoundly moving, as Mason and Dixon's friendship deepens, and they deal with their own tragedies -- the early death of Mason's beloved wife, Dixon's separation from his father.

      I think a comparison to Neal Stephenson is valid and interesting. Stephenson's broad imagination, and tendency to mix serious, satirical and highly technical/speculative ideas into one big collage make him similar to Pynchon. Personally, I think Pynchon is more talented -- after all, he's been writing brilliant novels since the 1960s. But I enjoy both writers, and I imagine many on /. would as well.

      Oh, I should briefly mention Pynchon's most famous work: Gravity's Rainbow. It's a staggering, challenging, amazingly huge novel published in the 70s, about the German V2 project during WW2 (and, since it's Pynchon, about many other things too).
      • You mean you like the Talking Dog more than the mechanical love-struck duck? What about the magnetic bathtub?

        The the bit about the founding fathers smoking hemp is a rip^h^h^hreference to an old Firesign Theatre routine, but just as funny.

        Dava Sobel's Longitude you'll recognize the chronometer and the rivalry between the astronomers and the watch-makers to take the longitude prize. There's numerous references to it in Mason & Dixon, including their own precarious political situation in the context of that struggle. It was a very real academic political struggle of the day (another theme Stephenson treats light-heartedly but rather heavy-handedly in The Big U). The true story of Longitude is replete with power-plays by the powerful (and, as we find out in Mason & Dixon well-connected and married to money) academic astronomer Maskelyne (masculine?), the struggling "lone genius" engineer/inventor/watch-maker and one very big government grant in the balance. There is nothing new under the sun, is there?

        The interesting comparison for me: is Cryptonomicon to Gravity's Rainbow as Quicksilver will be to Mason & Dixon -- we can find out as soon as we can get our hands on a Quicksilver .

  • I got Interface a couple of years ago (at a bargain bin in Wal-Mart, IIRC). It was not a bad read but I remember that after I finished, I remember thinking that overall, the novel seemed... well, flat, somehow.

    Very interesting to find out that was Stephenson after all! I loved Cryptonomicon, loved Snow Crash even more (what a mind job!), thought Diamond Age was weird, and so on. Cryptonomicon is divided up into two time periods (WWII and the present-ish), and the best compliment I can give it is that, while I was reading each section, I didn't want it to end and go back to the other one.

    It'll be interesting to see how he follows that one up.
  • The link posted in the article is now dead. The only link to Quicksilver in Amazon UK now is for the paperback version and this is not out until 6 March 2003!

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