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Quicksilver 314

Posted by timothy
from the salivation dept.
Christina Schulman writes " Quicksilver, Volume One of the Baroque Cycle, is the new doorstop from Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon . It's set in late-seventeenth-century Europe, and while it has a few links to Cryptonomicon, you don't need to read Cryptonomicon first. A bit of background reading about the English Civil War wouldn't hurt, though." Schulman's review (below) is enough to whet the appetite, without major spoilers -- perfect for those of us who've been waiting since the end of Cryptonomicon for another 900 pages.
Quicksilver: Volume One of the Baroque Cycle
author Neal Stephenson
pages 944
publisher William Morrow
rating 9
reviewer Christina Schulman
ISBN 0380977427
summary More than you ever wanted to know about the English Restoration and the invention of calculus, with lots of explosions, syphilis, and piracy thrown in for good measure.

First, let's make it clear that Quicksilver is not science fiction. It's historical fiction, occasionally about science, for people who like science fiction, i.e. geeks. It has math, optics, and vivisection, but no computers, no code, and no high-speed pizza delivery.

This is also not a book that gets anywhere quickly. It's 900-plus pages, and it's not padded so much as it is fractal. Stephenson wanders down side tracks, stages elaborate adventures and morality plays, explores philosophical issues and geometric proofs, assembles obscure puns, and drags in all manner of famous people and events, purely for his own amusement. Either you sit back and enjoy the game, or you hurl the book (with effort) at the wall somewhere in the first few hundred pages.

Daniel Waterhouse is a seventeenth-century geek; his father's a prominent associate of Oliver Cromwell, but Daniel's more interested in Natural Philosophy than in decapitating kings and Catholics. At Cambridge, he befriends Isaac Newton; later he becomes sort of a grad student and chief bottle-washer to the Royal Society. He starts out as naive observer of London politics, but over a few decades, gravitates into the intrigues of both the Court and the European intelligentsia. Just as Lawrence Waterhouse befriended Turing in Cryptonomicon, Daniel Waterhouse orbits Newton and Leibniz. It seems to be the fate of Waterhouse men to be brilliant thinkers eclipsed by the geniuses of their age.

Jack Shaftoe is a legend in his own time, a thief and mercenary who propels himself around Europe on sheer balls and avarice. He bumbles into and out of ridiculous scrapes, including an ostrich-chase at the Siege of Vienna that results in his rescue of the slave-girl Eliza from a Turkish harem. Eliza's business savvy draws the pair back across Europe to Amsterdam, where Eliza becomes entwined in both the Dutch stock exchange and the court of Versailles.

Cryptonomicon readers will remember the improbably long-lived Enoch Root, who shows up occasionally to nudge the plot along. Most of the story takes place between 1655 and 1689, but it opens with Enoch in Massachusetts in 1713, interrupting Daniel's efforts to found MIT by presenting him with a summons from England. Daniel spends the next several weeks being chased around Plymouth Bay by the pirate Blackbeard, only to have his plot thread left dangling with no apologies. Either it will be picked up in the sequel, or Stephenson is attaining a new degree of sadism.

Where Cryptonomicon was about secrecy and deception, Quicksilver is about revealing the hidden and the unknown, and the free dispersal of ideas and money. Stephenson uses quicksilver as an unsubtle symbol of the scientific discovery that was beginning to percolate through the known world. He highlights the dichotomy between the religious viewpoint, of a world that began in perfect knowledge and order and has steadily decayed since the Fall, and the scientific viewpoint, of a chaotic world that is slowly being brought into order and the reach of understanding. Much of this understanding was accomplished through the efforts and correspondence of the Royal Society, which operated in a state of excitement, enthusiasm, and confidence that they would decipher the mechanisms of nature: an attitude not unlike that of the dot-com startup era, but fueled more by wonder and less by naked greed.

Lesser writers dump blocks of expository prose into the narrative; Stephenson shamelessly shovels it into his dialogue. As a result, much of the dialogue is stilted, and the banter is painfully odd. You get used to it. Some bits are more blatant than others, such as a dialogue between Waterhouse and Newton and a Jewish prism-merchant, in which Stephenson trots out a brief overview of European coinage of the time, while cycling through a catalogue of synonyms for "Jew."

So, is Quicksilver worth the effort? On the one hand, it's an insightful look at both the Scientific Revolution and the Glorious Revolution. On the other hand, it's got plague, pirates, astronomy, sex, explosions, daring rescues, religious strife, and the profound effect on European history of stockbrokers and syphilis. It's a terrific book, but don't expect it to resemble Stephenson's prior books in anything but ambition and length.


You can purchase Quicksilver from bn.com -- the official release date is September 23rd. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Quicksilver

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  • by daeley (126313) * on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:34PM (#7025541) Homepage
    Quicksilver, Volume One of the Baroque Cycle, is the new doorstop...

    You know, it's a good thing I love Neil Stephenson, 'cause 900 pages is not so much doorstop sized as *door* sized. ;)
    • Try telling this to a fan of Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy : each volume is 1200+ pages, and I read each within two days of buying it. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:35PM (#7025548)
    Is An Instance of the Fingerpost [penguinputnam.com] by Ian Pears.

    Can't wait to read Quickselver, though. I'll even spring for the hardcover to go next to my Cryptonomicon.

    -- ac at work

  • by Soulfader (527299) <sig.sigspace@net> on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:35PM (#7025549) Journal
    He highlights the dichotomy between the religious viewpoint, of a world that began in perfect knowledge and order and has steadily decayed since the Fall, and the scientific viewpoint, of a chaotic world that is slowly being brought into order and the reach of understanding.
    A somewhat ironic summary, considering the laws of thermodynamics. =) (Yes, yes, I know what he meant.)
  • come on.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by OctaneZ (73357) <ben-slashdot2.uma@litech@org> on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:35PM (#7025553) Journal
    900 more pages about Waterhouse and Shaftoe.... How many generations can these families bump into each other?
    • I'd say about as often as C3PO and R2D2 can run into anakin and descendants. In fact I wouldn't be surprised to learn that C3PO and R2D2 were somehow transported from a galaxy far, far away carrying dna that produced all life on Earth...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I couldn't agree more. The idea of two generations of the same families coincidentally bumping into each other after 50 years totally ruined Cryptonomicon. Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of surreal plot elements. That is, if they are in surreal novels.

      Unfortunately Cryptonomicon was a sci-fi novel, which implies that amazing coincidences don't happen unless there's a good reason. Overall, I thought he made some very odd choices, as compared to his earlier work like "Snow Crash" and "Diamond Age". Perha
      • I couldn't agree more. The idea of two generations of the same families coincidentally bumping into each other after 50 years totally ruined Cryptonomicon. Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of surreal plot elements. That is, if they are in surreal novels.
        I agree. Of the 6 billion or so people alive on the Earth today, representing 1.25 billion families, how often could something like that happen? Totally improbable given the small numbers involved.

        sPh

        • The idea of two generations of the same families coincidentally bumping into each other after 50 years totally ruined Cryptonomicon. .... Of the 6 billion or so people alive on the Earth today, representing 1.25 billion families, how often could something like that happen? Totally improbable given the small numbers involved.

          I disagree. You're forgetting the most important rule of coincidences -- context.

          If the Shaftoes and Waterhouses crossed paths by running into each other at an airport bar, when one
          • Sorry - I should have used the SARCASM tag. Back when I was travelling a lot I used to run into one of my old friends from Middle American High School at London Heathrow about once a year. Since people travel around a lot more now than they did even 50 years ago, such meetings sould be fairly likely.

            In the case of the novel, this is particularly true since (as you state) there were non-random factors driving the two characters toward the same geographical and social areas.

            sPh

      • Stephenson had Hiro's family and Raven's family interact cross-generations in Snow Crash as well. The Diamond Age had some pretty big coincidences, too, though not quite as bad. I've generally just come to accept it as somewhat arbitrary- the Waterhousen are generic linked geeks, while the Shaftoe's are generic jocks, or something like that. The writing is still more than worth reading even with such weird quirks, in my opinion.
  • by ivan256 (17499) *
    I can't read this book now because it would violate my first rule of book selection: I don't read any books that are part of an incomplete series. He's got to write faster so I can get my fix! Then again, I already sort of broke my rule by reading the sample chapter...
  • by mnmlst (599134) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:38PM (#7025576) Homepage Journal
    Glad to see that Neal is as independent and cantankerous as ever. Cryptonomicon was so phenomenal that I gave my copy to a fellow geek-traveller (and old friend), who has probably passed it along like some virus in Snow Crash. Stephenson's books have expanded my mind and I am sure that Quicksilver will be worth a long slog. What the review failed to mention was whether or not the entire book was actually first written using a fountain pen, as I had read it would be years ago. If so, one has to wonder at the determination of an author literally penning a "doorstop". Off to the bookstore...
    • I wouldn't run to the bookstore just yet, afaik it isn't out until tomorrow. I can't wait to pick it up - I'm trying to get a nice hardcover Stephenson library going, and this will be a great addition.
  • The Cryptonomicon was terrific! I hope I enjoy this one just as much. A lot of his complaints about Quicksilver appeared in the Cryptonomicon, esp. the plot jumping. Nothing like leaving the plot to discuss the revolutions of a bicycle chain.

    Vertical
    • Plot? I remember the bicycle chain digression, but I don't recall much of a plot... Perhaps 3 separate stories, loosely related, but independent and reasonably free of conflict (WWII backdrop notwithstanding).

      Still, I found the conceptual explanation of technical subjects to be both interesting and insightful. There is no mathematical rigor behind it, but that's easy to find.

      This guy needs to be a college professor in Physics & Mathematics, I'd have gone to every one of his classes and probably have a
  • by thud2000 (249529) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:40PM (#7025600)
    Words to live by. This sort of became my personal motto after reading Cryptonomicon. When things get crazy at work, I just think to myself, "What would Shaftoe do?" Display some adaptability, that's what.
  • oh dear (Score:2, Funny)

    by rootofevil (188401)
    between another 900-page epic from stephenson, FzeroGX and Freevo, ill be surprised if i manage to graduate this semester...
  • by Leomania (137289) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:44PM (#7025639) Homepage
    and I'm only on page 200 or so after a couple of weeks (due to many silly reasons like kids and job). So it's with reluctance I succumb to the desire to read yet another (not to say there are too many) of Stephenson's books.

    I enjoyed "Diamond Age" quite a bit and started in on "Cryptonomicon" shortly after finishing it, but I have to say that the characters are so complex in this book that I have trouble keeping their background straight. I do feel that once in awhile he (Stephenson) takes the character for a ride but forgets to take us along, too. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the stories; far from it. I think he's able to create quite a tapestry in his stories, and I just can't remember all of the individual threads (much like real life).

    Looking forward to reading this novel when I finish "Cryptonomicon" several weeks from now. :-/

    - Leo
    • I have had this same problem. While I'm not much further along, I also found the characters and backgrounds confusing, especially when picking up the book only occasionally, as it seems you do.

      What helped is getting a small notebook that I keep rubberbanded to 'Cryptonomicon'. Every character gets a page with the highlights. It makes it easy to get back into, and I think it makes me pay more attention as a reader. Anyways, this suggestion might be helpful to you.

    • I too had problems with keeping the characters straight. So, Cryptonomicon is back on the shelf, and down comes _Dick and Jane Go to the Store_. Them's two is crazy I tell ya!

      Just finished reading _Illium_, looks like Stephenson is on deck!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:45PM (#7025642)
    Sounds like more of a defense than a review.

    The 900-pages consist of a plot 'not padded so much as it is fractal' and apparently 'purely for his own amusement.'

    I prefer novels written for the amusement of readers, thank you.

    Lesser writers dump blocks of expository prose into the narrative; Stephenson shamelessly shovels it into his dialogue. As a result, much of the dialogue is stilted, and the banter is painfully odd. You get used to it.

    After 900 pages 'you get used to it' is hardly is glowing endorsement.
  • by soboroff (91667) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:45PM (#7025644)
    I enjoyed Cryptonomicon quite a bit, but the historical gaffes in Snow Crash make me a little hesitant about Stephenson diving back into anything before current events. His descriptions of Sumerian myths, and of the book of Deuteronomy being all about kings, still make me cringe.

    Let's hope his research was better this time around.
    • by soboroff (91667) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:49PM (#7025691)
      And forgot my favorite Cryptonomicon goof: after is laptop is fried by the EMP gun, Randy takes out the hard drive and later uses it in another computer. Umm, Neal, hard drives have logic boards with chips... and swapping those doesn't usually work, either.
    • I've read most of Stephenson's books. I've only read Snow Crash once - and will never read it again.

      Maybe I skipped a page or something, but wasn't there a "Bad Guy" that had a nuclear explosive implanted in him or something? so that a Good Guy couldn't fight him or shoot him or some similar contrivance?

      Didn't they kill the Bad Guy later? did they ever take that thing out of him?

      Hopefully I just missed it. That confused the hell out of me.
      • Not quite, it was a *little bit* more credible. Bad Guy had a nuke in his motorcycle sidecar with a dead-man switch radio-linked to his person, so if his heart stopped it went off. Far out, but still more or less believable in the context of a yarn.
      • That was Raven you're thinking off, and he didn't die at the end but was captured. It was his boss, the real head villain, who was killed when his jet exploded during takeoff.
        • My impression was that Snow Crash ended with Raven escaping the airport in a stolen car with the Mafia goons on his heels. Given Raven's general approach to life, I'd have to put my bets on him over the Mafia guys....
    • I don't have either Snow Crash or a Bible at hand so don't recall precisely what Stephenson said about kings but -- the point is that the institution of the King of Israel is mentioned for the first time in Deuteronomy. Earlier books just have a leader and a high priest, and even after Deuteronomy it's hundreds of years before a king appears. That's cited as evidence that Deuteronomy was written later than Genesis or (I'm blanking on the English/Greek name for Vayikra...) to incorporate the new political in
    • by Have Blue (616) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:03PM (#7025807) Homepage
      You do realize that all that stuff about neurolinguistic hackers was fictional? And that there will inevitably be untrue statements involved when fiction references historical fact? This is like demanding archaeological evidence of Middle Earth.
    • by schulman (703210) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:10PM (#7025858) Homepage
      I did some rudimentary checking on the reliability of Stephenson's research, which is to say, I ran the high points past my sister, who's a historian specializing in the Dutch Golden Age. (On a side note, having received countless calls from friends and family with computer questions; it's pleasant to be on the other side of the equation for once.)

      My sister gave a tentative thumbs-up to the general outline of Stephenson's history, and suggested that two of his source books were probably 1688: A Global History [amazon.com] by John E., Jr. Wills and Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585-1740 [amazon.com] by Jonathan I. Israel.

      I'm so glad I don't do that for a living.
  • Familiar... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:46PM (#7025656) Homepage Journal
    Historical fiction in which a man who embodies Scientific Thought clashes with relgious zealots against the background of social upheaval in Western Europe. Contains lengthy divergent sections dealing with strands of physics, mathematics, theology and sex.

    I think Stephenson has been reading a lot of Umberto Eco (either "Name of the Rose" or "Foucault's Pendulum") recently.
  • Has he....? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Otter (3800) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:47PM (#7025674) Journal
    I'll eagerly read it, regardless, but I wonder -- has Stephenson learned to write:

    a) an ending
    b) a sex scene that doesn't make one cringe

    At least with sex scenes, he could just leave them out since he's so obviously uncomfortable writing them. Writing a book without an ending would be tricky, though, and might invite a lawsuit from Lionel Hutts.
    • Re:Has he....? (Score:4, Informative)

      by cloudship_tacitus (709780) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:56PM (#7025744)
      for those who didn't get the refence:

      Homer: All you can eat - Hah!
      Hutz: Mr Simpson, this is the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film, The Neverending Story.
      Homer: Do you think I have a case?
      Hutz: Now, Homer, I don't use the word "hero" very often. But you are the greatest hero in American history.
    • Re:Has he....? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by defile (1059)

      [has Stephenson learned to write] a sex scene that doesn't make one cringe

      Doesn't it make you cringe when you see a lion chase and tackle and dismantle an errant zebra who couldn't escape with the rest of his herd? How about watching a snake envelope a rabbit and slowly suffocate it, then unhinge its jaw and begin swallowing it whole?

      That's what makes a Stephenson sex scene so great. It's described for what it is, a guttural, instinctive, animal act.

      Sure he could have sugar coated it with this talk

    • by Qbertino (265505)
      I'll eagerly read it, regardless, but I wonder -- has Stephenson learned to write:

      a) an ending
      b) a sex scene that doesn't make one cringe

      At least with sex scenes, he could just leave them out since he's so obviously uncomfortable writing them.


      Stephenson uncomfortable writing a sex scene? We talking 'bout the same author?
      I find his sex scenes- at least the one in Cryptonomicon - classic at worst. I nearly laughed my head of. And if *you* cringe at his sex scenes, you should maybe come to think that that
    • You want an ending?? Remember, this is book one of a series. Neal doesn't *have* to write an ending in this book. In fact, he *never* has to write an ending. At the end of every book in the series, he just writes "... to be continued".
      -russ
  • BN Link (Score:5, Insightful)

    by corby (56462) * on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:48PM (#7025677)
    You can purchase Quicksilver from bn.com

    When you embed a sourceId into the link, it is reasonably ethical to disclose who will be the beneficiary of the referral.
    • Re:BN Link (Score:5, Interesting)

      by puppetman (131489) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:59PM (#7025762) Homepage
      Actually, I submitted an article that was accepted not too long ago, with a link to a book on Amazon (just a plain old link, with no kickbacks associated).

      When the article appeared on Slashdot, lo and behold, the Amazon.com link was now a Barnes and Noble, with enough info in the URL to indicate that someone was making a buck.

      I believe that /. has an agreement with B I just wish they would be more open about it. I don't mind supporting Slashdot, but I like to know when I'm doing it.
    • When you embed a sourceId into the link, it is reasonably ethical to disclose who will be the beneficiary of the referral.

      Eh. I mean, sure, okay whatever, but you're paying the same price whether B&N gets the money or Slashdot does. If you don't want Slashdot to get money, you probably shouldn't be on their site. If you have a list of standard boycotts, and you're afraid that the author/submitter of the article is secretly working for one of them, then I'm sure you're clever enough to find the book on
    • I think ./ used to have some kind of a deal with fatbrain.com, which was purchased by bn.com. The deal may still be in effect for all I know.

      I also think that a lot of the /. crowd would be upset at the patent issues caused by amazon, which would pretty much disqualify them from linkage.

  • Eco Book (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scrotch (605605) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:49PM (#7025686)
    This description reminds me of Umberto Eco's "The Island of the Day Before". Eco's book is set in the 1600s and revolves around the search for a method to measure longitude during war and political and religious intrigue.

    Maybe if you like this Stephenson book, you'll like that. Eco's books tend to be a little smarter than most people enjoy, however.
    • Re:Eco Book (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gowen (141411)

      Maybe if you like this Stephenson book, you'll like that. Eco's books tend to be a little smarter than most people enjoy, however.

      I agree [slashdot.org], but I wouldn't recommend "Island Of The Day Before" as an introduction to Eco's fiction. For that, I'd recommend "Foucault's Pendulum" to Geeks, and "The Name Of The Rose" to everyone else.

      "Island..." I didn't care for so much.

    • Re:Eco Book (Score:4, Informative)

      by elmegil (12001) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:01PM (#7025788) Homepage Journal
      I actually hated "The Island..." but most of the rest of Eco's fiction is really good, so comparisons to Eco are reasonable. If you liked Cryptonomicon, I'd recommend you go check out _The Name of the Rose_ and _Foucault's Pendulum_ in particular. Very dense, but excellent writing.
  • I'll pass (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eyegone (644831)
    It sounds like Stephenson is turning into Thomas Pynchon.
  • DFW (Score:4, Insightful)

    by xmutex (191032) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:50PM (#7025699) Homepage
    If you're going to work through 900+ pages of a novel, may I also suggest David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest [amazon.com]?

    Neal would be proud of you.
    • If you're going to work through 900+ pages of a novel, may I also suggest David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest?

      Or, in a mood that's similar to Cryptonomicon, there's Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.

      The only work of fiction that took me over a week to complete -- it took me two months --, it's a dense, hilarious, and geek-appealling book about... well, it centers on the Nazi V-2 rocket, anyway, and a certain Slothrop, whose erections predict where the V-2s will land.
    • by Pfhor (40220)
      And if you can follow Infinite Jest's plots and characters, any of Neal's books are easy in comparison...

      mmmm, microwaves.
  • 900 pages? Again? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by realmolo (574068) on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:55PM (#7025730)
    I liked Snow Crash- I didn't even mind the "non-ending". I also liked Zodiac. But both the Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon left me...bored. Stephenson apparently has decided that he'd rather show-off all his historical research than tell an interesting story.
  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw.yahoo@com> on Monday September 22, 2003 @12:58PM (#7025757) Journal
    "...and the profound effect on European history of stockbrokers and syphilis."

    Ah, yes, stockbrokers and syphilis. You just can't have one without the other.
  • Sample Here (Score:3, Informative)

    by SLot (82781) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:02PM (#7025802) Homepage Journal
    Here [baroquecycle.com].

    Seems a little dry, IMO. I'll probably still buy the hardback.
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:05PM (#7025819)
    I really like Stephenson. He's the current living benchmark for literature imho. He writes witty, educated, phantasy rich, thoughtfull and, in ways, seriously esotherical without losing it.
    He is consequently ignored by the 'big' literature critics - allways a clear sign of quality - and still manages to fascinate and grip the fun reader and the thoughfull one alike.
    Personally, I'm looking forward to this new one from him.
    • by sielwolf (246764) on Monday September 22, 2003 @02:59PM (#7026773) Homepage Journal
      He is consequently ignored by the 'big' literature critics - allways a clear sign of quality -

      Um, actually Stephenson's writing has been written up (from Snow Crash through Cryptonomicon) in the New York Times Book Review so I don't know what "'big' literature critics" you're talking about.

      Are you talking about academic literary critique? I know for a fact that several universities (those that aren't so Canon-bound; Penn State is one) read Stephenson at the graduate level. Likewise they read PKD and detective fiction. Sure, Martin Amis hasn't written a critique of Stephenson but I bet there is some published work being done.

      I assume your problem is the fact that SF is being "marginalized" as genre fiction and not accepted into the Canon along side Ulysses, Old Man and the Sea and Canterbury Tales. Well the problem is that Literary Criticism is interested in 'literature' not 'reading'. A good story is a good story, yes, but that isn't what literary study is about: it is about understanding the way people write. Style, technique, editing. Gravity's Rainbow is considered big not because it reads "well" but because of its post-modern design (i.e. the entire story is parabolic, starting with a single thread, building to a central mass, and then, simplifying at the far tail... tracing the parabolic tragectory of the V-2 rocket at the beginning and the end). For all of Stephenson's positive traits, his writing doesn't expand the landscape of literature.

      Literary criticism isn't about reading good books. It's about understanding the theory of writing itself.
  • by ostrich2 (128240) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:07PM (#7025842)
    I understand the book, I just can't come up with a feasible reason why someone would want to read it. I did, I'm sorry to say, and I wanted to tear my eyes out for the last 600 pages or so. I actually considered not finishing it when I was about 20 pages from the end, and to this day, I wish I had.


    So am I interested in another 900 pages from an author without any apparent editor? No. I'm not interested in reading chapter upon chapter of stuff that has absolutely no bearing on the plot, is uninteresting in its own right, and will be forgotten as soon as the next totally unnecessary twist.


    The thing that Neal seems to forget is that the essence of writing is deciding what to leave out. Until he figures that out or hires an editor that can make the decision for him, I'll pass.

    • Aw, c'mon. The vignettes on eating Cap'n Crunch and the aphrodisiacal effects of granny-grade furniture are pure genius. Clearly Stephenson has far too many ideas to fit them all into the real flow of the narrative, so he takes the odd sidetrack. I like that--I enjoy these diversions immensely and hope he doesn't stop.

      Check here [rd.com] or here [cliffsnotes.com] for books that maybe more your speed.

      >K

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday September 22, 2003 @03:15PM (#7026984) Homepage Journal

      Look, Neal is a wanker. He wanks on for however many pages he feels like and then cuts it off sharp and sweet. But the fact is, he's the most amusing and well-written wanker writing anything today, he really has a grasp on how to write amusing and current prose. It's almost like you crossed William Gibson with a smart, funny person, because (compare: though) the style is completely different. So it may be wankery, but it's really damned entertaining.

      So if you're expecting deep substance (though some deep thought obviously went into snow crash, and some care went into zodiac, and by the way the Bury books - nice marketing tactic Neal - are quite interesting) then maybe you'll want to skip this book, maybe not, certainly I can see why it would make you dislike Cryptonomicon. But it's a fast, entertaining ride, it's the kind of thing that would make a good movie for geeks. In fact I'd say the majority of Stephenson's books fit the basic requirements for a movie. They have some filler which you could strip out completely, or (much better idea) allude to. They have unique, interesting characters, though the reasons some of them are interesting are pure geek fodder, so you'd have to make them pretty people. They have chase scenes, love interests, good guys, bad guys, causes, struggles, blah blah blah.

  • Stephenson (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan Weaver (646556) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:12PM (#7025882) Homepage
    Stephenson is a really excellent author. Although I'm usually left a bit unsatisfied by his books' endings - particularly Diamond Age - this may only be because at the end of his books I wish there were still five hundred pages to go! He is particularly good at populating his worlds with characters who are, for lack of a better phrase, really exceptionally cool. I can't think of any other author whose characters reach a comparable level of out-and-out badassitude - Gibson doesn't even come close.

    I also think that he pressents some interesting and worthwhile takes on politics and modern society, particularly in his portrayal of the faithful. Traditional religion and social conservatism often end up dismissed and/or mocked in scientific and technical communities, but Stephenson manages to present them in a new light and to depict a world where faith and appreciation of traditional values does not necessarily mean intolerance or being terminally lame. :) He is able to present versions of morality and faith that are at once true to their roots and capable of thriving in the modern world. Examples that spring to mind are his descriptions of Juanita's efforts to reinvigorate Catholicism in Snow Crash, his depiction of Avi in Cryptonomicon, and the long homage to Victorianism and Midwestern America that is Diamond Age.
  • I know that Neal Stephenson doesn't much enjoy contact with his readers, so this is perhaps the best place to ask this question. Maybe someone on Slashdot even has an answer. :)

    Anyone else suspect a connection between Randy's wisdom-tooth episode and this [jwz.org] blog entry from Jamie Zawinski on the same subject? Or is it just my own experience with dental surgeons that makes me cringe at both of these?
  • by sielwolf (246764) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:13PM (#7025893) Homepage Journal
    First, let's make it clear that Quicksilver is not science fiction. It's historical fiction, occasionally about science, for people who like science fiction, i.e. geeks. It has math, optics, and vivisection, but no computers, no code, and no high-speed pizza delivery.

    Personally this does sound like SF. Merriam-Webster describes SF as "fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component." Futuristic elements to the science is a common trait, but not a defining characteristic. So Quicksilver is pure SF just like William Gibson's Pattern Recognition is SF, even though its just dealing with meme-passing and culture creation. Heck, a caveman perfecting the flint spear with an atl-atl is SF. The interaction of man and science is the key, not the nature of the science itself.
  • by klocwerk (48514) on Monday September 22, 2003 @01:31PM (#7026064) Homepage
    I like his endings.
    He flies right up to the brink and then stops the car. Apparently most slashdotties have their seatbelts on. I like to leave mine off and fly off that cliff.
    He gives you so much to chew on with his endings. plenty of space for "what if..."
    I always remember his books far longer than most simply BECAUSE it's not all spelled out for you in detail.

  • That is, the 30% off discounts at B&M Barnes & Nobles or Borders?

    I'm trying to decide if I should order from Amazon tonight.

  • by Jammer@CMH (117977) on Monday September 22, 2003 @02:03PM (#7026286)
    WARNING: Cryptonomicon spoiler. If you have not read Cryptonomicon, please skip the rest of this comment.

    I loved Cryptonomicon, but there was one little thing bugging me. When Randy, in jail, decrypts the WWII radio transmissions that mentioned the location of Golgotha, why did that message have English plaintext? Wouldn't the Japanese have used Japanese, which Randy does not speak?

    The only 3 reasons that I can think of are: 1) Mr. Stephenson didn't want to confuse the reader by switching languages, the crypto was potentially confusing enough, 2) The messages were sent by the Conspiracy, in English, and I didn't notice that in my reading, 3) Mr. Stephenson made a mistake.

    Reason #2 seems most likely to me, but I didn't get that from reading. Do you, dear Shashdotters, have any insight?

    • Your second reason is the correct one.

      Randy was decrypting the Arethusa intercepts, which were not sent by the Japanese at all; they were sent by the Root/Von Hacklheber/Bischoff/Shaftoe conspiracy.

      The Japanese were using the lesser version of that code (the name escapes me at the moment), the one Rudy weakened prior to giving it to Goring.
  • NY Times review (Score:5, Informative)

    by wdebruij (239038) * on Monday September 22, 2003 @02:31PM (#7026522) Homepage
    Saturday the NYTimes (reg, you know the drill) reviewed this book. here's [nytimes.com] the link.
  • It's a terrific book, but don't expect it to resemble Stephenson's prior books in anything but ambition and length.

    but you know what I always say... if it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!

    [ducks for cover]sorry[/ducks for cover]
  • by jea6 (117959) on Monday September 22, 2003 @03:31PM (#7027163)
    I'm currently on page 800 of my proof copy and thought I might try writing a Slashdot review. Fortunately, somebody beat me to it! Instead I'll present the following points:

    1) If you did not (like|understand|pretend to get|claim to have read) Cryptonomicon, this is not the book for you. I can't imagine Mr. Stephenson was looking to expand his fan base with this book. This book is easily an intellectual achievement and as such, is written to satisfy an audience of 1: Neal Stephenson.

    2) Generally, Stephenson's books are best after multiple readings. If you don't like reading books over again, you should steer clear of this author altogether. Quicksilver is no exception. There is a lot going on and, if the other books serve as guides, you will get more out of them a second time around.

    3) After reading parts of this book you are going to want to track down articles on (wikipedia|everything2) to refresh your memory about late 17th century European history. Even so, this book is not "late 17th century European history." This is a book about 17th century hackers and, if you believe the premise, how much and how little things have changed. Either way, this book merits a Companion guide.

    4) The sixth paragraph above is a pretty big spoiler. Don't read it.

    5) I don't think Christina Schulman, the reviewer, (and despite the Epiphyte reference) made it through the book. The Quicksilver metaphor is important in the first book. The second and third books in the Quicksilver volume go on to other metaphors.

    6) don't expect it to resemble Stephenson's prior books in anything but ambition and length. Ummm, I disagree. The parallel story line method is Stephenson's trademark, whether you are reading The Big U, the Diamond Age, or most noticeably Cryptonomicon. This book is more of what Stephenson does best, but in a very different setting.

    7) Despite having a proof copy, I'm getting the hardcover of this sucker. Stephenson is worth it.

    8) The Real Character puzzle from the website was only a glimpse of what was to come in the book. Given the time and effort (and application of programming skills/OCR) I don't expect to be disappointed.

    Bottom line, if you're new to Stephenson, you'll want to try Cryptonomicon first. Quicksilver can be a page-turner but it is by no means a quick read. I usually fly through books but have taken over a month on this one. This book represents an incredible amount of effort and cements Stephenson's position top among the most versatile, intelligent, (Linux friendly) authors today.
  • Books 2 and 3... (Score:4, Informative)

    by jea6 (117959) on Monday September 22, 2003 @03:39PM (#7027246)
    For those of you already wondering when the next books will be out, Stephenson is trying a Matrix approach:

    HC: When can we hope to see the next volumes in the Baroque Cycle?

    NS: They're coming out at six-month intervals, so April 2004 for The Confusion, and then October 2004 for The System of the World.

    http://www.baroquecycle.com/interview.htm [baroquecycle.com]

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