Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon & more...

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A search shows scattered Stephenson references in ILE, but it seems to me he deserves his own thread here. I just finished Cryptonomicon, only the second of his I've read -- first was Snow Crash. I enjoyed Snow Crash, thought it was smart and funny, but also found it kinda choppy -- the veering between slam-bang action and ruminations on history, culture, technology, etc. was uneven. It felt like a comic book with big chunks of someone's master's thesis dropped in at various intervals.

But I pretty much loved Cryptonomicon, more than I expected. I think it did a much better job of integrating its philosophical/technological/historical musings and disquisitions into the story, and also had much better-developed characters. Weaving together all the different plotlines, timelines, bloodlines, settings, etc. was pretty smooth and impressive. It definitely made me want to read Quicksilver. It also actually made me (a techno-idjit) feel like I understood at least a little about how computers came to be invented, and even a little about how they work (the analogies to pipe organs, etc.). And there was so much other stuff crammed in there -- religion, east-west cultural commentary, military history, etc. etc. Pretty amazing stuff, really, considering that it never really felt bogged down or overblown to me; I mean, his writing style is breezy and poppy, but he's not afraid to grapple with complex ideas and characters.

So anyway, thoughts on Stephenson? Has anyone read Quicksilver? (And what about his other novels, The Diamond Age and so forth?)

spittle (spittle), Monday, 23 February 2004 01:45 (seventeen years ago) link

I've only read Snow Crash and the Diamond Age; Snow Crash struck me as interesting but amateurish, but the Diamon Age is 80% genius. The ending was disappointing though. I've not had time to deal with Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver yet.

anthony kyle monday (akmonday), Monday, 23 February 2004 02:14 (seventeen years ago) link

"Interesting but amateurish" was kind of my response to Snow Crash too. That's one reason I was impressed by Cryptonomicon -- he's still obsessed with a lot of the same ideas, but he's become a much better writer and storyteller.

spittle (spittle), Monday, 23 February 2004 02:15 (seventeen years ago) link

'Cryptonomicon' was good but unwieldy for non-maths geeks. I skipped larges swathes of sums in order to pursue the story, which I discovered to be rather run-of-the-mill, but in the end it is a great book and one I'd certainly go back to. Not tried any of his other stuff, but 'Quicksilver' looks like fun.

writingstatic (writingstatic), Monday, 23 February 2004 02:39 (seventeen years ago) link

"Snowcrash" is the only novel of his that I've read so far, and it was frustrating, to say the least. The focus on cool action scenes and flat, hip protagonists was instantly off-putting for me, and I found very little of interest in these unfortunately major parts of the novel. That being said, I slogged through it, as he presented quite a few ideas, and even an occasional scene that I really liked. After having read William Gibson, it was nice to read something similar, but written by someone who ISN'T completely computer-illiterate.
For me it was very much a book that worked in waves: every now and then he'd plant a nice idea and let it grow for a while, but then realize that it's time to be COOL again. There wasn't a single character I liked, and I felt his pacing was off the mark, to say the least.
The ending was disappointing to say the least, as it was both predictable and uninteresting, not to mention, again, badly executed. It felt like the book essentially hit a wall.

What's interesting though, was that I found myself telling people about the book as I read it. I always tried to paint it in a positive picture, as I usually try to see the good in a book while I'm reading it, but I invariably made it sound just horrible. After I had finished it, it struck me that these bad sides really were what stuck out in the book, not any of the strengths.

That being said, due to some of the potential I found in the book, mainly due to the "cool idea" factor, I have picked up Cryptonomicon. Not too thrilled about it though, so it keeps getting bumped behind any number of library books.
I think i would've enjoyed it a lot more if I read it when I was 14 or 15 years old though, as back then I was far more susceptible for this sort of action-packed airport-book.

Øystein H-O (Øystein H-O), Monday, 23 February 2004 03:00 (seventeen years ago) link

I always find Stephenson better as communicator of intereseting ideas than a novelist...that said, I think Diamond Age is his best book because it's just so piled full of arresting ideas that you miss the deficiencies of plot.

winterland, Monday, 23 February 2004 09:32 (seventeen years ago) link

After enjoying Snowcrash, and seriously loving Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon, I bought Quicksilver the week it came out. I put it aside because I thought once I started it, I wouldn't be able to stop so waited until I had a good long break. I opened it on New Year's Day and put it down after 50 pages due to excessive name-dropping and officiousness. Most disappointing. It might have been the mood I was in or the weather or something, but I was really put off by it.

Jaq, Friday, 27 February 2004 23:47 (seventeen years ago) link

I think I accidentally recommended Zodiac on the sci-fi thread, but I meant Diamond Age. I haven't read Zodiac, but DA has it all together, and seems much more fleshed out than Snow Crash (which I did find fresh and fun when I read it).

My girlfriend read Quicksilver and I heard nothing but horrible things throughout those 800 pages. Unsympathetic characters, pretension at the expense of, well, everything etc. I've got an advance of the next one but I don't think I'm going to read that one either.

Jordan (Jordan), Saturday, 28 February 2004 03:04 (seventeen years ago) link

Hmm. Well, I think I'll do Diamond Age, and then wait a while on Quicksilver -- at least until the paperback.

spittle (spittle), Saturday, 28 February 2004 06:07 (seventeen years ago) link

Quicksilver is worth slogging through only if you're a Stephenson fan already (which I am.) There are stretches of huge brilliance, but a good deal of it is dreadful.

anode (anode), Saturday, 28 February 2004 06:51 (seventeen years ago) link


winterland, Saturday, 28 February 2004 12:59 (seventeen years ago) link

Quicksilver is fun if you like novels about calculus. Luckily for me math content is up there with good sex scenes in the what-makes-a-book-good equation. Unluckily Stephenson can't handle a sex scene.

I've heard his campus comedy novel thing is horrible and I have no real desire to read it however my SF-hating girlfriend loves Snow Crash (as do I) and Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are great--Zodiac less so.

adam (adam), Saturday, 28 February 2004 16:37 (seventeen years ago) link

one year passes...
I've finished "Quicksilver" and "The Confusion" and I'll be starting "System of the World" when it arrives via mail, perhaps Monday. Though there are certain (longish) streches (e.g. the second half of Bonanza) where it's a struggle to keep reading, the alchemy/courtly intrigue stuff is compelling enough to keep the books fun.

remy (x Jeremy), Saturday, 7 January 2006 20:59 (fifteen years ago) link

Also: Stephenson is - no doubt - brilliant. But he's also in need of a good editor to check that brilliance.

remy (x Jeremy), Saturday, 7 January 2006 21:00 (fifteen years ago) link

I liked Cryptonomicon, but it felt as if the wrong parts had been edited out.

It took me a few goes to finish the Baroque Cycle, but I'm glad I did - the last half of System Of The World is the best part of the series.

Forest Pines (ForestPines), Saturday, 7 January 2006 21:58 (fifteen years ago) link

Stephenson seems to be one of those "required reading" authors, like Pynchon, that depending on what circle of people you hang around, you'll feel compelled to read for fear of being left out. His later books seem to take advantage of that captive market, and are more Pynchonesque in scope and execution -- a punishing direction if you are not a fan! In fact, Stephenson appears to be on a trajectory to actually become Pynchon or some weird hybrid Stepynchon creature.

doogie, Monday, 9 January 2006 06:26 (fifteen years ago) link

I'm loving Quicksilver - it's a cracking read. I don't agree with the Pynchon comparisons though - it's practically pulp fiction compared to Mason & Dixon.

Mog, Wednesday, 18 January 2006 09:36 (fifteen years ago) link

nine months pass...
Love him. Most of the downsides discussed here are pretty OTM - the characterization in Snow Crash is indeed flat and hip, and as everyone knows he has a real problem with endings (Baroque Cycle excepted). But he does a great many things quite well, and increasingly boldly, and really deserves attention beyond being a great writer of geek fiction. Cryptonomicon is probably his closest thing to a great novel rather than pulp divertimento, in that it wrestles with the most ambiguity. At first read it's a pretty straight celebration of hard-headed old-time stand-up Americanism over the bogeyman of moral relativism (and an infinitely re-readable adventure bonanza), with Randy's maturation into the value system of his forefathers kind of driving the book. But on the other hand, the respective fates of Goto Dengo and Bobby Shaftoe seem to suggest that Stephenson favors moral flexibility, suspicions boneheadedness, and recognizes some sort of link between no-nonsense ethics and fascism.

Baroque Cycle is perhaps a little too unwieldy to approach any of this quite as well, and it burns a lot of its running time on period charm and just Stephenson showing off.... BUT, it's arguably a more satisfying read. The characterization is certainly his best yet - with Daniel Waterhouse he gives center stage to a protagonist who's not a one-note (Hiro), messiah (Nell), badass (the Shaftoes), superhuman genius (Lawrence), a blatant author stand-in (Randy), or anything else so simple. The hero as an undertalented (or underachieving) coward overshadowed by much greater men of his time has tremendous meat to it, and Stephenson doesn't shy away from exploring it. Over the 2700-odd pages of Baroque you can come to really love Daniel, flaws and all, in a way that goes far beyond what you normally hope to get out of escapist period fiction. He's a nice piece of work. Eliza never comes together quite so well, although you can feel him trying and she certainly beats America Shaftoe. Half-Cock Jack is, of course, pure entertainment and lights up every page, something often quite necessary since, especially in the first half, Baroque has an unfortunate tendency towards long passages of correspondence and courtly intrigue. Overall, though, it's a really satisfying slab of fiction, and I rattle on about it partly because I think it demonstrates well how far he's come along since Snow Crash and Diamond Age (both of which I would recommend!). Really cannot wait to see what comes next.

Doctor Casino (Doctor Casino), Wednesday, 1 November 2006 06:38 (fourteen years ago) link

Of what I've read, I still think The Diamond Age is his most entertaining and satisfying book.

The Android Cat (Dan Perry), Wednesday, 1 November 2006 21:44 (fourteen years ago) link

Funny, I picked up Diamond Age just the other day to hold me over until i start Vineland (see appr. thread). Most has been said already, crypto is great, the baroque cycle is fine if you've got the time to kill, but a good editor would have improved it remarkably I'm sure. so far DA is entertaining me in all the ways Stephenson does, and I'm savvy enough to skim the interstitial show-offy parts and not miss the story.

Docpacey (docpacey), Wednesday, 1 November 2006 22:01 (fourteen years ago) link

I really, really liked Cryptonomicon but I still rep for TDA. I think that whole book is golden.

The Android Cat (Dan Perry), Wednesday, 1 November 2006 22:03 (fourteen years ago) link

two months pass...
George Clooney bringing cyberpunk classic The Diamond Age to Sci Fi Channel

Sci Fi announced that George Clooney will be part of the creative team bringing the retro cyberpunk book The 'Diamond Age' to the channel. Neal Stephenson will adapt the miniseries from his novel, which I'll basically sum up as the adventures a young girl goes through as she comes into the possession of a talking "smartbook." Clooney and partner Grant Heslov will executive produce.

Elvis Telecom (Chris Barrus), Friday, 12 January 2007 20:45 (fourteen years ago) link

No one writes the first three quarters of a novel like Stephenson.

hearditonthexico (rogermexico), Friday, 12 January 2007 22:27 (fourteen years ago) link

am just about to start snow crash for a paper on literature and media. also doing a william gibson novel for the same course but can't remember which one.

cellardoor (cellardoor), Saturday, 13 January 2007 23:46 (fourteen years ago) link

one year passes...

I really liked Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash, but really madly loved The Baroque Cycle because I'm a huge fan of long works of historical fiction involving pirates, scientists, and conspiracies, and it has all three! In that respect, it's the closest thing to The Sot-Weed Factor I've read in years, which is my barometer of the most fun book ever. And I want more. So given that that's where my taste runs, what would ILX recommend?

Diamond Age would lend itself well to television, I think. We'll see.

Maria, Wednesday, 16 January 2008 18:14 (thirteen years ago) link


George Clooney has bought the rights to run Diamond Age as a limited series.

remy bean, Thursday, 17 January 2008 21:24 (thirteen years ago) link

seven months pass...

Stephenson update on the eve of the release of Anathem

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 20:49 (twelve years ago) link

it is a good book. or maybe two of them: the convent part and the space part. i read an advance copy, and i have to say it is a pretty swell release, espesh the early philosophy-lite stuff.

remy bean, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 20:50 (twelve years ago) link

the CD that comes with it is ... i know, by eno (right?) ... but kind of terrible, even unlistenable.

remy bean, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 20:52 (twelve years ago) link

oh, wait David Stutz, a former Microsoft techie now involved in early classical music—and an HBC member—composed and produced the effort, which is being considered for widespread release. "It's a pseudo-liturgical use of mathematics and higher thinking," Stutz says. Actually, to the untrained ear it sounds like the neo-Gregorian chanting that accompanies ritual baby sacrifice in horror films.

i am sorry david stutz. i do not have an untrained ear -- i just think it is ... too schematic or something.

remy bean, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 20:54 (twelve years ago) link

Hardcover £9 at Amazon, paperback £23. Wtf?

stet, Saturday, 30 August 2008 00:59 (twelve years ago) link

I bought Quicksilver the week it came out. I put it aside because I thought once I started it, I wouldn't be able to stop so waited until I had a good long break. I opened it on New Year's Day and put it down after 50 pages due to excessive name-dropping and officiousness. Most disappointing.

[Daniel's] a nice piece of work. Eliza never comes together quite so well

i bought quicksilver over a month ago and it took me about four weeks of stopping and starting to get through the first book. once i got to the jack/eliza sections the going got better. confusion is a far more lively read if maybe a little lighter on ideas but i've been sucked into the series now.

i believe in eliza more than any of the others and her story is the one that gives the books their emotional heft. i can see what you mean, Dr. C, about daniel feeling real but he (has yet) to seem lovable. i always have this terrible clive james article in my head when i think about books like stephenson's and eliza feels like the kind of kate croy + a corpse character he claims can't exist.

Lamp, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 04:04 (twelve years ago) link

Daniel comes into focus in The Confusion, I think, as he sort of realizes his own strengths and limitations. System of the World has him taking stock of these things and doing his best with them. Somewhere in the midst of all that is where he becomes lovable.

Elaborate on the Clive James thing? It sounds interesting but I can't fathom what exactly you're referring to here (corpse character?).

I like Eliza a little more on the second read, but moreso than Jack she seems saddled by the picaresque narrative - she wears so many hats and does so many things, but rather than a super-badass can-do lunkhead she's intended as a plausible human being...she makes sense to me in any given scene/subplot, but taken together it's just so much to bring together into one person.

Doctor Casino, Monday, 15 September 2008 15:43 (twelve years ago) link

clive james wrote this article for the new yorker a couple of years ago about detective fiction where he basically claims that the narrative demands of detective fiction make a psychologically complex character unachievable. some harvard real talk about characters acting as types rather than ppl blah blah blah if henry james was a murder mystery. so, i guess my point was that eliza's actions seemed to work structurally and still feel psychologically real.

maybe that's why i didn't really like system of the world since eliza's personality is obscured in favour of daniel's pov.

igloo silver (Lamp), Tuesday, 16 September 2008 14:47 (twelve years ago) link

most prophetic 19th Century novelist evar

rogermexico., Wednesday, 17 September 2008 00:18 (twelve years ago) link

clive james wrote this article for the new yorker a couple of years ago about detective fiction where he basically claims that the narrative demands of detective fiction make a psychologically complex character unachievable

I actually used to teach a class in which it was demonstrated that ALL fiction is detective fiction. Good times.

rogermexico., Wednesday, 17 September 2008 00:18 (twelve years ago) link

On finishing up Confusion re-read - god, is Eliza's perspective ever dumped in this series! Her plots probably have more page time than either Daniel's or Jack's, through the first three-quarters of The Confusion, and then, what the hell happens to her? The seemingly really crucial moment of her and Jack coming face to face after all this time, and it's a really brief scene told in omniscient third person, maybe favoring Jack if anybody. (In general the ending to The Confusion is rushed, shocker I know, but really after all that gallivanting around the world you'd think he could linger on the actual getting-home as much as he does on the manufacture of watered steel or the primitive nature of the 17th century French credit economy...)

Doctor Casino, Wednesday, 17 September 2008 04:33 (twelve years ago) link

I was at the new B&N in Tupelo on Thursday (2nd day in business...seems like a risky venture in such a lowbrow town) picking up Anathem, and was appalled to see that for mass market publication, the Baroque Cycle is being broken down from three hardcovers to eight paperbacks.

Radiant Flowering Crab (Rock Hardy), Sunday, 21 September 2008 02:32 (twelve years ago) link

"clive james wrote this article for the new yorker a couple of years ago about detective fiction where he basically claims that the narrative demands of detective fiction make a psychologically complex character unachievable"--i want to read this, link?

thomp, Sunday, 21 September 2008 06:35 (twelve years ago) link

three years pass...

bump for the new one. anybody else doing REAMDE?

turkey in the straw (x2) (remy bean), Wednesday, 26 October 2011 10:47 (nine years ago) link

So far it's...a fun, techy shaggy-dog story that loves guns, maps, and MMORPGs. Stephenson can write a digression better than anybody, and I just read a fascinating 500 word treatise on the street design in Xianmin (?) city. One of his protagonists is a female African refugee, a hipster twice orphaned and raised in Iowa, who makes a living by writing code to represent the movement of magma in the underground of a virtual medieval world.

turkey in the straw (x2) (remy bean), Wednesday, 26 October 2011 10:50 (nine years ago) link

I loved REAMDE.

he carried yellow flowers (DJP), Wednesday, 26 October 2011 12:07 (nine years ago) link

I just got it from the library. I tend to read on the subway ride to work, so this is a bit unwieldy! I'm finding it much more engaging than Anathem, however.

rayuela, Tuesday, 1 November 2011 20:41 (nine years ago) link

Didn't hate it, but have forgotten almost everything about it, as I thought I would. Just, "meh", really. Felt the lack of digressions; also felt like he'd tried to cater to his critics at the expense of the aspects enjoyed by his audience.

stet, Tuesday, 1 November 2011 20:46 (nine years ago) link

it was entertaining but seemed pretty dumb for stephenson. basically a nerdy, 900-page airplane book - which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

congratulations (n/a), Tuesday, 1 November 2011 20:48 (nine years ago) link

maybe "dumb" should have been in scare quotes there.

congratulations (n/a), Tuesday, 1 November 2011 20:48 (nine years ago) link

I loved REAMDE and totally annoyed Mr. Jaq by staying up too late reading it with single-minded purpose. And then not being able to tell him anything about why it was so engrossing, because it's really not his kind of thing so attempts were met with ????
¯\(°_0)/¯ ???? kinds of looks.

Jaq, Tuesday, 1 November 2011 21:38 (nine years ago) link

I've heard his campus comedy novel thing is horrible and I have no real desire to read it

i liked it a lot when i read it in college. it wasn't as funny when i re-read it a few years ago, but it's still good.

sarahel, Tuesday, 1 November 2011 21:46 (nine years ago) link

700 pages in, and i'm still liking this a lot. there's only been one weird digression (bears and the t/f of menstrual blood attraction) and i agree it's an 'airplane novel' but i'd be v. satisfied to read a lot more of these, if that's what NS wanted to write

turkey in the straw (x2) (remy bean), Tuesday, 1 November 2011 21:48 (nine years ago) link

i thought anathem was better, despite some long boring unnecessary stretches. reamde was fun and i also burned through it pretty fast but was ultimately pretty silly.

congratulations (n/a), Tuesday, 1 November 2011 21:53 (nine years ago) link

i should reread cryptonomicon, maybe it was more straight-ahead and reamde-esque than i remember. in my memory it was fun and exciting but also pretty smart, but i read it like 10 years ago i think.

congratulations (n/a), Tuesday, 1 November 2011 21:55 (nine years ago) link

I read the campus college thing when I was in college too, and around the same time that I read Ballard's high rise--I don't know if this is actually true anymore but at the time I felt like those two books were making the nature vs nurture argument with each other.

rayuela, Tuesday, 1 November 2011 22:00 (nine years ago) link

I think I was also greatly influenced by chunks of reamde being set in my neighborhood (Georgetown) - it always makes me happy when there's a bit of home an author's got right.

n/a, I described it to someone as much more Cryptonomicon than Snowcrash, but I think it's possibly more Zodiac than Cryptonomicon.

Jaq, Tuesday, 1 November 2011 22:01 (nine years ago) link

It took me 50 pages to realize re-u meant reunion. I kept seeing "re-up". Sigh.

rayuela, Wednesday, 2 November 2011 00:14 (nine years ago) link

two weeks pass...

Marathoned through the last 600 pages yesterday and today. Loads of fun. I enjoyed the structure of overlapping scenes -- like watching roofers shingle a house the size of a football field.

Steamtable Willie (WmC), Saturday, 19 November 2011 04:33 (nine years ago) link

six months pass...

You know something? If I were a successful author and was looking for something different to do that can also take advantage of my obscure hobby, I'd probably do the same:

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:12 (eight years ago) link

i found a continuity error in anathem -- a character has a few lines in a scene despite supposedly being thousands of miles away -- and emailed him about it. three months later he wrote back admitting it and saying thanks. probably should have pressed him to hire me

mookieproof, Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:19 (eight years ago) link

Is anyone reading The Mongoliad?

calstars, Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:34 (eight years ago) link

Snow Crash to be directed by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block, Adam and Joe):

Don't recall a think about snow crash. Should I reread or is life too short?

Jesu swept (ledge), Friday, 15 June 2012 09:45 (eight years ago) link

pizza delivery. lots of talk about sumerian proto language. lead character with stupid name.

koogs, Friday, 15 June 2012 09:47 (eight years ago) link

His great 3:30 single before he started on the concept albums. (this reading kind of ignores the bit where it slows to a stop for Sumerian chanting, but that only makes me love him more).

A question: Neal Stephenson is the only writer for whom I'll think "I really enjoyed reading that sentence. I think I'll read it again!". Where else should I be looking for this (which I understand (and am completely at peace with) to be non-correlated with literary "quality")

Andrew Farrell, Friday, 15 June 2012 12:29 (eight years ago) link

<I>lead character with stupid name.</I>

Hiro Protagonist is a great name, a great character detail _and_ a great joke, all in one!

Andrew Farrell, Friday, 15 June 2012 12:30 (eight years ago) link

that name broke the spell, made you remember you were reading a book, didn't like it for that reason as much as anything.

great central premise though (one they used in the New Avengers...) and there was some well thought-out virtual reality thing in there as well. all this makes me want to re-read it.

koogs, Friday, 15 June 2012 13:01 (eight years ago) link

A question: Neal Stephenson is the only writer for whom I'll think "I really enjoyed reading that sentence. I think I'll read it again!". Where else should I be looking for this

sounds like a cue for new ilb thread to me.

Jesu swept (ledge), Friday, 15 June 2012 13:06 (eight years ago) link

like david foster wallace, his non-fiction is a lot better. i kind of wish he did a 'remix' of all his fiction books reformulated as speculative essays.

Philip Nunez, Friday, 15 June 2012 14:54 (eight years ago) link

also, a silly name is less of a spell-breaking thing than characters being mouthpieces for concepts and information stephenson wants to get across that he could do (and does) much better just speaking directly to the reader. I know that's a standard deficiency in SF writing, but I feel like other authors should get a pass because they don't seem to know any better way to communicate, but Stephenson is just fine at expressing weird or technical ideas to laymen without these unnecessary character props.

Philip Nunez, Friday, 15 June 2012 14:59 (eight years ago) link

Seems like it should get the Game of Thrones treatment, not get edited down into meaninglessness in order to fit in two or so hours.

the girl from spirea x (f. hazel), Friday, 15 June 2012 17:05 (eight years ago) link

but Stephenson is just fine at expressing weird or technical ideas to laymen without these unnecessary character props.

Or was until he took misguided criticism of the infodumps to heart and started doing it via characters in Reamde

stet, Friday, 15 June 2012 20:44 (eight years ago) link


un® (dayo), Friday, 15 June 2012 23:23 (eight years ago) link

six months pass...

Really loving the hell out of Reamde.

Elvis Telecom, Friday, 4 January 2013 05:56 (eight years ago) link

Stephenson talks about REAMDE with lawyers at the UW Law School

Elvis Telecom, Friday, 4 January 2013 05:57 (eight years ago) link

tried agin to read quicksilver and literally could not make it past 10 pages, what a piece of shit

乒乓, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 14:45 (eight years ago) link

rong but lol

Roberto Spiralli, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 14:55 (eight years ago) link

haha I am a big stephenson fan! like back in high school I even read the big u and those things he published as 'stephen bury'

乒乓, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 14:56 (eight years ago) link

reamde is such a crock

stet, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 15:28 (eight years ago) link


Solange Knowles is my hero (DJP), Tuesday, 8 January 2013 15:29 (eight years ago) link

feels so like Stephenson trying to appease his critics and in the process toning down/losing the things I valued about his old ways. Have ranted on this before tho. Huge score on goodreads, higher than Cryptonomicon, so it must be working.

stet, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 15:49 (eight years ago) link

Tried to read Quicksilver last year, not long after I wrote this in the SF poll results thread:

Enjoyed Snow Crash, but the awkwardness of the infodumps stayed with me more than the plot or anything else; thought The Diamond Age a lot better, & it made my ballot. Keep looking at that Baroque Cycle, but I fear it will basically be x,000 pages of me shouting 'NO NO NO WRONG NO NOT LIKE THAT' at the book, since I am ok at Europe 1640-1740 (and I didn't enjoy Cryptonomicon so much. It was ok).
― portrait of velleity (woof), Wednesday, April 6, 2011 8:05 PM (1 year ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

The prophecy was fulfilled, except I stopped after 200pp. Might still read Anathem one of these days.

woof, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 15:54 (eight years ago) link

yeah, awkwardness of the infodumps otm, also it seems to amplify the sci fi writer's belief that they can predict the future to an annoying degree since the novel is set in the past, all the horses have run so that you get a lot of "there's this obscure thing the british are importing from the indies ... you steep it in water, it makes you feel excited ... they call it ... thé" which is just awful awful awful to read

乒乓, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 16:12 (eight years ago) link

Nell's father, Bud, is presented as an archetypal cyberpunk character [...] Stephenson attempts to establish The Diamond Age as a "postcyberpunk" book by killing this character early on, while acknowledging the influence of the cyberpunk genre.

cackhanded symbolism or harmless fan service? anyway i couldn't really deal with the overall ridiculous try-hard ideas factory run wild of the diamond age, thought anathem was a lot more simple and grounded in its world building.

ledge, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 16:32 (eight years ago) link


right and if he had a cute factoid about the past he would not hesitate to work it in; but in most ways it felt like a really underimagined version of history – weak sense for the language and politics, no feel for place, fixation on (relatively) Big Names. And not really trashy enough to be a romp; quite fancied itself.

I dunno, like I say, it's a period I'm a little too close to, but I couldn't deal with it.

woof, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 16:46 (eight years ago) link

hey, i finished those. i had totally forgotten that.

'anathem' and 'reamde' are basically waiting for me to i. see cheap paperbacks and ii. have a long haul flight

well, no, i'm waiting for that to happen. nothing i do is going to make the books give a shit.

attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or (thomp), Tuesday, 8 January 2013 17:54 (eight years ago) link

xp no, it's precisely a romp, that's why the things you're complaining about are kind of irrelevant, or let me rephrase that, irrelevant to me. you can boil most of stephenson down to a good old adventure wheeze with part of an encyclopaedia brazenly regurgitated into it. that's not everyone's good time but i'd say if it's worth you bothering with him that has to be more of an attraction than a distraction.

Roberto Spiralli, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 18:00 (eight years ago) link

i think anathem is his best book and the context that he makes for himself there - connected to our world but deliberately separated also, really works for him. what's less obvious is that the baroque cycle books are really the same thing - not quite our history, which i think becomes obvious. an not really just an alternative history. it is fiction with strands of our history papier machéd onto it.

Roberto Spiralli, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 18:04 (eight years ago) link

reamde is embarrassing garbage half of it felt like tommy friedman travel lit and the rest was unconvincing characters acting unconvincingly but most importantly it wasnt really that fun. its not like jack shaftoe was a particularly well-realized character but he was a lot of fun to spend time with - none of reamde's sunday magazine composites are allowed to be that much of a joy since theyre so busy illustrating some aspect of how the world is now or w/e

gray star, a settlement in the remotest northwest (Lamp), Tuesday, 8 January 2013 18:14 (eight years ago) link

lack of fun otm.

stet, Tuesday, 8 January 2013 18:47 (eight years ago) link

I posted my first reaction to Reamde before the part of the book when the characters get to the Pacific NW which is when it all went flat. Would have rather read Cryptonomicon again.

sunday magazine composites are allowed to be that much of a joy since theyre so busy illustrating some aspect of how the world is now or w/e

^^^^ OTM.

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 9 January 2013 00:01 (eight years ago) link

Really enjoyed Diamond Age and Snow Crash (though both had problems), but feel no desire at all to attempt these mountain-sized books

ornamental cabbage (James Morrison), Wednesday, 9 January 2013 00:55 (eight years ago) link

one year passes...

Picked up Zodiac for a buck and plowed through it over the last few subway rides. I'd always expected it to be kind of dumb, but it wasically entertaining. The flaws do show pretty clearly (large, ill-defined cast, really awful 'bearded craze-o badass' protagonist (very Spider Jerusalem or King Mob), female characters are a mess, etc. etc.). Can see all kinds of stuff he comes back to in Snow Crash, or problems he tries to fix. Lot of... boating. If you can get past the stuff that just really doesn't make sense it's kind of fun - shorter than his others and structured a bit by being a neo-noir detective deal (that also feels a lot like it's pitching to be an action movie).

Doctor Casino, Thursday, 5 June 2014 00:50 (six years ago) link

so wait what was the deal with enoch root again

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Thursday, 5 June 2014 16:40 (six years ago) link

There's a whole site dedicated to that I think. The best theory I read was that he was a robot sent back from the future to guide the timeline. The books, taken together, establish something rather different - is it safe to spoil Baroque Cycle at this point?

Doctor Casino, Thursday, 5 June 2014 17:05 (six years ago) link

yeah i figure if ive forgotten once already I can forget again pretty effectively should i ever decide I want to read them

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Thursday, 5 June 2014 21:27 (six years ago) link

.. again

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Thursday, 5 June 2014 21:27 (six years ago) link

enoch root is a wizard

dude (Lamp), Thursday, 5 June 2014 21:29 (six years ago) link

Still have trouble eating lobster tomalley ever since reading Zodiac xp

, Thursday, 5 June 2014 21:34 (six years ago) link

hahaha yeah the lobster thing is one of the definite "will stick with you" parts of the book.

Enoch Root is an alchemist, or alternately a wizard that is easily misinterpreted as an alchemist in the 17th century. He knows how to use the Solomonic heavier-than-normal gold to concoct a resurrection/eternal-life potion which is used successfuly on at least three other characters, shifting the books from science/historical fiction to fantasy I guess. He pokes around in history, meddling with things; his overall project isn't really explained, but his speeches in Cryptonomicon suggest it's a kind of quest to support 'Athena' over 'Ares' in Stephenson's moral universe. This seems to mean forcing the Waterhouses of the world (nebbish, apolitical thinkers) to get their hands dirty and take stands on good versus evil, and forcing the Shaftoes of the world (chaotic-neutral grunts who would, one suspects, be easily deployed by Ares) to some point of redemption, similarly pivoting them from selfish pursuits to morallly-driven quests. I think.

Doctor Casino, Thursday, 5 June 2014 23:17 (six years ago) link

what a weird series of narrative decisions

do you remember his kickstarter, god

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Friday, 6 June 2014 07:26 (six years ago) link

I think it's more or less meaningless tbh. I don't really think writers have obligations to society in this respect, and that the building of spaceships is more to do with funding/military advantage than it is the mood of writing.

that said, conveying wonder is a meaningful thread of the science-fiction tapestry. Robert Conquest put it well in one his poems:

Imagination that debars
The deeps of time, the endless stars,
May grow too numb to harmonize
Its own rag-doll's two button eyes.

I may be feeling slightly sour towards Stephenson at the moment - have put down Quicksilver and will never pick it up again, a thought that gives me some pleasure.

Fizzles, Friday, 6 June 2014 09:29 (six years ago) link

^ Yes

, Friday, 6 June 2014 10:19 (six years ago) link

seven months pass...

Reading the (great) analysis of Cryptonomicon in N. Katherine Hayles's (great) My Mother Was A Computer must have given me the Stephenson bug again. Picked up a paperback of Quicksilver for what I realize now must be my third reading of this monstrosity (twice in the hardbacks, which I ditched years ago). They had Reamde also but something in me wanted familiar, labyrinthine comfort food. Enjoying it tremendously, though a lot of that is just from knowing the characters and where this is all going. Kind of amazed I got through it the first time, since so much of it appears to be just period scene-setting and detail for the sake of detail, and the narrative arc is virtually invisible.

Doctor Casino, Monday, 12 January 2015 17:45 (six years ago) link

three months pass...

Excerpt from his new book's up on his site now

stet, Monday, 13 April 2015 20:57 (five years ago) link

i genuinely enjoyed the most recent book of his i read about parallel realities despite the fact that the word 'praxis' appeared on a single page of the hardcover copy i was reading six times.

no (Lamp), Monday, 13 April 2015 22:29 (five years ago) link

one month passes...

seveneves: a bit better than the gun-nut one but man it was hard going as a novel sometimes. Some nice ideas, though.

stet, Wednesday, 3 June 2015 09:18 (five years ago) link

two months pass...

about 2/3 of the way through. A lot of the zero-g mechanical engineering stuff could have been edited...but I'll definitely finish it

calstars, Friday, 28 August 2015 11:38 (five years ago) link

i thought it was pretty good, definitely could've tightened up the first part which made the second seem a little rushed by contrast. reflected afterwards that i wasn't sure if i would've preferred more of the second part or none of it.

Roberto Spiralli, Friday, 28 August 2015 13:47 (five years ago) link

wife finished it last night and loved it - guess I'll start it next

Οὖτις, Friday, 28 August 2015 15:21 (five years ago) link

one month passes...

Carly Fiorina is going to get us all killed.

Kiarostami bag (milo z), Thursday, 8 October 2015 01:15 (five years ago) link


calstars, Thursday, 8 October 2015 01:47 (five years ago) link

JBF parallels

Kiarostami bag (milo z), Friday, 9 October 2015 16:06 (five years ago) link

one year passes...

100 pages into 'seveneves' and i've only just discovered it's not called 'seveneyes' (because seveneyes turns up no search results here)

koogs, Friday, 2 December 2016 18:22 (four years ago) link

Love Cryptonomicon. the physical comedy in the WWII parts was my favourite part

flopson, Friday, 2 December 2016 18:37 (four years ago) link

otm, i love those bits too

Flamenco Drop (VegemiteGrrl), Friday, 2 December 2016 23:47 (four years ago) link

Seveneves is a palindrome, I now realise. Still not sure of the relevance of this though.

koogs, Saturday, 3 December 2016 08:47 (four years ago) link

I need to pick up Seveneves, Reamde was so dumb I just kind of tuned him out for years, which was probably unfair. But the politics of it retroactively ruined Cryptonomicon.

Anyone read Cobweb, one of those books he wrote with his uncle in the 90s? The one about terrorists?

erry red flag (f. hazel), Wednesday, 7 December 2016 05:06 (four years ago) link

Gotta love a book that starts part 3 with "five thousand years later"

koogs, Saturday, 10 December 2016 06:26 (four years ago) link

And he's just explained the name, and I totally missed it.

koogs, Saturday, 10 December 2016 06:28 (four years ago) link

two years pass...

New one Dodge is out next week, but is available on Kindle now. It's back in the Waterhouse universe, post Reamde.

stet, Friday, 5 July 2019 17:11 (one year ago) link

eight months pass...

been plowing through Seveneves which i don't really recommend as isolation reading given the emphasis on global catastrophe and dread. also it's not really that good. i just hit the big shift about 2/3 of the way through and i'm really not feeling it, kinda exposes a ton of his weaknesses as a writer as well as his increasingly dodgy politics. this book is shockingly comfortable with eugenics and genetics-as-destiny! there's even a character who invokes a "bell curve" type argument about race and intelligence that just goes totally unchecked by anyone else, as if it's trustworthy scientific information like all the other nerdy shit people spout off in his books. i guess if you're really into orbital mechanics it'd be a blast. but after devouring the Mars Trilogy twice over i'm ready for a lot more self-conscious politics in my books about spacefaring nerds.

Doctor Casino, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 16:30 (eleven months ago) link

I couldn't get past the first sentence of that book, which was laugh-out-loud hilarious and bad.

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 16:33 (eleven months ago) link

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.

I mean, this is like Daniel Pinkwater-level (and I love Pinkwater and would probably like Stephenson's books more if he wrote like Pinkwater, which he generally does not)

Οὖτις, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 16:33 (eleven months ago) link

I think what I may end up remembering best about this book is the rather brassy choice on the back cover for one of the two review blurbs to be blatantly plucked from a savage pan:

"Fascinating . . . . Insights into the human character shine like occasional full moons." - Boston Globe

Doctor Casino, Tuesday, 31 March 2020 17:36 (eleven months ago) link

"Still, she couldn't help but flinch as the final few flynks snapped around toward them." (p. 617)

Doctor Casino, Wednesday, 1 April 2020 03:58 (eleven months ago) link

gawwwwd the world-building in this final section is just so stupid, in the most blinkered, weird, nerd-author-can't-perceive-how-strange-he's-become kind of way.

Doctor Casino, Friday, 3 April 2020 13:44 (eleven months ago) link

author-can't-perceive-how-strange-he's-become kind of way.

― Doctor Casino, Friday, April 3, 2020 2:44 PM

This can either be the best thing or the worst thing.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 3 April 2020 21:17 (eleven months ago) link

worst in this case

watched The Core last night and was struck by how much it basically is a dumb and sometimes fun version of this book

Doctor Casino, Wednesday, 15 April 2020 16:45 (ten months ago) link

the book is already dumb obv so what i mean is "less nerdy"

Doctor Casino, Wednesday, 15 April 2020 16:45 (ten months ago) link

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