The third part of this extended post is really not necessary. I just felt weird having only two parts to the extended post. So this will be almost unrelated to the rest. Here (and by which I mean “after the jump”), I’ll write a bit about the work of Neal Stephenson.

And here’s that jump.

It seems that everything I’ve been reading lately has been written by Neal Stephenson. Giving the matter a moment’s thought, it’s true, the last six books I’ve read were all by Stephenson! I started with “Snow Crash”, right after finishing “Neuromancer”. “Snow Crash” is what “Neuromancer” should have been but wasn’t.

“Neuromancer” was too short and didn’t bother to explain any of the action, just mentioned the after-effects. Sort of thing like “A red dot appeared on the kid’s forehead. Chase passed by the corpse without looking at it.” (Not taken verbatim, but close to what was written in one scene.) You may have missed it, by the red dot was a laser-sight trained on some kid, then in between sentences a projectile weapon killed him. It’s also possible that Chase may have killed the kid. Or maybe it was someone else. We won’t know until Chase mentions, off-handedly, “good shot”, or something like that. Gah! But more on that in a review of “Neuromancer”.

“Snow Crash” was: spectacular, hilarious, touching, futuristic (that’s saying something, considering how old the book is). It had great characters, an awesome story, tons of action, an early version of virtual reality, a curious sex scene and a protagonist named Hiro Protagonist. I’m serious. It’s this… dude, who is the best sword-fighter in the world, a stellar hacker and a Deliverator. And now he’s tasked with saving the world. Or making it just a tad safer by stopping, “the baddest motherfucker in the world”. Well, what else would you call a 7-foot tall, harpoon wielding, hydrogen bomb-toting Aleut mercenary?! The novel also had the most memorable opening of any book. That is according to a coworker who pointed me at the rest of Stephenson’s work. I agree with it, no doubt, it’s just that I hadn’t realized this until he pointed it out. After I read about 10 pages of the book, I went to Barnes and Noble and bought my dad a copy. Sure, I was right next door, at Starbucks, but it’s still something. Anyway, so I kept reading the book and sent my dad a copy. Everything’s peachy. And then I started reading “The Diamond Age”.

Short story: I had to go back to B&N and get my dad a copy of that book as well. Yeah, I loved it as well. And after a few pages, as well.

The full title of the book is “The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”, and it is set a few decades after “Snow Crash”, though there are (almost) no common characters. The book is an epic, spanning the childhood and early adult life of Nell, a girl from a broken home who was fortunate enough to get her hands on a magical book. The novel covers a lot of ground, seemingly side-tracks countless times into imagined worlds (I loved Turing Castle!) and introduces mind-boggling concepts every other page. That’s a great thing, but is also my only gripe with this and other Stephenson works: he drops a hint of an idea, or a concept, that is revolutionary, that one could study and expand on for decades… and then just moves along! He doesn’t stick around to expound on an idea, just uses it to move the story forward. Good for the story, sure, but I would like to consider molecular assemblers, or nanite-wars, or the surrealistic acting troupe that the Hackworths encounter, and see these concepts develop into something more than plot devices. Whole novels have been based on lesser premises!

Following “Diamond Age” I read “Cryptonomicon”. This was recommended to me by the afore-mentioned coworker as well as our summer intern. If I thought that “Diamond Age” lost itself in tangents, this all changed when I started reading “Cryptonomicon”. Before you have a chance to base an opinion of the book from that fragment of a description, let me mention that I now consider “Cryptonomicon” to be the best book I have ever read, as well as being my favorite. Yes, it has surpassed “Replay” and “Jumper” (for me, it has surpassed them in the “favorite” department, and I think it is a better book than either of the latter novels). And even, or rather because of, all the tangents (Stephenson includes a detailed, though fictionalized, account of Isoroku Yamamoto’s death, as well as an erotic story involving antique furniture), I would not hesitate to delve into the novel at any moment and resume my acquaintances with the Waterhouses, Shaftoes, Goto Dengo and of course Enoch Root. The novel is incredibly quotable, and I quickly found myself bookmarking at least one page in every chapter. Thankfully, bookmarking on an electronic book reader is as simple as pushing a button. Stephenson has a way with words that is humorous, quite informative and to the point. Oh, and yes, I did get a copy of it for my dad. He’s slowly reading it. I can’t wait to hear about his progress.

The novel is split up into a number of distinct plot lines, half of which are occurring in the present, while the rest take place during the Second World War. The world of the stories is similar to ours, except with the addition of a few new countries (ah, Qwghlm, how I adore thee!), corporations and of course characters (such as a fictional German mathematician who used to be Alan Turing’s lover but is now working for the Nazis). At first, one might not understand why this book is shelved in the sci-fi section, but trust me, there’s a good explanation for it. You just have to read The Baroque Cycle to get a glimpse of this. 🙂

Speaking of Baroque Cycle, I just finished reading the books (“Quicksilver”, “Confusion”, “System of the World”) and do have a few things to say about the books (which I will simply refer to as novel, as together they represent one long story). With the previous books, I found the next novel to be a step up from the last, so I liked “Diamond Age” more than “Snow Crash”, and “Cryptonomicon” topped them both. That didn’t quite happen with the Baroque Cycle, but I attribute that only to my own reading habits. The novel takes place during the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. As such, there is a lot of talks of titles (characters usually have more than one name, often enough changing titles right in the middle of the story), a lot of talk of religion, and quite a bit of politics and economics. None of the concepts that I have much familiarity with or care about. So some parts of the novel I found tedious, boring or confusing (it took me a bit to realize that Roger Comstock and Marquis of Ravenscar were actually one person; worse, I confused the Arcachon’s – father and son – so imagine my reaction when… well, you know), but these were balanced quite well against the stuff that I did enjoy. For instance, I loved parts involve Jack Shaftoe and the adventures of the older Daniel Waterhouse (thankfully, most of “System of the World” fell into either of these categories). The Shaftoes never disappoint, and Daniel Waterhouse grows up to be quite an exceptional character. Not to say that Eliza is boring. She’s great and I love her. But with her comes a lot of baggage, such as politics, economics (she’s very influential in both areas) and, of course, a crap-load of titles. That being said, she’s still one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever read and can’t wait to see what influence she has on the next novel.

Speaking of which, there is expected to be a new novel in the Qwghlm universe (I don’t know what else to call it) that is set in the future. It’s not out yet and I haven’t heard any news about it on the inter-tubes, but I’m sure it’ll be a great 900-page story. Speaking of which, I thought that “Cryptonomicon” was ridiculously long (in a good way), but then I hit the 3,000 page Baroque Cycle. Damn that is a long book! I started reading it in December and just now (very end of March) finished it.

Anyway, I think that’s about enough rambling for now. Hoping to be back here very soon.

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