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Quicksilver

timothy posted about 11 years ago | from the salivation dept.

Books 314

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.

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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First Post! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025514)

:-P

Re:First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025739)

LOL!, You win :)

Too bad you posted as an AC, otherwise I would have remembered you for a veery long time..

Fix that until next time, fag.

FIRST!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025516)

FIRST!!!

at least I hope so!!1

Quick! Press submit!

G4 (-1)

scifience (674659) | about 11 years ago | (#7025520)

Isn't Quicksilver the model of an Apple G4? Stop confusing us!

Yeah I know (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025599)

Stephenson uses quicksilver as an unsubtle symbol of the scientific discovery that was beginning to percolate through the known world.

So he is trying to say... what? That the scientific revolution had seven independently operating fans?

Re:Yeah I know (1)

hackwrench (573697) | about 11 years ago | (#7025775)

No, that scientific discovery is to the known world as water is to coffee grounds, but I still don't know what that has to do with quicksilver.

Re:G4 (3, Interesting)

bluethundr (562578) | about 11 years ago | (#7025898)

Isn't Quicksilver the model of an Apple G4? Stop confusing us!

:::sound of slashdot crickets:::

Sorry this comment didn't quite rate a "+5 Funny". But it may not be that Slashdot is trying to confuse your poor little mellon. It may be more the case that in this wonderful little essay [barnesandnoble.com] Stephenson wrote about a few years back Stephenson reveals himself to have been at one time a real Apple fiend.

In it, he describes how he sadly left the Apple fold after his beloved blackbird powerbook ate a story he was working on. It was (according to him) irretrievably lost. He then embarked on a journey through other operating systems (including BeOS and WinNT)that culminated into a real enthusiasm for Linux.

But that essay was written a while ago, so maybe since the move to OS X he's come back to Apple.

Perhaps he was writing his new book on his new Apple hardware and thinking to himself "Title...title...hmmmm...what to all this wonderful new story of mine...ah-HA!"

same price at amazon (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025531)

Ref: Amazon has it for the same price as bn [amazon.com]
Free shipping applies if you spend $5.50 more...

Re:same price at amazon (2, Informative)

platypus (18156) | about 11 years ago | (#7025688)

Yeah, and you also can go to amazon without supporting the blatantly spamming dumbass with amazon-id ccats-20
here [amazon.com]

Re:same price at amazon (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025709)

So, you'd prefer Big Corporate Amazon keep that $1 commision than they give it to some guy? What are you, a Republican?

[OT]Re:same price at amazon (1)

platypus (18156) | about 11 years ago | (#7025787)

So, you'd prefer Big Corporate Amazon keep that $1 commision than they give it to some guy? What are you, a Republican?

No, I'd prefer not to get spammed, period.

Re:[OT]Re:same price at amazon (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025834)

It's not spam in your inbox, dingus. If you don't like it, ignore it just like you ignore the goatse, tubgirl, and gnaa messages.

I kid because I love (3, Funny)

daeley (126313) | about 11 years ago | (#7025541)

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. ;)

Re:I kid because I love (1)

codefool (189025) | about 11 years ago | (#7025746)

When I went to B&N to get a trade paperback copy of Cryptonomicon for my backpack, I found it to be five inches thick - and instantly experienced horrific memories of the Michener [amazon.com] novels my mom used to read. I just walked away.

Re:I kid because I love (1)

LeoDV (653216) | about 11 years ago | (#7025790)

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. :)

borin (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025546)

boring article.

linux sucks!!!! mircosoft rules!!! sco is awesome too!

Another good hi-fi book about the Period.... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#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

Somewhat ironic summary... (4, Interesting)

Soulfader (527299) | about 11 years ago | (#7025549)

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.... (3, Funny)

OctaneZ (73357) | about 11 years ago | (#7025553)

900 more pages about Waterhouse and Shaftoe.... How many generations can these families bump into each other?

Re:come on.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025606)

It's called suspension of disbelief, and it makes fiction very enjoyable. Who cares how improbable it is? if it didn't happen, the story wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

Re:come on.... (1)

OctaneZ (73357) | about 11 years ago | (#7025661)

it was a joke! ouch! harsh crowd today

Re:come on.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025708)

I didn't mean to be an ass. Sorry.

Re:come on.... (2, Funny)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 11 years ago | (#7025626)

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...

It's a ridiculously contrived plot device, (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025671)

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". Perhaps Stephenson was aiming for something like the stream-of-consciousness "Gravity's Rainbow"?

Re:It's a ridiculously contrived plot device, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025741)

Two generations is definitely not far fetched. Three maybe. To give you an example - I was dating a girl who we found out later on that her mother went to high school with my mother. Now in a small town that may not be surprising but in New York?

Re:It's a ridiculously contrived plot device, (2, Funny)

sphealey (2855) | about 11 years ago | (#7025900)

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

Damn you Neal Stephenson! (1, Interesting)

ivan256 (17499) | about 11 years ago | (#7025571)

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...

Re:Damn you Neal Stephenson! (5, Informative)

dr_dank (472072) | about 11 years ago | (#7025679)

I don't read any books that are part of an incomplete series.

IIRC, the series is mostly complete and each volume is being released at six month intervals.

Re:Damn you Neal Stephenson! (1)

pacc (163090) | about 11 years ago | (#7025719)

But if you should pick any of them Quicksilver is the beginning cronologically. I have some doubts about opening the copy of Cryptonomicon lying on my desk, maybe I should wait for this one....

*which* English Civil War? (1)

MrChuck (14227) | about 11 years ago | (#7025572)

There were a few. Many nations were created from them. Notably, the USA.

And yes, you should read Cryptonomicon. (It will be interesting to see if this novel has a less abrubt ending that most of his other 90's books though)

Re:*which* English Civil War? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025594)

I think that stopping just after the climax, without a denouement, is part of Stephenson's method. He ended The Diamond Age the same way.

Re:*which* English Civil War? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025707)

Oliver Cromwell, 1650's -- smells like the English Civil Wars 1642-51. I would also point out that the American Revolution is typically referred to a revolution and not a civil war. There is a distinction.

Re:*which* English Civil War? (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 11 years ago | (#7025742)

Pretty much every nation with any degree of history has had several conflicts that could be called civil wars. But when you say "the English Civil War," or "the American Civil War," or "the Spanish Civil War," everyone knows which particular one you're talking about.

And the American Revolution was a long, long way from a civil war by English standards. Americans, understandably, tend to estimate its importance quite highly; but from the British point of view, it was just one dirty little colonial war in a long struggle for global power -- and much as the US lost Vietnam but won the Cold War, Britain did in fact win that struggle in the long run.

Hallelujah, Stephenson is back! (4, Interesting)

mnmlst (599134) | about 11 years ago | (#7025576)

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...

Re:Hallelujah, Stephenson is back! (2, Insightful)

Judg3 (88435) | about 11 years ago | (#7025705)

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.

I've been waiting for this book..... (1, Funny)

vertical_98 (463483) | about 11 years ago | (#7025592)

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

I read the back cover at Borders... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025598)

..and decided it sounded wholly gay and was not worth reading.

As such, I'm not shocked you recommend it.

Display some adaptability. (4, Insightful)

thud2000 (249529) | about 11 years ago | (#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.

NEw Geek bumper sticker. (3, Funny)

Unknown Poltroon (31628) | about 11 years ago | (#7025713)

W.W.S.D?

Nice, but... (1)

Roofus (15591) | about 11 years ago | (#7025728)

..I believe the exact quote was "display some FUCKING adaptability" - the extra emphasis is needed =)

Re:Display some adaptability. (1)

kisrael (134664) | about 11 years ago | (#7025769)

Funny, the one catchprase from that book that sticks out in my mind at work is "increase shareholder value".

Seriously...tying in with "the dilbert principle's" advice to avoid activities that are secondary to the business' core goals, I often wonder how many of what managment has us do is actually "increasing shareholder value".

C'mon, do it all the way! (5, Funny)

siskbc (598067) | about 11 years ago | (#7025822)

When things get crazy at work, I just think to myself, "What would Shaftoe do?"

Well, first, when IT fucked up all the networked laser printers, he'd parachute into their building, impaling himself mortally on a letter-opener on someone's desk. Then, he'd machine-gun the front-line support staff. Then, he'd lob a few grenades into the server room. Finally, for good measure, he'd jump in there himself to make sure the job got done, going out in a big ball of glory.

Now *that's* some fucking adaptability. If you're going to do it like Shaftoe, you fucking do it right, soldier.

HAIKU (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025836)

Don't forget, he'd crank out a haikau too. :)

oh dear (2, Funny)

rootofevil (188401) | about 11 years ago | (#7025633)

between another 900-page epic from stephenson, FzeroGX and Freevo, ill be surprised if i manage to graduate this semester...

Re:oh dear (4, Funny)

Snowspinner (627098) | about 11 years ago | (#7025653)

That's why you download Nethack. That way, there's no longer any doubt that you'll graduate - you're guaranteed not to. =)

Multi-volume series (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025634)

Fast money ejaculation for greedy publishers.
STOP THE RIP OFF !

I'm still reading Cryptonomicon... (3, Interesting)

Leomania (137289) | about 11 years ago | (#7025639)

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

Re:I'm still reading Cryptonomicon... (2, Interesting)

TenaciousPimple (614571) | about 11 years ago | (#7025682)

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.

Re:I'm still reading Cryptonomicon... (1)

nis (81721) | about 11 years ago | (#7025722)

Your problem will be solved when you get to page 400...The beginning of cryptonomicon is really not very good. I think that to get to do everything that he wanted to do in the book he had to do a lot of early development of the characters. There are so many of them that it's just confusing at the begining. The real action starts in the middle and by that time you won't have trouble remembering who's who and what's going on.

Re:I'm still reading Cryptonomicon... (0, Flamebait)

ostrich2 (128240) | about 11 years ago | (#7025792)

and I'm only on page 200 or so ...


STOP NOW! That way, you will save yourself a good 700 pages of gibberish. Seriously. You will finish Cryptonomocrap and then walk directly to the person that recommended it to you and kick that person square in the jeepers. Mark my words. It does not get better.

Some shocking statements for a '9' (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#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.

Re:Some shocking statements for a '9' (1)

stratjakt (596332) | about 11 years ago | (#7025711)

Umm, but this is slashdot and it's NEAL STEPHENSON! Woohoo Neal Frickin Stephenson!

The guy could write homoerotic DS9/Pokemon crossover fan-fiction and it would get a 9 or 10 out of 10.

The only way to find out of the book is good or not, is to wait for the movie. If its not good enough to make a movie, it isnt worth reading! And even if it is, what's the point? You can just watch the movie.

Re:Some shocking statements for a '9' (4, Interesting)

GrassMunk (677765) | about 11 years ago | (#7025714)

i think the thing i enjoy so much about Stephensons writting is that its actually a challenge to read at times. You read a micheal chrichton book or robin cook and its like reading a comic book. To me its like the difference between watching a program on Discovery and watching Power Rangers. You might enjoy non-intelligent writing that doesnt actually push you but there are those of us who enjoy it.

Re:Some shocking statements for a '9' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025779)

You make two assumptions here.

1) that Discovery channel is somehow more intellectual than the Power Rangers. It isnt. Both are targetted for a third grade intellect.

2) that just because Stephenson is verbose, it's intelligent writing. I've found his writing to be rambling, incoherent, purple prose littered with historical accuracies that my 10 year old could point out.

It's not great literature in any sense.

Re:Some shocking statements for a '9' (5, Informative)

schulman (703210) | about 11 years ago | (#7025785)

This isn't the sort of book where audience reaction follows a Gaussian distribution.

I gave it a 9 because I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I think most of those who made it all the way to the end of Cryptonomicon will too. But it's also going to drive a lot of people nuts, and they should be warned; this shouldn't be anyone's first Stephenson book.

Re:Some shocking statements for a '9' (1)

ccp (127147) | about 11 years ago | (#7025886)


No, it sounds as a great review of a not so great book.

Cheers,

Looking forward... mostly (4, Interesting)

soboroff (91667) | about 11 years ago | (#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.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (3, Interesting)

soboroff (91667) | about 11 years ago | (#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.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (5, Funny)

cloudship_tacitus (709780) | about 11 years ago | (#7025806)

dude, get out more often. :)

In episode 2F09, when Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 11 years ago | (#7025874)

haha, I believe that's a parody of some of Star Trek fan mail....like "it took 10 seconds in episode 25 for the transporter to dematerialize a person, but only 7 seconds in episode 27 What, have they improved the transporter?"

That's probably because (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025725)

Stephenson borrowed the main idea behind Snow Crash, that language was invented at a specific time and place, from Julian Jaynes's book "The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". It's a nice idea and all but I think Stephenson took it too far, and the whole Metavirus thing didn't really work.

Other than that I enjoyed Snow Crash cause it was unrepentant pulp sci-fi, and didn't have the literary pretensions of Cryptonomicon.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (1, Interesting)

scrotch (605605) | about 11 years ago | (#7025745)

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.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (1)

OmniGeek (72743) | about 11 years ago | (#7025774)

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.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (1)

Otter (3800) | about 11 years ago | (#7025764)

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 institutions of Israel into the really ancient texts.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (4, Insightful)

Have Blue (616) | about 11 years ago | (#7025807)

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.

Re:Looking forward... mostly (5, Informative)

schulman (703210) | about 11 years ago | (#7025858)

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... (3, Insightful)

gowen (141411) | about 11 years ago | (#7025656)

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.

Re:Familiar... (1)

himself (66589) | about 11 years ago | (#7025710)

Well, my exposure to "Foucault's Pendulum" was a good friend thrusting it at me and saying, "Here, I hated this, now you read it." I, too, hated it by the end -- what with the claustrophobic jabber about Rosicrucians and Jesuits -- but I finished it.
Come to think of it, I do believe I passed it on the same way.
Stephenson, on the other hand, is a joy to read.

Re:Familiar... (1)

gowen (141411) | about 11 years ago | (#7025777)

Well, each to his own.

I thought Cryptonomicon had an interesting plot, but -- stylistically -- it was quite boring. And that lengthy section set in the remote Scottish community was just terrible -- irrelevant to the plot, and poorly structured. The Diamond Age was quite readable, and much funnier than Cryptonomicon, but they both have terrible endings, whereas the ending of "Foucault's Pendulum" is both hilarious and revelationary.

This is art mind, so Your Mileage May (and clearly does) Vary.

Re:Familiar... (1)

scrotch (605605) | about 11 years ago | (#7025839)

"Foucault's Pendulum" was one of my least favorite of Eco's books. There was way to much to keep track of for my poor little brain. I can handle some complicated concepts, and make plenty of connections, but the number of proper nouns in that book was way too high for me.

"Name of the Rose" is easier in that regard, but is still a very intelligent book. "The Island of the Day Before" does some weird, meta-writing stuff that I found beautiful. "Travels in Hyper-reality" is a set of non-fiction/essays that are really good as well.

Re:Familiar... (1)

gowen (141411) | about 11 years ago | (#7025867)

The Island of the Day Before" does some weird, meta-writing stuff that I found beautiful.
It does have some excellent sections, but really, that whole

STONE STONE STONE STONE STONE STONE STONE STONE STONE STONE ... (continues for
two fricking pages) ... STONE STONE
section? Point made Umberto, ENOUGH ALREADY with the STONEs

Re:Familiar... (1)

elmegil (12001) | about 11 years ago | (#7025716)

I could do with a new respin on Foucault, assuming it's not just the same story....

Re:Familiar... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025823)

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.


Actually, it reminded me the most of Robert Anton Wilson's Historical Illuminatus trilogy, which concerned the ancestors of several characters in the Illuminatus and their dealings with famous people in the late 1700s.

advance copy? (1)

campgod (155540) | about 11 years ago | (#7025672)

I don't want to wait for the official release; I'll be on my plane already! So, how did you get the advance copy for a review? Since it's 900 pages, I presume you received it some time ago. Or read -really- fast.

Has he....? (5, Funny)

Otter (3800) | about 11 years ago | (#7025674)

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....? (4, Informative)

cloudship_tacitus (709780) | about 11 years ago | (#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....? (1)

thinkninja (606538) | about 11 years ago | (#7025783)

Well, in this case a weak ending is a given since it's part of a series (uh, cycle).

Sex scenes plural? I can only remember the America Shaftoe one...

Re:Has he....? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025871)

Sex scenes plural? I can only remember the America Shaftoe one...
You don't remember the Penthouse Forum-style story with the woman with a furniture fixation?

Re:Has he....? (1)

kird (110317) | about 11 years ago | (#7025796)

if he has learned to properly write an ending, then PLEASE show Alan Dean Forster how!

Re:Has he....? (2, Interesting)

defile (1059) | about 11 years ago | (#7025912)

[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 of romance and love, but it's so much more funny to portray it for what it is: people shooting DNA at one another.

BN Link (5, Insightful)

corby (56462) | about 11 years ago | (#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 (5, Interesting)

puppetman (131489) | about 11 years ago | (#7025762)

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.

Eco Book (5, Insightful)

scrotch (605605) | about 11 years ago | (#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 (2, Interesting)

gowen (141411) | about 11 years ago | (#7025743)

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 (4, Informative)

elmegil (12001) | about 11 years ago | (#7025788)

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 (1, Insightful)

eyegone (644831) | about 11 years ago | (#7025697)

It sounds like Stephenson is turning into Thomas Pynchon.

DFW (3, Insightful)

xmutex (191032) | about 11 years ago | (#7025699)

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.

Re:DFW (1)

orthogonal (588627) | about 11 years ago | (#7025794)

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.

900 pages? Again? (2, Insightful)

realmolo (574068) | about 11 years ago | (#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.

Timing Sucks (1, Funny)

elmegil (12001) | about 11 years ago | (#7025737)

C'mon guys, couldn't you have waited until TOMORROW when the book is actually released? Now I'm gonna have a major case of blueballs waiting to go to the store tomorrow.

two great tastes that go great together (4, Funny)

corbettw (214229) | about 11 years ago | (#7025757)

"...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 (2, Informative)

SLot (82781) | about 11 years ago | (#7025802)

Here [baroquecycle.com] .

Seems a little dry, IMO. I'll probably still buy the hardback.

Stephenson == very educated avantgardistic writing (3, Interesting)

Qbertino (265505) | about 11 years ago | (#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.

Quote from Diamond Age (1)

Ben Escoto (446292) | about 11 years ago | (#7025821)

Although I probably liked Snow Crash better myself, I enjoyed Diamond Age also. What makes Stephenson so good isn't his novel's plot, I think, but all the interesting passages sprinkled throughout. Here's a discussion I liked from Diamond Age:

"Because they were hypocrites," Finkle McGraw said, "the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefandous conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were now hypocrites themselves---they took no moral stances and lived by none."

"So they were morally superior to the Victorians---" Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under.

"---even though---in fact, because---they had no morals at all."

An insightful passage I think, very relevant today. Anyway, this kind of stuff is characteristic of Stephenson's writing, so I think the books can be forgiven if they don't have good endings.

I still don't get cryptomoncomonmon (5, Informative)

ostrich2 (128240) | about 11 years ago | (#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.

senility (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7025850)

Hits hard and fast, and is especially merciless to sci fi writers. (Note, does not apply to fantasy writers as most of them are born retarded and have nowhere to go but dowwwwwwwn)

Doorstop - (0, Flamebait)

CompWerks (684874) | about 11 years ago | (#7025854)

Is that an insult or compliment?

Stephenson (5, Insightful)

Dan Weaver (646556) | about 11 years ago | (#7025882)

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.

Has Neal been reading jwz? (2, Interesting)

mt-biker (514724) | about 11 years ago | (#7025888)

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?

Science Fiction Definitions (3, Insightful)

sielwolf (246764) | about 11 years ago | (#7025893)

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.
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