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Neal Stephenson Returns with "Anathem"

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the hoping-for-a-hit-not-a-miss dept.


Lev Grossman writes to tell us that Neal Stephenson, author of greats like Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, has another novel due for release in September. The catalogue copy gives us a small glimpse at what may be in store: "Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of a 3,400-year-old monastery, a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians--sealed off from the illiterate, irrational, unpredictable 'saecular' world that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, world wars and climate change. Until the day that a higher power, driven by fear, decides that only these cloistered scholars have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one by one, Raz and his cohorts are summoned forth without warning into the Unknown."

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This makes me happy (4, Interesting)

rbanzai (596355) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925284)

I really enjoy his books. The strengths far outweigh the shortcomings for me. I usually feel smarter after reading his stuff, at least for a little while. He has a knack for weaving little interesting facts into his stories and that really appeals to me.

Re:This makes me happy (5, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925314)

Plus, it's usually up to the reader to provide the last chapter or so. Weave away, reader. It's a brilliant way to write books, because each one ends up being lovingly tailored to the individual reader's mindset.

Re:This makes me happy (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22926312)

Ha exactly. I was going to ask if this one actually had an ending.
After Diamond Age and Cryptinomican, I half expect any book I read by Stephenson to end in mid-sente

Re:This makes me happy (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926348)

Sounds pretty lazy to me. I'm from the old school where a book ought to have a resolution to the climax (and it should come AFTER the climax). And that the artistic contribution a writer makes is presenting her vision to the reader.

Re:This makes me happy (4, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926418)

I'm from the old school where a book ought to have a resolution to the climax (and it should come AFTER the climax).
Right. I think literary critics call that "cuddling".

Ah! (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925488)

You mean they stock his books at the Holliday Inn all those adverts were about?

Re:This makes me happy (1)

mikek2 (562884) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925612)

[not in any way a fan boy]
---- loves neal stephenson. Truly a visionary. I will MOST definitely buy this book.
[/not in any way a fan boy]

Slashvertisement? (-1, Troll)

Snowgen (586732) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925668)

I don't get it. What makes this news? Some dude wrote a book. So what? It happens every day.

What am I missing? That's a genuine question.

Re:Slashvertisement? (5, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925730)

I don't get it. What makes this news? Some dude wrote a book. So what? It happens every day.

What am I missing? That's a genuine question.

He's Neal Stephenson [] . If you want an idea of why Slashdotters enjoy him, check out his (free to read) non-fiction piece In the Beginning was the Command Line [] .

Re:Slashvertisement? (4, Informative)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925792)

And don't forget to read his highly entertaining Slashdot interview answers [] , especially number four.

Re:Slashvertisement? (2, Interesting)

david.given (6740) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926388)

If you want an idea of why Slashdotters enjoy him, check out his (free to read) non-fiction piece In the Beginning was the Command Line.

Also check out Mother Earth, Mother Board [] , which is a fast-moving, gripping, action packed, 42000 word essay on... the history and practice of submarine cable laying. Really. It's awesome. Read it. (He used bits of it for the background in Cryptonomicon, so if you've read that you may find it a little familiar.)

Re:Slashvertisement? (1)

hansamurai (907719) | more than 6 years ago | (#22926536)

You can also read the first chapter of Snow Crash here [] . The first few chapters are Awesome with a capital A. The rest of the book is good too but the first 50 pages are astounding.

Re:Slashvertisement? (1)

Kidbro (80868) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925952)

What am I missing?

+5 Funny.

Re:Slashvertisement? (4, Informative)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926238)

What am I missing? That's a genuine question.

Ok, genuine answer here.

I strongly recommend Cryptonimicon as a good start. It's a big novel with two storylines from different historical points converging to a single dramatic and climatic end, with a subtle blend of emotions, tensions and strong, believable obligations. Woven throughout is an intensely technical drama concerning the power of cryptography and the people who had a life and death effect on the world around them because of their knowledge. Possibly the best insight into the ancestors of computing in the WWII era. Hugely scientific, well-drawn characters, mathematical, and a truly gripping read. Dangerously engaging in the way that only a truly great novel can affect your sleep cycles. This book, good sir or madam, is for the geek, and a new novel from him is profoundly Stuff That Matters.

I will be hanging out for the new book, and he's got at least one guaranteed customer.

Add one more line for the Fox TV show: (4, Funny)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925288)

"Hilarity ensues as the naive monks wander into an Orange County mall and are adopted by a gaggle of teenage girls."

Re:Add one more line for MTV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925390)

The Monks will be appearing tonight at 7pm in our "Monks Unplugged" special of our "Disaster averted" series with special guests Bono and U2

Yes. (4, Funny)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925322)

I think it's possible that Neal himself has been sealed in a Monastary for 3,400 years, actually. I don't know how else he could have written the Baroque Cycle, along with the works mentioned, and still have had time to come up for air and produce something new, too. Looking forward to it. Are you watching, George Martin? See? Wriiiite... publish!

He saves time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925538)

by not thinking of good character names. "Raz"? It sounds like what people thought the future would be like in 1980.

Re:He saves time (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925658)

Keep in mind this is a guy who, in one novel, actually named the hero and protagonist "Hiro Protagonist".

Re:He saves time (1)

KoshClassic (325934) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926096)

And then was shameless ripped off by Tim Kring on Heroes when he named his character "Hiro" too.

Re:Yes. (5, Interesting)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925784)

Well, when I was at the $250m Sci-Fi Museum in Seattle, (imo, the only good thing to come out of Microsoft, as the place is derided by the locals as "Paul Allen's Basement") one of the most impressive displays (and the place is huge) was the complete hand-written manuscript for the Baroque Cycle, as well as all of the Montblanc fountain pens and refills it took to complete it.

Yes, hand-written. I saw that huge stack of paper, and all the little pen nubs and such, and my wrists starting aching in sympathy.

It might seem stupid to write in such a time-consuming way, but it seems to work for him. This rung a bell for me: I have a degree in sculpture, and one of the first and most lasting lessons I learned is that your choice of tools shape the final work just as much as your intention does, if not more. The process matters; it effects the end result in subtle, hard-to-identify ways. I did an experiment when I was a student, I carved two marble busts (1/3 life size, I was poor), both of the same model. With one I used only hand tools: chisels, rasps, sandpaper, picks, etc. With the second one, I used only power tools: air hammer, sander, dremel, etc. (yes, that one took about a 5th of the time) I was pretty equally skilled with both kinds of tools, and although I was intending to create the same piece each time, they came out very very different. You can't tell from looking which tools I used to make which bust, but one is far "harder".... more aggressive in the expression, people say it seems arrogant. The other looks wistful, serene, relaxed, playful. Obviously just an anecdote, but it made a big impression on me.

Both from the same model, both from the same initial study I made in plasticene. The process matters.

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22926422)

Which one did you complete first? Did it have an effect on how you approached second?

/AC wants to know
//...couldn't draw a line without a straight-edge

Re:Yes. (1)

ultramk (470198) | more than 6 years ago | (#22926508)

I did the hand tool piece first, and then put it away so I wouldn't be overly influenced by it while I was working on the power tool version.

But yes, I'm sure the experience of creating the first one also influenced the result: there's no way to avoid that, IMO. The other thing that made a difference were the natural flaws in the marble: I had to work around them, so the posture of the two pieces is slightly different for that reason as well.

Re:Yes. (3, Interesting)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 6 years ago | (#22926530)

I caught a speech he did on the Quicksilver promo tour. To summarize and oversimplify what he said, apparently his hands can type faster than his brain can generate good prose. By switching to handwriting, he slowed his output rate to more closely match his composition rate. IIRC he said that the result was a much more polished first draft.

Re:Yes. (1)

Samizdata (1093963) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925910)

Amazon finally gave up on the books I had co-ordered along with the new Martin book and shipped them anyway, thus ruining my plans for a literary orgy come October.

I've stopped reading... (2, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925330)

I loved his earlier books, read a third of the way into Quicksilver, found it unreadable and gave up, glanced at the next one and thought it looked even worse, and stopped paying attention at all.

Has he gone back to writing enjoyable books or are they still self-indulgent treatises that he's too important to allow editing of? (Judging from ScuttleMonkey's " of greats like Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon...", the latter seems more likely.)

Re:I've stopped reading... (5, Interesting)

agentkhaki (92172) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925372)

For what it's worth, Quicksilver was easily the driest of the three--it really felt like a history textbook, and I honestly don't blame anyone who gave up on the series (and possibly the author) after trying to make their way through it. I know it took me two tries, and even then it was a struggle. He started picking up steam with the second book though, and the third was quite excellent.

Re:I've stopped reading... (4, Interesting)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925422)

Agreed. I really *did* enjoy Quicksilver, with no reservations. But the following two were less dry and more engaging, even though the individual scenes became a bit more violent and disturbing. Scattered throughout all three volumes were various little nuggets of Stephenson humor -- not just the people struggling with concepts we would consider old-hat (in the modern sense of the term, not that prevalent as slang as recently as the 1940s!) -- but modern euphemisms. If I remember correctly, these became more common in the later two volumes.

AND it had an ending!!! (1)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925968)

If I recall correctly (been a year or two since I finished it) the third one actually had around 50 pages of resolution that wrapped up MOST of the story lines (there was definitely some "then why the hell did they bother with all that other stuff????") I found the ending of the Baroque cycle to be very satisfying -- so just in case you were holding off on them because you were afraid he'd let pretty much everything from the past 2000 pages drop and finish in a couple paragraphs, its definitely not the case.

Re:I've stopped reading... (1)

mu_wtfo (224511) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925696)

Yes, Quicksilver was a hard read, my first time through. Then I began The Confusion, and quickly realized that it was Mr. Stephenson's way of saying "Thanks for making it through Quicksilver".

Re:I've stopped reading... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925884)

Alas, this is not a universal experience.

I started out with Quicksilver. It was tough going, but I made it through. Hoping for better, I tried The Confusion. I barely made it. After a year or two I decided that it was worth trying to finish the series, so I picked up The System of the World. Halfway through I realized I wasn't enjoying the thing at all, couldn't possibly care less about any of the characters, and the outcome of the plot didn't interest me in any way. I returned the book to the library and that's where it sits today.

It's really strange. Stephenson's previous works were generally really engaging. I didn't get very far into The Big U, but that's not too surprising given that Stephenson himself thinks it was a poor effort. The rest of his stuff is excellent (except Interface which I only just discovered existed and thus haven't read) and I consider The DIamond Age and Cryptonomicon to be among the finest works I've ever read.

The Baroque Cycle is really similar to those, but somehow they turned out (in my opinion, of course) absolutely terrible. I don't really understand how it happened, but somehow with those books, Stephenson crossed some kind of inflection point in his writing where a small change in style or technique resulted in turning awesomeness into crud.

Anyway, I really hope this new book is a return to his earlier form.

Re:I've stopped reading... (1)

X10 (186866) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926192)

I gave up on Quicksilver after a few pages. Shouldn't have bought the three volumes in one purchase :-(
If this book is more like his other work, I'll definitely read it. Of all Stephenson's novels, I like Snow Crash most. Ever since it came out I've used it as my guide to what the future will bring us. So far, I'm very satisfied with my current pizza delivery boy.

Re:I've stopped reading... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925414)

Cryptonomicon was really lame, Diamond Age was struggling, Snow Crash was ok. Neal Stephenson is one of the most disappointing SF authors I have read.

Re:I've stopped reading... (3, Insightful)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925438)

Snow Crash vaulted into the "OK" category with the single line "after that it's just a chase scene". Everything else was rich, velvety, cholesterol-laden icing on the cake.

Re:I've stopped reading... (1)

BHS_Turf (8387) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926282)

OK? How could it have failed to achieve that status when you found out that the main character's name is Hiro Protagonist?

Re:I've stopped reading... (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926364)

True. Unfortunately, my friends and I came up with that name for a character in junior high, a few years before the book came out. However, Stephenson might just gain bonus points for having the chutzpah to actually use that name.

Re:I've stopped reading... (1)

goatpunch (668594) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926128)

I phant'sy you're not alone in that one. I struggled through the whole of Quicksilver but couldn't get over the feeling of dread that I felt every time I thought about starting The Confusion.

Let's hope this book is as good as his pre-Baroque Cycle stuff, if so then it should at least be worth reading.

Re:I've stopped reading... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22926466)

God, those were three great books. In my opinion.

Before anyone misreads (1)

Kamineko (851857) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925346)

No this has nothing to do with making music from corporate spreadsheets.

Interesting (3, Insightful)

Paranatural (661514) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925348)

I've actually noticed how the people who are or at least consider themselves the 'intellectual elite', (And yes, this includes slashdotters, for the most part) tend to insulate themselves away from the more mundane world, even while sometimes bemoaning their own insulation.

I'd never thought of putting it into an actual story with a more structured actual separation.

Should be a good read. He can be rather better at predicting how people react to changes in technology rather than how most people think we'd react. (I.E. Relationship role changes and the way we interact fundamentally changed rather than just slightly bent.)

Re:Interesting (1)

Digi-John (692918) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925652)

Actually, when I read the summary, I thought, "Aha, Slashdotters will love this, because they'll imagine themselves as the monks who save the world". Keep working on those Wikipedia pages, guys, because SOME DAY extraterrestrials will appear and demand, on the threat of utter annihilation, to know the exact episode in which Lieutenant Data first got his cat, and then the world will know how important you really were all along.

Re:Interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925752)

That's actually a Futurama episode. Fry has to make up the ending to a thousand-year-old drama series he himself interrupted by pouring beer on the transmitter during a pizza delivery.

Re:Interesting (1)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925802)

That's generally what I thought of, too. The summary reads like a masturbatory fantasy for nerds: your people haven't had to leave the basement for almost three and a half thousand years, you don't need a job, and now God Himself needs your help. The 'AE' ligature in 'Saecular' looks like it's been crammed in with the aid of a crowbar, which annoys my inner linguistic dork more than replacing perfectly good I's with Y's or just tossing apostrophes in to add an exotic flavour to random morphemes.

Re:Interesting (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925676)

I've seen this idea done a few times as fiction. I forget the title of it, but there was one in particular I liked where anthropologists argue that if children growing up with wolves act like wolves, then children growing up with highly intelligent people should act highly intelligently. Ok, so it dives into fantasy - time-shifting, super-humans, etc, but it was still a very fun read.

In the real world, the reason the ancient Greeks despised experimentation was because the real world was "dirty", and many of their greatest minds either lived in isolation or in small scientist-mystic communities. There is little question that, for the education of the time, they had one of the highest levels of intellectual thinking of almost any age.

I would argue that there are some really great sci-fi stories left in this sub-genre, and probably some worthwhile research into how the mind develops, but it's a very specific field of interest and to really explore much more would require something totally astounding. Exploration and (especially) discovery of new sub-genreas would seem more promising.

Re:Interesting (2, Insightful)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925716)

Many elites are other peoples' masses. Slashdot-types (or at least a caricatured stereotype of them that might have some kernel of truth to it) might think of themselves as a kind of cerebral elite for certain types of technical-scientific abilities. For people with a strong background in the arts and literature, Slashdot tastes are very much of the masses, often naive and vulgar. Athletic types see the distinction between the elite and the masses in different terms, as well.

Stephenson, among others, clearly plays to the the geek version of what makes elitism. I find him one of those authors whose generally mediocre work is peppered with intriguing ideas and even flashes of clever writing. He is a geek writing for geeks, satisfying their desire to have their own view of the world confirmed. I put Orson Scott Card in that category, too.

There are alternatives to that: writers who unsettle and shake up frameworks of thought. Among my favorite of them, in SF at least, are Thomas Disch and Samuel Delaney.

Re:Interesting (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925992)

What name would you drop if Disch or Delaney got too popular to like?

Re:Interesting (1)

Lemmy Caution (8378) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926120)

None. I would be grateful for the improved quality of SF readership.

But your lame defensive posture against "elitism" works for other domains, too. "What OS name if Linux or BSD got too popular to like?" You may not believe it, but I like those authors because they write much more interesting and compelling books, not to impress people.

Re:Interesting (1)

Digi-John (692918) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926150)

Ahh yes, good old Orson Scott Card. The best one is his retelling of the Book of Mormon, cleverly disguised as a science fiction series. I started the series with no idea that this was the case, started to wonder a little bit throughout, and then when I hit the pure solid lump of insane that is the final book realized something was definitely afoot. A quick googling and a summary of the BoM informed me that, yes, this was the case. Thanks, Mr. Card!

deja vu (4, Funny)

s20451 (410424) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925350)

That book was great the first time I read it, when it was called A Canticle for Leibowitz [] .

Re:deja vu (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925462)

In A Canticle for Leibowitz, there essentially was no outside world. Everything had gone in some apocalyptic event. From the Slashdot post, I get the impression that in Stephenson's new universe the outside world is technologically advanced (at times).

Re:deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925782)

From the Slashdot post, I get the impression that in Stephenson's new universe the outside world is technologically advanced

From the post, my guess is that it will be written entirely from the point of view from Raz inside this "secret monastery", that Raz will be the last sent out into the "unknown", at which point either A) the novel ends, the lady or the tiger style or B) it turns out to be the modern day world with a bunch of confused monks wandering around gawking at all the eletronics and cars and such, thinking that they were so smart yet struggling to understand how to squish down the little people to fit in those flat talking panels.

Re:deja vu (1)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925560)

Yes, because everyone knows that similar themes or plot devices make everything that follows redundant.

After reading Shakespeare, isn't everything since then redundant?

We're all standing on the shoulders of giants, buddy. That's no reason to stop creating.

Re:deja vu (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925564)

I'm not sure I see that much similarity.

Both have monasteries, but lots of books have monasteries... If anything, Canticle was far more nuanced with the whole "propagation of knowledge through dark ages" thing than just a bunch of effete intellectuals cloistering themselves from the unwashed masses.

Great book, though.

Re:deja vu (1)

arbarbonif (307596) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925942)

Based on the synopsis, I'm seeing more of The Village myself.

Re:deja vu (1)

rk (6314) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926434)

"The Village" is to "A Canticle for Liebowitz" as "Teach yourself HTML in 24 Hours" is to "The Art of Computer Programming".

Re:deja vu (1)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925644)

Thank you sir.

In this age of regurgitation fed to the (largely) young and unknowledgable masses, it's refreshing to see someone calling shenanigans.


Re:deja vu (1)

Daemonax (1204296) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925682)

Awesome, thank you very much. That looks like a wonderful book, I'll have to try to find it. :-)

Re:deja vu (1)

Strange Ranger (454494) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925830)

Canticle for Leibowitz is a terrific story. But when you read it now it seems a bit clichéd. The theme has been redone and redone again since 1960.
So that's a bit like pointing to Tolkein to claim prior art on dwarfs and elves and magical quests.

Also, whether Stephenson comes out and says he is rewriting Canticle..or he was just subconsciously inspired by it, I'll want to read Anathem.

I really loved the recent historical trend but.... (1)

dcobbler (553566) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925366)

I gotta say, I really grooved on the historical aspects of the last four and was kind of looking for that to continue but it's not like I'm not going to read it hot off the press.

And, anyway, who knows what it's really going to be about. It's not like you can judge a book by it's publisher's blurb!


Fuck all y'all (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925416)


by Lord Dunsany

When Thangobrind the jeweller heard the ominous cough, he turned at once upon that narrow way. A thief was he, of very high repute, being patronized by the lofty and elect, for he stole nothing smaller than the Moomoo's egg, and in all his life stole only four kinds of stone--the ruby, the diamond, the emerald, and the sapphire; and, as jewellers go, his honesty was great. Now there was a Merchant Prince who had come to Thangobrind and had offered his daughter's soul for the diamond that is larger than the human head and was to be found on the lap of the spider-idol, Hlo-hlo, in his temple of Moung-ga-ling; for he had heard that Thangobrind was a thief to be trusted.

Thangobrind oiled his body and slipped out of his shop, and went secretly through byways, and got as far as Snarp, before anybody knew that he was out on business again or missed his sword from its place under the counter. Thence he moved only by night, hiding by day and rubbing the edges of his sword, which he called Mouse because it was swift and nimble. The jeweller had subtle methods of travelling; nobody saw him cross the plains of Zid; nobody saw him come to Mursk or Tlun. O, but he loved shadows! Once the moon peeping out unexpectedly from a tempest had betrayed an ordinary jeweller; not so did it undo Thangobrind: the watchman only saw a crouching shape that snarled and laughed: "'Tis but a hyena," they said. Once in the city of Ag one of the guardians seized him, but Thangobrind was oiled and slipped from his hand; you scarcely heard his bare feet patter away. He knew that the Merchant Prince awaited his return, his little eyes open all night and glittering with greed; he knew how his daughter lay chained up and screaming night and day. Ah, Thangobrind knew. And had he not been out on business he had almost allowed himself one or two little laughs. But business was business, and the diamond that he sought still lay on the lap of Hlo-hlo, where it had been for the last two million years since Hlo-hlo created the world and gave unto it all things except that precious stone called Dead Man's Diamond. The jewel was often stolen, but it had a knack of coming back again to the lap of Hlo-hlo. Thangobrind knew this, but he was no common jeweller and hoped to outwit Hlo-hlo, perceiving not the trend of ambition and lust and that they are vanity.

How nimbly he threaded his way thought he pits of Snood!--now like a botanist, scrutinising the ground; now like a dancer, leaping from crumbling edges. It was quite dark when he went by the towers of Tor, where archers shoot ivory arrows at strangers lest any foreigner should alter their laws, which are bad, but not to be altered by mere aliens. At night they shoot by the sound of the strangers' feet. O, Thangobrind, was ever a jeweller like you! He dragged two stones behind him by long cords, and at these the archers shot. Tempting indeed was the snare that they set in Woth, the emeralds loose-set in the city's gate; but Thangobrind discerned the golden cord that climbed the wall from each and the weights that would topple upon him if he touched one, and so he left them, though he left them weeping, and at last came to Theth. There all men worship Hlo-hlo; though they are willing to believe in other gods, as missionaries attest, but only as creatures of the chase for the hunting of Hlo-hlo, who wears Their halos, so these people say, on golden hooks along his hunting-belt. And from Theth he came to the city of Moung and the temple of Moung-ga-ling, and entered and saw the spider-idol, Hlo-hlo, sitting there with Dead Man's Diamond glittering on his lap, and looking for all the world like a full moon, but a full moon seen by a lunatic who had slept too long in its rays, for there was in Dead Man's Diamond a certain sinister look and a boding of things to happen that are better not mentioned here. The face of the spider-idol was lit by that fatal gem; there was no other light. In spite of his shocking limbs and that demoniac body, his face was serene and apparently unconscious.

A little fear came into the mind of Thangobrind the jeweller, a passing tremor--no more; business was business and he hoped for the best. Thangobrind offered honey to Hlo-hlo and prostrated himself before him. Oh, he was cunning! When the priests stole out of the darkness to lap up the honey they were stretched senseless on the temple floor, for there was a drug in the honey that was offered to Hlo-hlo. And Thangobrind the jeweller picked Dead Man's Diamond up and put it on his shoulder and trudged away from the shrine; and Hlo-hlo the spider-idol said nothing at all, but he laughed softly as the jeweller shut the door. When the priests awoke out of the grip of the drug that was offered with the honey to Hlo-hlo, they rushed to a little secret room with an outlet on the stars and cast a horoscope of the thief. Something that they saw in the horoscope seemed to satisfy the priests.

It was not like Thangobrind to go back by the road by which he had come. No, he went by another road, even though it led to the narrow way, night-house and spider-forest.

The city of Moung went towering by behind him, balcony above balcony, eclipsing half the stars, as he trudged away. Though when a soft pittering as of velvet feet arose behind him he refused to acknowledge that it might be what he feared, yet the instincts of his trade told him that it is not well when any noise whatever follows a diamond by night, and this was one of the largest that had ever come to him in the way of business. When he came to the narrow way that leads to spider-forest, Dead Man's Diamond feeling cold and heavy, and the velvety footfall seeming fearfully close, the jeweller stopped and almost hesitated. He looked behind him; there was nothing there. He listened attentively; there was no sound now. Then he thought of the screams of the Merchant Prince's daughter, whose soul was the diamond's price, and smiled and went stoutly on. There watched him, apathetically, over the narrow way, that grim and dubious woman whose house is Night. Thangobrind, hearing no longer the sound of suspicious feet, felt easier now. He was all but come to the end of the narrow way, when the woman listlessly uttered that ominous cough.

The cough was too full of meaning to be disregarded. Thangobrind turned round and saw at once what he feared. The spider-idol had not stayed at home. The jeweller put his diamond gently upon the ground and drew his sword called Mouse. And then began that famous fight upon the narrow way in which the grim old woman whose house was Night seemed to take so little interest. To the spider-idol you saw at once it was all a horrible joke. To the jeweller it was grim earnest. He fought and panted and was pushed back slowly along the narrow way, but he wounded Hlo-hlo all the while with terrible long gashes all over his deep, soft body till Mouse was slimy with blood. But at last the persistent laughter of Hlo-hlo was too much for the jeweller's nerves, and, once more wounding his demoniac foe, he sank aghast and exhausted by the door of the house called Night at the feet of the grim old woman, who having uttered once that ominous cough interfered no further with the course of events. And there carried Thangobrind the jeweller away those whose duty it was, to the house where the two men hang, and taking down from his hook the left-hand of the two, they put that venturous jeweller in his place; so that there fell on him the doom that he feared, as all men know though it is so long since, and there abated somewhat the ire of the envious gods.

And the only daughter of the Merchant Prince felt so little gratitude for this great deliverance that she took to respectability of the militant kind, and became aggresssively dull, and called her home the English Riviera, and had platitudes worked in worsted upon her tea-cosy, and in the end never died, but passed away in her residence.

8,100 pages? (1)

cretog8 (144589) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925428)

Stephenson's books have been expanding pretty much exponentially. How long will this one be?

(I like them anyway.)

Gah (1)

Pike (52876) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925456)

After hearing about Stephenson for years (mainly on this site) I finally picked up a copy of Quicksilver during an airport layover. What a mistake. I trudged through it for about a week, thinking I might eventually stumble upon something more like a plot, you know, that would make you mildly curious about what comes next. Gave up about three quarters of the way through.

Oh, and right away he barrages you with the laughable similes. Just check out the first page of the novel [] : "her head forces [the noose] open like an infant's dilating the birth canal." - what in the heck???? It gets worse from there. What a joke. He's my new favorite author to hate.

Re:Gah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925544)

After hearing about Stephenson for years (mainly on this site) I finally picked up a copy of Quicksilver during an airport layover. What a mistake. I trudged through it for about a week, thinking I might eventually stumble upon something more like a plot, you know, that would make you mildly curious about what comes next. Gave up about three quarters of the way through.

I absolutely agree that Quicksilver is the worst book of his to start with. For starters, it's the first part of a 3 book story, and it in no way resolves. So you basically got through about 1/6 or 1/8 of the actual story, so it's not a surprise that you felt it didn't go anywhere (because it really doesn't). I'd suggest maybe giving the Diamond Age (or Snow Crash, but I prefer the Diamond Age) a try if you're willing to give him another go. Totally up to you, though.

Re:Gah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925846)

Don't read Quicksilver though---read one of his good books instead. Three really excellent books he wrote are:

Snow Crash []
The Diamond Age []
Zodiac []

Also Cryptonomicon is pretty good but its veering a little in the direction of where Quicksilver ended up--unreadable mush.

Re:Gah (1)

ObjetDart (700355) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926062)

Quicksilver is the only Stephenson book I could not finish. I think a lot of Stephenson fans had difficulty with that one. Every single other one was a rip-roaring good read. Cryptomonicon in particular still remains one of my top 10 favorite novels.

And speaking of similes, one of my most favorite lines from Cryptonomicon was where he referred to someone's close-cropped hair as "standing out from his head like a field of normal vectors." It was a great little geeky moment in a book full of great little geeky moments.

Ending? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925482)

So, I read The Diamond Age. Will this book also be great for the first two thirds and then suddenly turn bafflingly stupid for its ending?

Fantastic (1)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925510)

I'm really happy to hear there's another book on the way.

For the guys who hate anything since Snow Crash, well this will probably not be for you. Neal's obviously grown and changed as a writer, and his newer stuff is unlikely to engage you.

According to something I read somewhere, the idea for Baroque Cyclecame about as an idea for a science fiction novel set in the historical past. A long, luxuriously, wonderfully rich read.

For the rest of us, this is like christmas. The man is a gifted storyteller, no doubt about it. Kudos.

Re:Fantastic (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925572)

Neal's obviously grown and changed as a writer

Unfortunately, one can change but not not actually grow.

Re:Fantastic (2, Informative)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925822)

I strongly disagree. Compare the characters of "The Big U" with any of his more recent works. While entertaining, his early works were more sketches of characters, or walking, talking cliches than fully-realized, 3-dimensional individuals.

Re:Fantastic (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926002)

You disagree with my comment, or do you disagree because you believe I'm applying it to Neal Stephenson?

Re:Fantastic (1)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926178)

Well, that would be a reasonable assumption to make, since he is the topic under discussion, is it not?

Both: either way you meant it, yes I disagree. I don't believe most of us stop growing, gaining skill and refinement at our chosen craft, until we give up or they stick us in the ground.

Growth is change. Life is change. Growth is life.

Re:Fantastic (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925816)

For the guys who hate anything since Snow Crash, well this will probably not be for you.

I actually liked Snow Crash the least out of all his books I've read. I really liked the style, but the story was more than a little preposterous; had this annoying tendency to snatch a few random, out of context tiny bits of science and history here and there, and then weave them together into this Grand Unifying Theory of Everything. Well, OK, but that leaves out the other 99.9999999999% of everything, ever. Fun read overall, though.

Cryptonomicon, on the other hand, was pure genius.

Re:Fantastic (2, Insightful)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925890)

Cryptonomicon, on the other hand, was pure genius. ...unfortunately, a lot of the posters here seem to feel the exact opposite.

I have to think that the reason for it is that Neal seems to have three distinct fanbases:
1. The ones who never got over Neuromancer and only like the books where he's channeling Bill Gibson.
2. The ones who appreciate the convoluted storylines and textured histories of Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle.
3. The Venn-diagram overlap of the two, which appears to be tiny.

I'm a #3, but I try not to evangelize.

Atlas Shrugged (-1, Flamebait)

Forrest Kyle (955623) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925530)

So it's like the opposite of Atlas Shrugged - capitalism and industry have destroyed the world and it's up to a cloistered convent of Al Gore's followers to rebuild the world into a utopia.

Re:Atlas Shrugged (4, Funny)

spun (1352) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925664)

Christ on a kitten huffing bender, man, what are you on about? I can't even figure out whether you are right-loony, left-loony, libertarian-loony, or just an Ayn Rand fetishist based on this post. How you managed to read ANY of that into this preview of Stephenson's new book, I'll never know.

Look, this is the Internets, you have to be more specific in your insults and more obvious in your humor. ;)

Re:Atlas Shrugged (1)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925912)

You forgot one: Ron Paul Supporter.

Re:Atlas Shrugged (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926006)

No, it's in there:

right-loony, left-loony, libertarian-loony, or just an Ayn Rand fetishist

Re:Atlas Shrugged (2, Funny)

ultramk (470198) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926198)

Oh, sorry. I guess I need some sort of Venn diagram.

Re:Atlas Shrugged (1)

DrVomact (726065) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926060)

Don't worry...he'll listen to Reason...

Re:Atlas Shrugged (1)

Kattspya (994189) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926396)

Are you talking about reason the magazine or reason the magnetic gattling gun?

Anathem? (1)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925566)

It seems to be slashdotted - I couldn't get the page to load. I look forward to reading it. But the name - Anathem? Sounds like someone lisping a headache remedy...


Word Play? (1)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926116)

But the name - Anathem? Sounds like someone lisping a headache remedy...

Or a play on words...Anthem...Anathem...Anathema?

Shades of the Foundation Trilogy (plus) (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925568)

Sounds like a Hari Seldon moment happened to Stephenson. The Second Foundation all over again.

Re:Shades of the Foundation Trilogy (plus) (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925614)

Sounds like a Hari Seldon moment happened to Stephenson. The Second Foundation all over again.

Nah. We just have a new Cowboy Neal.

Re:Shades of the Foundation Trilogy (plus) (4, Insightful)

Digi-John (692918) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925680)

I can only hope it doesn't include something like that planet-o-hippies, the Gaians.
The worst would be if he tried to tie the Baroque Cycle, the Cryptonomicon, and Snow Crash all together in this book, like Asimov did at the end of Foundation.
Pity that S.F. authors seem to go a little nuts when they get old.

Re:Shades of the Foundation Trilogy (plus) (2, Funny)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925926)

"Pity that S.F. authors seem to go a little nuts when they get old."

It isn't a pity, it is the way of things. A young S.F. can obscure the fact that he is, in fact, nuts by his creativity. The problem with age, is that it tends to bring less creativity and thus unable to hide that which was always there.

Yes, but of course one must consider... (1)

UrinalPooper (1240522) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925570)

It will likely be 1600 pages of brilliant prose with no bloody ending. He's like the long-form Carver or something...

Will it be complete? (1)

n0dna (939092) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925604)

Now if only he'd return with an ending.

The couple I read didn't have one.

Excellent; he's one of my favourite authors (4, Insightful)

Rosy At Random (820255) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925608)

Yes, he's a self-indulgent geek. And damnit, I love that. So am I.

Reading his books, you can't help but feel that he's constantly nudging and winking at you, sharing the joke and deligt of writing as it were. I can see why some people would hate that, or not have the patience to wade through it, but I can't get enough of it.

In that, he reminds me of Roger Zelazny. Lately, though, I find Charles Stross to feel rather similar.

"Raz and his cohorts" (1, Insightful)

unity100 (970058) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925654)

why is that they set up the hero as having cohorts, armies, minions all the time ? its growing rather old.

the forced need of self gratification by grandeur. too unrealistic when repeated that often and in every context.

Re:"Raz and his cohorts" (1)

bskin (35954) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925740)

Um. So the story would be better if there were only one character who never interacted with anyone?

Re:"Raz and his cohorts" (1)

glwtta (532858) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925742)

why is that they set up the hero as having cohorts, armies, minions all the time ? its growing rather old.

I think they just meant "the other people at the monastery" by "cohorts"; could've as easily said "buddies" or "pals". Must the hero always be some kind of brooding solitary recluse?

Lev Grossman has a blog? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#22925686)

Lev, I just read Codex and hated the ending, like the rest of humanity.

I stalled out 2 books ago... (2, Insightful)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925726)

His earlier books were great, but somewhere in Cryptonomicon he seems to have lost the plot, literally. I had a lot of trouble actually caring about the characters in Cryptonomicon... and I couldn't really care much about the background or plot either... it all seemed to be an excuse for him to write about the places he'd been as a hacker tourist and try and drum up geek cred... and he didn't seem to understand what bits of geek culture were things his allegedly competent protagonist should care about. The Baroque Cycle? I gave up halfway through the second one. It was like reading the "Swiss Family Robinson" version of the Renaissance. You know how "Swiss Family Robinson" was kind of like teenager's wish-fulfillment version of "Robinson Crusoe"? That's how I felt about Quicksilver... too many protagonists had too many convenient 20th century attitudes and too much 20th century understanding of biology and physics.

Re:I stalled out 2 books ago... (1)

luder (923306) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926148)

I'm still to finish Cryptonomicon, but my biggest complaint isn't the story. It seems I got the mass market paperback edition [] , featuring 1168 pages of tiny text and lines crunched into each other. What a mess, it is the most unpleasant thing I tried to read... Did they ever heard of readability? It may be ok for smaller books, 200-400 pages, but for anything bigger it's a no, thanks. Stay away from this edition.

Yay! (4, Funny)

fucket (1256188) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925858)

I was reading "The Baroque Cycle" for so long that when I finished it, there was a noticeable vacuum in my life. I struggled to remember a time when I *wasn't* reading "The Baroque Cycle" and searched in vain for something as dense, interesting and clever to fill my newly idle hours. I hope I speak for many others besides myself when I express hope that the new books compare favorably in both mass and density (and thus volume) to the old.

Re:Yay! (1)

Tteddo (543485) | more than 5 years ago | (#22925928)

Hah! That was great!

Diamond Age (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926328)

If well Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon are good, i enjoyed much more the reading of Diamond Age (the best educative toy story after mimsy were the borogoves, and maybe even inspiration for the OLPC). Why those 2 are "the" books of Stephenson all over the story?

Re:Diamond Age (1)

jfclavette (961511) | more than 5 years ago | (#22926486)

I wanted to post exactly that. Diamond Age is, IMHO, Stephenson's best novel. I'll give the editors a free pass on Zodiac tough.
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