SEVENEVES by Neil Stephenson

I’m a big Neil Stephenson fan.  I’ve read his entire oeuvre, as far as I know, even The Big U, his first novel, which he is not crazy about.  It was big and unwieldy and I liked it just fine.

I liked SEVENEVES.  I feel like I have to write it in all caps, being a palindrome and all.

It was a page turner, with plenty of action and science.  On the first page, a mysterious “Agent” breaks the moon into seven pieces, and I was hooked on what was going to happen as a result.  I was not disappointed.

I don’t want to hint on where it goes to anyone who might read it, so I won’t make any comments on plot.  I was glad I didn’t know where this story was going… it added to the ride.

My one complaint is that there was no great standout character in this book, which I’ve come to expect from Stephenson.  The Shaftoes and Waterhouses from Cryptonomicon, and adding Eliza to The Baroque Cycle series… all fantastically memorable characters, among a gaggle of other minor ones of note.

In this book, I felt like the main character was the human race in general.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but not what I’m used to from this author.

The other thing I note is that the end felt like a sequel was coming.  I guess we’ll see.



Book Log – Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson


Did you see that? Me? A huge Neal Stephenson fan? Meh?

“Certain persons who know what they are talking about where publishing is concerned have assured me that I have reached the stage in my life and career where it is not only possible, but advisable, to release a compilation of what are drolly referred to as my ‘shorter’ works.” – from the introduction.

So, even Neal seems reluctant at the start.

This is not to say he isn’t a fine essay writer. There are a few in there I quite enjoyed.

But I jumped on it, right at publication, because I’m a fanboy. And I paid a lot for the book. Really, I should have waited until the price came down. I knew in my heart of hearts this wasn’t going to be another Baroque Cycle.

At least there’s some good stuff about the era of the Baroque Cycle, some commentary on Newton and that crew. An interesting essay on cults. Some other stuff.

I look forward to his next fiction.

Book Log – REAMDE

REAMDE by Neal Stephenson

I mentioned this before, but REAMDE is reminiscent of Stephenson’s Zodiac, which was the first of his novels I read.  I enjoyed Zodiac, but I didn’t go out of my way to find other Stephenson works at the time.  I judged it a good eco-thriller, which are not typically my fare.

REAMDE is a good thriller.  Stephenson writes extremely well, and has some good characters and, well, thrilling moments.  But it’s not what I love Stephenson for.

So, it’s a very good book, but it’s just an okay Stephenson book.

The action spans from the terrain of an online Worlds of Warcraft style game to China to the wilds of the Canadian/US border.  The storyline is at once outlandish and plausible, a testament to Stephenson’s adept plotting.

Hopefully he’s gotten this one out of his system, though, and we can get back to the really good stuff.


Book Log – The Confusion (re-read)

The Confusion: Book 2 of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson

This is a re-read.

I have to say, the second time through was even better.  I think it owes to the fact that I could read it in longer bursts over a relatively short amount of time.

On to System of the World,  and then Stephenson”s new book should be out, which will have nothing to do with these, but it still seems a good way to bide my time while waiting.

Book Log – Anathem

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

In the beginning of this novel, there is a Note to the Reader, the first line of which is:

“If you are accustomed to reading works of speculative fiction and enjoy puzzling things out on your own, skip this Note.”

So I did. And my first recommendation to anyone thinking of reading this book is to learn as little as you can about it, including skipping that note.

The second recommendation to anyone thinking of reading this book is to ignore this xkcd comic:

The comic is either dissing Anathem, or warning it, not sure which. If you go to the xkcd website and mouse over the image, the text that pops up says “Except for anything by Lewis Carroll or Tolkien, you get five made-up words per story. I’m looking at you, Anathem.”

So, we know to discredit this particular comment because a) he allows an exception for Tolkien, who is boring, and b) he’s dissin’ Stephenson. Or threatening Stephenson that the novel better not suck whenever the comic artist gets around to reading it. Not sure which.

Regardless, I actually agree with the Rule of Thumb, I would just replace Tolkien with Stephenson in his list of exceptions. I’m indifferent on Lewis Carroll. (If you’d like to debate exceptions, I direct you to the xkcd forum, where there’s somthing like 10 jillion posts about this comic debating that very topic).

I had trepidations when I read a blurb about Anathem when it first came out. Too many speculative fiction books “create” a world by just making up different names for stuff, and Stephenson makes up a hell of a lot of words in the blurb alone.

But, as another commenter put it, the first part of the book is a pretty impressive bit of world building. It only took a few pages before the multitudes of made-up words clicked and I stopped noticing them or caring.

As to the ending, to be perfectly honest I’m going to liken it to watching the movie Primer, a low budget but extremely good time travel movie1. I really enjoyed it, but I was hanging onto comprehension by my fingernails. I may need to go back and read the last 100 pages again, just to make sure I followed what happened correctly. In my own defense, I was really into it at this point and taking every opportunity to read a few pages. So I’d get it in little 5 page bursts, interrupted by a kid or dog or kid-dog related emergency. Theoretically, I should have just waited until I had a block of time, but… you know, Stephenson. I’m a fan.

I would bet $1,000 that Stephenson has read Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Some folks are saying that Anathem is better than Cryptonomicon. My vote is still with Cryptonomicon and, for that matter, The Baroque Cycle trilogy. But Anathem is a close second (fifth?), and tied with The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, and just ahead of Snow Crash.

Glad I could clear that up for everybody.
1 Which is not to say that Anathem is a book about time travel. I’m not saying what it’s about. This log is spoiler free, more or less. I’m just saying that what it’s about is complex, like time travel narratives can be.

Book Log – The Cobweb

The Cobweb by Stephen Bury (AKA Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George (AKA George F. Jewsbury))

The Cobweb is the second of two books written by Stephen Bury, which is the pseudonym of Neal Stephenson and his uncle, J. Frederick George, which is actually a pseudonym for his real uncle, George Jewsbury. The other novel was Interface.

Strangely, in my log of Interface, I go fairly easy on the book. In fact, I was greatly disappointed in it for its huge, unbelieavable plot holes. I felt that the The Big U, Stephenson’s first novel and one he reportedly cringes at, was better. I blamed his uncle, J. Frederick George, for the poor plotting, since everything else prior to Interface was just plain good (Zodiac, Snow Crash).

But Stephenson and Jewsbury must have figured out how to work together, because The Cobweb is a much better read, and tighter in the plotting. Essentially a political detective story,The Cobweb concerns a small town Deputy Sheriff who stumbles upon a mystery that has global repercussions, including effecting his wife who is serving as a nurse in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. President Bush the First has a few scenes, where he is portrayed as a sympathetic character greatly concerned about the human impact of his actions. This characteristic is viewed as a flaw by his underlings.

The title comes from a political tactic where you block someone’s actions by bogging them down in bureaucratic busy work, appointing them to special pointless committees and whatnot: “cobwebbing”.

My only disappointment was a deus ex machina at the last moment which could have been easily avoided.

Also, how believable is it that this Deputy could solve an international conspiracy while taking care of a 6 month old alone? Please. I can’t even get to the bathroom unless steakums is around.

Book Log – Interface

Interface by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George

Originally published under the name Stephen Bury, they rereleased this and The Cobweb under Neal’s real name and that of his co-writer, a historian named J. Frederick.

This was written about five years before Cryptonomicon. The plot is not as tight, but the writing is still very engaging. It’s kind of a “missing link” between his hard-core science fiction like Snow Crash and his only-vaguely science fiction works, like Cryptonomicon.

The plot revolves around a presidential campaign, a secret society called the Network, and chips implanted in brains. Good fun, a worthy read.

I wonder why he published it under a pseudonym?

On the bookstand:
To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld Vol. 1) by Philip Jose’ Farmer
What Do You Care What Other People Think? (Further Adventures of a Curious Character) by Richard Feynman

Book Log – System of the World

System of the World: Volume 3 of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson

Well, that’s it. I’m done with the trilogy, as of Tuesday. And I’m really sad. I simply wanted it to keep going. I read the last page of the Acknowledgements as my plane door opened in Atlanta from Arkansas this past week.

But the third volume was a great ending, and thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

Now, I feel I need to re-read Cryptonomicon. And thus, I will.

Book Log – The Confusion

The Confusion: Volume II of the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson

On the cover of the book and the title page, it says by Neal Stephenfon (sortof), which makes me laugh.

This book took me about a year to read. I’d put it aside for months, because I really need to not read it in short 15 minute bursts a week or so apart. I would get lost, and decide to wait until I had a reasonable chance of getting a good stretch of reading in. I got a good chunk in during my recent trip to Food Lion, and now I’m done.

I love these books. They are so rich in detail, action, character, and plot that I feel like I’m hanging onto a rollercoaster by my fingernails.

Today, I decided that Cryptonomicon is my Hobbit and The Baroque Cycle, Volumes I – III are my Lord of the Rings.

Unfortunately, I’d say there’s a monad-of-quicksilver-sized chance of them ever becoming movies, or even an animated cartoon, owing mostly to a dearth of dragons.

Only one volume left… The System of the World. And then I’m done. I’m not looking forward to being done.

My brother is concerned that he’ll get to the end of them and the payoff will be a big disappointment, but I’d say the journey will be worth it despite the outcome.

Though I’d like a big finish, too. Why not?