Quicksilver (the omnibus of Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds, Odalisque) by Neal Stephenson
Was the 17th century Europe’s most interesting historical period? I’d never thought of it that way before, but after reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver – which combines Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds, and Odalisque into one massive tome – I think the century might be on to something.
The first third of the novel, entitled (and released as) Quicksilver, follows Daniel Waterhouse, a young man who journeys to London and discovers the birth of the Royal Society, a collection of natural philosophers doing their best to organize a scientific revolution in London. This premise is an important one for Stephen... Read More
Neal Stephenson(1959- )
Neal Stephenson came from a family of engineers and hard scientists who he calls “propeller heads”. He was graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family. He has started a new company called Subutai which developed a platform (PULP) for creating interactive novels. Here’s Neal Stephenson’s website.
The Baroque Cycle — (2003-2004) The first three novels, (1. Quicksilver 2. King of the Vagabonds 3. Odalisque) are also available in an omnibus edition titled Quicksilver. Publisher: Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver is here. A monumental literary feat that follows the author’s critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Cryptonomicon, it is history, adventure, science, truth, invention, sex, absurdity, piracy, madness, death, and alchemy. It sweeps across continents and decades with the power of a roaring tornado, upending kings, armies, religious beliefs, and all expectations. It is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight. It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of “Half-Cocked Jack” Shaftoe — London street urchin turned swashbuckling adventurer and legendary King of the Vagabonds — risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox… and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the newborn power of finance. A gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive novel that brings a remarkable age and its momentous events to vivid life — a historical epic populated by the likes of Samuel Pepys, Isaac Newton, William of Orange, Benjamin Franklin, and King Louis XIV — Quicksilver is an extraordinary achievement from one of the most original and important literary talents of our time. And it’s just the beginning…
Available for download at Audible.com
Quicksilver (the omnibus of Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds, Odalisque) by Neal Stephenson
Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
[This audiobook contains Book 1 of the print edition of the Quicksilver omnibus. Book 2 is King of the Vagabonds. Book 3 is Odalisque.]
I’m a scientist by profession and I love history. Thus, I’m fascinated by the history of science, especially the era of Isaac Newton et al. So, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver should be just my thing and I was fully expecting to love this book (it’s been on my list for years), but I’m sad to say that I was disappointed in this first installment of The Baroque Cycle, though I still have high hopes for the remaining books.
Quicksilver is well-researched and well-written and chock full of plenty of stuff I love to read about: 17th and 18th century scholars and politicians exploring the way the world works. What... Read More
King of the Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson
King of the Vagabonds is the second installment of Neal Stephenson’s ambitious and epic Baroque Cycle. I was disappointed with Quicksilver, the first book, because, though it was a thorough and realistic historical fiction, it had neither a compelling main character nor a cohesive plot. Thus, it felt like a textbook, except that I wasn’t sure which anecdotes about the real historical figures were factual and which were fictional. In other words, if we’re going to skip the plot, I’d rather read about 17th century scientific discoveries in a non-fictional account. After all, there are plenty of interesting ones.
King of the Vagabonds is, therefore, quite an improvement, mostly because it has two extremely entertaining main characters: Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe (who is, literally, half-cocked)... Read More
The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
If Quicksilver, the first book in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, focused on events in England and continental Europe during the 17th century, The Confusion is Stephenson taking the time to provide a more global context. Or half of it is. The Confusion combines two novels from the cycle, The Juncto and Bonanza. The Juncto follows Eliza’s exploits in Europe, while everyone’s favorite vagabond, Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, stars in Bonanza.
Eliza’s son has been kidnapped by Lothar von Hacklheber, and she employs every means at her disposal to ruin him. Eliza is the brains of this novel, and she manipulates the nobility, cryptographers, and philosophers to regain her son. Eliza is ri... Read More
The System of the World by Neal Stephenson
The System of the World combines the final three “novels” — Solomon’s Gold, Currency, and The System of the World — of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. The novel’s title refers to the third volume of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.
Most people remember Isaac Newton today because of the Principia Mathematica. In it, Newton explains the universal law of gravitation and the laws of motion. However, by the end of Newton’s life, he devoted his time to theology, alchemy, and running the British Mint. Readers that missed Isaac Newton’s presence in The Confusion will be happy to see him back, and more dramatically back than ever. He has transformed from an odd but brilliant scientist into... Read More
The Foreworld — (2012-2013) This is a collaboration between Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, E.D. deBirmingham, Cooper Moo, and Mark Teppo. Publisher: The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, The Mongoliad: Book One, is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia. But the saga reaches the modern world via a circuitous route. In the late 19th century, Sir Richard F. Burton, an expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, is approached by a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados about translating a collection of long-lost manuscripts. Burton dies before his work is finished, and his efforts were thought lost until recently rediscovered by a team of amateur archaeologists in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy. From this collection of arcana, the incredible tale of The Mongoliad was recreated. Full of high adventure, unforgettable characters, and unflinching battle scenes, The Mongoliad ignites a dangerous quest where willpower and blades are tested and the scope of world-building is redefined.
Zodiac: The Eco Thriller by Neal Stephenson
Sangamon Taylor is a professional asshole, he is known as the granola James Bond, and he knows how to use your child’s aquarium to filter PCBs from his body. Zodiac: The Eco Thriller is Neal Stephenson’s second novel as well as a clear blueprint for its successor, the cyberpunk classic, Snow Crash.
Sangamon Taylor works for GEE, an activist group that tries to act as a check against the toxic waste Boston industrialists dump into Boston Harbor. GEE, whose members are often English majors and leftover hippies from the sixties that care about the environment, man, stages media events and organizes non-violent civil disobedience. They are well meaning, but they really rely on Sangamon, their trained chemist and impromptu engineer, to collect and analyze samples of toxic wast... Read More
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Readers considering whether they should read Neal Stephenson’s breakthrough novel, Snow Crash, would do well to read the novel’s opening chapters about the Deliverator. Rarely has a sales pitch been so blatantly — and so masterfully — launched at the start of a novel. Even James Bond must envy such a rich opening gambit.
For some readers, the remainder of Snow Crash will not live up to the pacing of the opening sequence. In fact, I’d even go so far as to suggest that Stephenson’s hero, Hiro Protagonist — who carries a katana and who is supposed to be “type A on steroids” — does not live up to his introduction. Yet, the style and sheer attitude of the opening is a joy to read, and this mood, which skates the line between irony and geek enthusiasm, is maintained throughout.
The plot is a litt... Read More
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
In The Diamond Age, anything, no matter how trivial, could be made from diamonds drawn from molecular feeds. This will be the era in which humanity masters nanotechnology. On the one hand, this is a time of plenty and technological progress, but it is also a time of great illiteracy as well. With the rise of universal access to the molecular feed, the governments and nations that we know today will lose their purpose and become supplanted by culture-based societies that have territory around the world.
John Percival Hackworth, for example, is a Neo-Victorian engineer based in Shanghai. He has been commissioned to build a primer that will teach the Neo-Victorians’ children to think independently. More than a book, the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is interactive and adapts its storyline for the young... Read More
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
"This code business is some tricky shit." ~Bobby Shaftoe
Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is a lengthy historical fiction set during both World War II and the late 1990s with much of the action taking place in the Philippines. In the 1940s, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, colleague of Alan Turing, is hired by the U.S. Navy to help break Axis codes. Meanwhile, Marine Sergeant Bobby Shaftoe, who’s too enthusiastic and courageous for his own good, doesn’t realize that his troop’s job is to make it look like the U.S. hasn’t broken the codes, but just happens to always be in the right place at the right time.
Waterhouse and Shaftoe know each other only superficially, but their descendants, who’ve noticeably inherited some of their traits, meet in the 1990s storyli... Read More
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
In his “Note to the Reader” at the start of Anathem, Neal Stephenson writes “if you are accustomed to reading works of speculative fiction and enjoy puzzling things out on your own, skip this Note.” My advice is this: Don’t skip the Note. In spite of years of speculative fiction reading, I found myself constantly referring to the novel’s chronology and glossary, not to mention online summaries and Stephenson’s acknowledgements page.
Here’s why. Our narrator, Fraa Erasmus, is an avout, a fid, and an Edharian. He is a Hylaean, a Protan, and a Decenarian. He lives in the mathic world, not extramuros. Nor does he live in the Sæcular world, though he was born there. It is worth noting that Erasmus is also not a Procian, an Ita, nor a Hierarch. He is also not a member of th... Read More
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
After a decade of novels set in 18th century Europe and in alternate universes, Neal Stephenson triumphantly returns as a bestselling author to contemporary America.
But he doesn’t stay in Seattle for long. Reamde wastes no time crossing borders, taking us — usually illegally — to Xiamen, the Philippines, and British Columbia. Chronologically, our first border crossing is Richard Forthrast’s decision to move to Canada to dodge the draft. Working as a wilderness guide, Richard discovers a smugglers’ route from the prohibition days, and he makes a fortune backpacking marijuana across the 49th parallel. He later goes straight, spends ten years playing World of Warcraft, and invests in a ski lodge.
However, Richard’s greatest achievement is “T’Rain,” a MMORPG. T’Rain is like World of Warcraft, except that it caters to, rather than r... Read More
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
It’s becoming increasingly clear that throwing all expectations overboard whenever Neal Stephenson releases a new novel is a good idea. Throughout his somewhat dizzying career, the man has rarely stayed within the same sub-genre for more than one book in a row. I was going to start this review with a brief overview of everything he’s written so far, but quickly abandoned that idea because, even just looking at the major novel-length works, it’s hard to pin these books down with just a few words. “Genre-defying” is one of those terms that gets thrown around way too often, but in the case of Stephenson’s output, it’s more than appropriate.
True to form, after smacking his fans upside the head with the high-concept, far-future, parallel universe SF novel Anathem, Stephenson drastically changes direction again with Reamde, a hu... Read More
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
"Fate had given us a totally awesome foe."
When Richard Forthrast was young, he was the black sheep of the family. It seemed like he was wasting his brain by playing videogames and smuggling dope across the Canadian border instead of pursuing more dignified and intellectual occupations. But then he turned his money, knowledge and skills to the development of his own MMORPG called T’Rain. He hired a kid with Asperger’s syndrome to construct a realistic and meticulously detailed planet and brought on two famous fantasy authors to develop the world’s language, history, and mythos. Because of his own experience in underground markets, Richard created his world’s economy to allow players to extract money they make in the game. So, Chinese teenagers can actually make a living by mining gold or developing and selling their characters to players who have more money than time, such as wealthy midd... Read More
Steampunk edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
Steampunk is an anthology of, well, steampunk stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. If you hurry, you can still get to this first anthology before the second one, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, appears in mid November. Based on the quality of the stories in this collection, I heartily recommend checking it out, especially if you’ve been a bit bemused (or possibly amused) by all the people wearing odd Victorian costumes at SFF conventions nowadays, or if you have at best a vague idea of what steampunk exactly entails. If you’re one of those people who’s interested in, but not entirely sure about, the new hot subgenre du jour (like me, prior to reading Steampunk), this anthology is here to take you by the hand and give you a quick, entertaining education. And oh, it also contains some truly excel... Read More
Interface — (1994) As Stephen Bury. Publisher: From his triumphant debut with Snow Crash to the stunning success of his latest novel, Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson has quickly become the voice of a generation. In this now-classic thriller, he and fellow author J. Frederick George tell a shocking tale with an all-too plausible premise. There’s no way William A. Cozzano can lose the upcoming presidential election. He’s a likable midwestern governor with one insidious advantage — an advantage provided by a shadowy group of backers. A biochip implanted in his head hardwires him to a computerized polling system. The mood of the electorate is channeled directly into his brain. Forget issues. Forget policy. Cozzano is more than the perfect candidate. He’s a special effect.
The Cobweb — (1996) As Stephen Bury. Publisher: From his triumphant debut with Snow Crash to the stunning success of his latest novel, Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson has quickly become the voice of a generation. In this now-classic political thriller, he and fellow author J. Frederick George tell a savagely witty, chillingly topical tale set in the tense moments of the Gulf War. When a foreign exchange student is found murdered at an Iowa University, Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks finds that his investigation extends far beyond the small college town — all the way to the Middle East. Shady events at the school reveal that a powerful department is using federal grant money for highly dubious research. And what it’s producing is a very nasty bug. Navigating a plot that leads from his own backyard to Washington, D.C., to the Gulf, where his Army Reservist wife has been called to duty, Banks realizes he may be the only person who can stop the wholesale slaughtering of thousands of Americans. It’s a lesson in foreign policy he’ll never forget.