Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Quicksilver and The Confusion

Sean asked me to tempt him to begin Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle", of which the two titles above are the first two of the three book trilogy. I'm not exactly sure what he will find tempting (besides, I want to tempt Jaquandor, too!), so I'll just write the reasons why I kept reading through ~2000 pages of Mr. Stephenson's writing (over the two books).

I learned a whole lot, about all kinds of interesting (to me) things. Here are just a few: Newton, Alchemy, society in France & England in the late 1600s & early 1700s, the beginning of the Enlightenment, the Cromwell Revolution, Leibnitz, the invention/discovery of Calculus, the dispute between Newton & Leibnitz, the Royal Society, swordfighting, horsemanship, where watered steel came from (the material used to make a Samurai's Katana sword), the economic principles that enable banks to function, how we moved from currencies of pieces of gold/silver to paper currency, the development of city states on the Indian sub-continent, how to make Phosphorus, & the ins and outs of the relationships between the royal families of England, "Germany", France, Spain & Russia.

There are a number of interesting characters in the books and I found that if there was a point where my interest in the story was waning, my interest waxed in whatever particular subject matter with which the characters were dealing. And the books are long enough (!) that the characters move through multiple story arcs & twists & revealings in one book.

I like the way Stephenson turns a phrase. My experience of reading these books is often punctuated by the thoughts, "Oh! I never would have described that [feeling/event/scene/apparatus] that way. What an interesting perspective. How on earth did he ever think to write about it in such an original way?"

It takes a bit to get into the first one, but the reader is rewarded for faithfulness and the story grows in complexity and the setting more interesting. I highly recommend them.

Ultimately, I guess it's worth saying that I like the books because I enjoy the stories of the Stephenson's characters. Some characters (IMO) are funny people, others are brilliant, still others are quite mysterious. I've grown quite attached to them at this point and I'm on the edge of my seat while waiting fo the next installment.

Caveat Lector (with apologies to Dorothea): If the books were movies, they'd receive an "R" rating for: on screen sex & violence. Not unusual for a Stephenson book, so this description is superfluous for those who've read Stephenson before.

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