Saturday, October 11, 2003


Neal Stephenson's new book Quicksilver just came out... this is the first of three books (collectively called The Baroque Cycle) that explore the history behind the story told in his book Cryptonomicon, which is by far the best fiction I have ever read. Stephenson plans to release the whole trilogy within a year - the second book, The Confusion, comes out on 13 April 2004, and the final book The System of the World will be released on 21 September 2004.

Stephenson has been called a 'cyberpunk' author, but the direction he took in Cryptonomicon makes him more than that, I think. Instead of thinking about what the future will be like when we have cyberspace (in a real sense, not like what we have now, which is more of an advertispace), he examined the people and processes that led codes and computing to their current state, starting with the most obvious source, Alan Turing. Cryptonomicon details the experiences of the WWII effort to crack German and Japanese encryptions, which was astoundingly successful given the complexity of the problem.

In The Baroque Cycle, Stephenson follows the trail farther back, to the 17th century, when people like Hooke, Liebniz, and Newton were turning the world upside down in their search for 'truth', the primary identifying characteristic of which varied depending on the individual... for instance Newton, despite all of his incredible developments in math and science, focused a lot of his attentions on making his observations fit into his religious framework.

Quicksilver is tied into Cryptonomicon by more than just subject matter... following the tradition from the first book, The Baroque Cycle chronicles the lives of a few families throughout the passage of time: names like Waterhouse, Root, and Shaftoe keep popping up, tying the storyline together across the centuries.

If you've only read Snow Crash or The Diamond Age, pick up Cryptonomicon first, then dive into The Baroque Cycle. If you haven't read anything by Stephenson, what the fuck are you waiting for?