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Well, I Tried

I bought Neil Stephenson's "Quicksilver" and tried to read it.


After taking three days to get twenty pages, it got dumped on my try-again-when-cashflow-limits-ability-to-buy-new-books pile, with regret.

I loved "Snow Crash." Still one of my all time favorites. I quite liked "Zodiac." Unfortunately, I think he's jumped the shark, and in fact, I'll go so far as to pinpoint the exact moment of shark-jumping, about two-thirds of the way through "The Diamond Age." It's all been downhill from there.

See, Stephenson has one great strength--his writing. His absurd, Sam-Spade-on-crack, similies doing things you didn't think a similie could do, writing. This keeps me endlessly amused. I will put up with remarkably silly plot devices if they're delivered with that much wit and verve.

He comes up with some neat ideas, too, but let's face it, neat ideas in the cyberpunk genre are a dime a dozen. You just don't write the genre unless you have some neat ideas. There are standards to maintain above and beyond the neat idea level. Generally, I'll grant you, some of his ideas are neat enough to transcend the genre, but still, that's not the main reason I read.

He has two great weaknesses. He cannot end a book to save his life, for one, and he has an apallingly obnoxious habit of jumping around in chronology like a time traveller with a nervous tic and a bad bladder. An editor had a sacred duty to break him of this habit when it first emerged, and they fell down on the job.

Now, I am shallow, I admit, and I am an egotist of the first water, so I can be easily appeased by a shallow plot as long as it's elegantly decked out in clever writing that makes me feel smart. Stephenson can do that like nobody's business.

Unfortunately, he stopped doing that. "Cryptonomicon" had some great moments, but it had a lot of non-moments, and it was a hard slog getting to the fairly unsatisfying ending. But I kept going because of the rare nuggets of brilliant Stephenson writing.

I can't do that with Quicksilver. We've gone several chapters, bounced around in chronology, and had no charming verbal moments to reward me for my ability to multitask the timeline.

Alas. I wanted so much to like it. I love Baroque. I loved Stephenson. But I just can't manage it. Someday, when I am desperate, I will try again, but for now--in the words of Websnark.com, "You had me and you lost me."

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A friend of mine (who I may or may not direct to this post) told several of us that the key to enjoying Quicksilver is to read it without expecting a Neal Stephenson book. Which sounds a little odd, but okay....

Quicksilver makes a great prop for a window. So does Harry Potter and the Thingie of the Stuff.

I'm slowly making my way through Quicksilver (borrowed from a friend). The first third jumps around a lot in time. From what I can tell, the second third starts in one place, and time mostly progresses in one direction from there. I'm still only in the second third, so I can't tell you what it's like nearer the end, but I think that only the first third does the jumping.

I'm actually enjoying the book, but a lot of people don't. I've read that The Confusion is much better than Quicksilver, and I've seen it described as the reward for slogging through the first book of the trilogy.

My reading Quicksilver has had to take a back seat to school work, but once that subsides a bit, I'll probably finish the book.

I can't even FIND "Quicksilver" anywhere.

I actually liked Cryptonomicon better than "Zodiac" or "Diamond Age."

And (heh) I liked the last third of "Diamond Age" better tham the rest.

In that case, you'll probably love this series. I've been enjoying it immensly, but comparing it to Snow Crash is like comparing Robert Jordan to William Gibson. Not right...

"is like comparing Robert Jordan to William Gibson."

Don't even JOKE about things like that!

He has two great weaknesses. He cannot end a book to save his life, for one, and he has an apallingly obnoxious habit of jumping around in chronology like a time traveller with a nervous tic and a bad bladder.

He's also extremely prone to what lilairen calls 'I've suffered for my art, now you have to suffer too!' -- he does a lot of research for his books, and you can tell he does a lot of research because the middle half of them contains all of it. Luckily he is (at least in my experience of him, which doesn't include Cryptonomicon or Quicksilver) pretty good at keeping this entertaining. I have been known to pitch him to people by saying things like 'imagine Michael Crichton, except readable and fun'.

Actually, I think, "I've suffered for my art, now it's YOUR turn!" has a much better cadence.

I loved the Diamond Age - Nell's story was fascinating. However, when Princess Nell learned the Turing Machine, I wanted to gnaw my own arm off.

I am the only person in the world who hated Snow Crash. How in the hell he sold a book that was 45% talking heads (Hiro and that damn librarian) I'll never know. I also hate present-tense fiction, but that's my own problem.

My husband wants me to read the Baroque trilogy, but he admits I will probably hate the first - and apparently essential - and long - book.


I've heard you complain about Iron Council as well, but I didn't read too much of that rant because I hadn't started it yet. I can now tell you my unsolicited opinion of it - it rambles like nothing else Mieville's written. I'm used to his books taking over a hundred pages to get going, but so far I'm 300+ pages into it, I've gone through three protags, I only care about two of them (Omi bores me - or is it Ori? See how special he is to me?), and NOTHING IS HAPPENING YET.

Sorry to go off on a tangent in your LJ. But man. I've been looking forward to this book for about 6 months, and am getting disappointed.

Hmmm... I'm just over half way through Iron Council as I type and, while it's occasionally flawed stylistically, it's superb. Can't really see anyone not at least partially sharing CM's politics enjoying it much thiugh :)

Quicksilver hasn't hit the top of my reading queue yet; I loved Cryptonomicon though, so I have high hopes.

Joe loved Cryptonomicon, but it looked too thick for me. Snow Crash and Zodiac were brilliant, and I do not want to think less of the author.

he has an apallingly obnoxious habit of jumping around in chronology like a time traveller with a nervous tic and a bad bladder.

My gods, that wasn't just Snow Crash? *shudder*

I could easily stand it for one book, but as a regular style, no, no, a thousand times no. That's definitely putting me off trying to run through Cryptonomicon in the bit of time I'm still in the Bay Area.

I'm a pretty rabid Neal Stephenson fan, but I admit that Quicksilver was very rough going. There is something about it that forces the reader to take it in very small doses. Too much exposure can cause permanent damage.

When I say this, I do not mean to imply that it is a bad book, it's just that it is so very wordy. Neal stretches his ability to describe everything with five times the minimum required number of words a bit further in this one, maybe pushing it up to seven or eight times the minimum. And he heaps it on in thick spoonfuls, unrelentingly.

I forced the issue, because I just couldn't let it go, and finished Quicksilver. I'm one of those "audible" readers, meaning I hear the words aloud as I read them, which makes reading go unfortunately quite slowly for me. Nevertheless, I still managed to finish it in about a week and a half of intermittent binges.

I'm pleased to say that The Confusion is far better. It has the same sort of wordiness issues in places, but it also has some darn good swashbuckling and adventure. There were several points where I couldn't put the book down, which is much more than I can say for Quicksilver, which I had to restrain in order to keep from leaping out of my hands.

I'm just about done with my current book (Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco, something I've been meaning to read for years), and when I am I'll pick up his latest, The System Of The World, and see if it's a good read or a slog.

might i recommend Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco..
i think you may dig it ^_^

Read it, loved it. *grin* One of the greats!

Ironically, Diamond Age is in my what to read when the money runs out pile, and I generally begin re-reading other stuff before I get that desparate. OTOH, I found Cryptonomicon to be a real page turner, and more interesting for the period stuff in the WWII Storyline than anything in the contemporary storyline.

For me, the hook with Stephenson is his very strong sense of myth and archetype. The fact that Snowcrash nailed all the elements of the epic genre even while parodying them hooked me. I loved Zodiac. Never got past Page 4 of Diamond Age, and might just take a pass on the Baroque series.

Oh, I want a print of the Coffee Dragon, and I've heard rumours you've made such available; how do I go about ordering?

*grin* I think you already e-mailed me, but if not, just drop a note, and we can set it up!

And speaking of wacky similes:

jumping around in chronology like a time traveller with a nervous tic and a bad bladder.

...made me laugh aloud.

I plodded my way through Quicksilver and the Confusion and eagerly await the next book...But I am a big fan of that era and specifically of the evolution of causality-science from mysticism, so it pushes my buttons on several wavelengths. Cryptonomicon, OTOH, was like pulling teeth for me to finish, despite him coming up with several ingenious ways to make mathematical code-breaking interesting and exciting.

I rather liked Diamond Age as well, for its unusual ideas. Zodiac, I thought, was absolutely magnificent for being entirely non-science-fiction in its purview, and a marvelously well-handled detective story set in a genre' that most people would deal with so heavy-handedly that it would turn off anyone buy a die-hard treehugger.

Yep, a big me too on that one - I tried it, I really did, but I just couldn't get beyond the first chapter. It was the same with the Cryptonomicon. I did enjoy Zodiac and Snow Crash though.

I agree with alfedenzo's assessment - Quicksilver does manage to get itself under control later, and there's some of Neal's magic coming through again which almost makes the first part worthwhile. The Confusion, while being two books interleaved, is done so chronologically and so doesn't bounce around. It's very much more engaging, and the recap of Quicksilver may let you get away with not finishing the first part. The System of the World, the third in the series, recaps rather poorly to begin with - just enough to tell you what that book's protagonist has been up to (Daniel Waterhouse - octogenarian by that stage the series). I'm not even a third of the way through it, but it's had some delightful dialogue so far, and some occasional turns of phrase that've made me laugh aloud. It does perhaps help to maintain my interest that much of what has been written so far in The System of the World has occurred in just the part of London that I currently work in, so it's deliciously familiar in places, and fascinatingly different in others.

I think, like Cryptonomicon, they're worth it for the extremely patient and the slightly geeky, and I can completely understand that you're normal enough to find them confusing or tedious -- though I don't mean that as an accusation! :)

It takes a really good story for me to put up with the MTV-cutting of Stepheson's style. I rather like Snow Crash, and have taught both that and The Diamond Age, but I find them almost physically tiring to read. My students seem to like the style, so I suppose I'm just old and set in my ways.


Hi all. I liked Snow Crash, Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon. Sounds like Quicksilver is going to be a challenge. :)

Since there are so many Stephenson fans here, I was wondering if you guys might be able to answer a question for me. I read (and really liked) The Diamond Age. When I finished it, I thought, "that's just like some other neat story I read," but I can't remember for the life of me what story it reminds me of! Specifically, the plot element of a protagonist growing up guided by fantasy characters, and those fantasy characters bowing out one by one as the protagonist becomes more mature. What other story / stories had this?!

-Louis! :)

I generally agree with this post. Thank you. :)

The first bits are pretty hard going, yes. It does pick up and get more readable after a while.

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