The Baroque Cycle

Ven vendersleighc at
Fri Dec 3 22:59:37 EST 2004

I've just finished the third volume of Neal
Stephenson's Baroque Cycle -- Quicksilver, the
Confusion, The System of the World. I read the
first two books in September. Stephenson seems to
be a writer that people either love or hate and I
suspect that goes double for this series. I loved

I loved their complexity and length. I am a fast
reader and sometimes have trouble finding quality
new material to feed the habit. These books
slowed me right down. They stopped the voracious
desire for new books for weeks. That is so rare
for me. TSOTW took me 11 days to complete (about
the same for each of the other two but I read
them back to back). In contrast I started
Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment yesterday and
finished it today, I would say it's about one
third of the length and a great read too. TSOTW
took longer to read because I often had to reread
passages several times both to appreciate the
sense of them and to savour the language.
Sometimes I would stop reading altogether to
think about stuff -- and to look things up.  

There is indeed a lot to think about. The time
span is roughly from the Restoration (Charles I
to the coronation of George I). It has The Plague
and the Great Fire of London, Isaac Newton and
Peter the Great, money, religion, science,
politics, pirates, soldiers, slaves and
courtiers. And kidney stones, more than you ever
really wanted to know about these actually. I
even gained a better understanding of calculus
than I ever had before.

There is a return of certain enigmas of
Stephenson's, the islands of Qwghlm (which I must
confess I find a trifle irritating) and the
intriguing, possibly immortal Enoch Root, both
from Cryptonomicon. Earlier I visited "What's up
with Enoch Root"
By the time I'd finished reading my head was
spinning. Crossroad fans might like to try
anagrams of Enoch Root................

It's not all plain sailing with TBS. I had my
favourite characters and sometimes felt it
dragged a bit when they were not on stage. I
particularly felt the almost complete lack of
Daniel Waterhouse in the second volume. At times
I had to summon up a certain grim determination
to continue. But then again you never know when
Stephenson is going to give you something really
interesting to think about, or a bravura piece of
description or make you howl with laughter.
There's an exceedingly well placed Monty Python
joke at one point which had me literally rolling
on the floor laughing  (I was practically
reclining there already). 

Baroque Cycle? You could hardly get more baroque,
definitely does what it says on the tin.




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