The Baroque Cycle

Ven vendersleighc at
Mon Dec 6 14:50:19 EST 2004

 Margaret wrote
<Ok Ven, your comments on the Baroque Cycle make 
me want to give it 
another try. I started with the second volume, 
which may have been a 
mistake, found it very hard slogging and a severe

disappointment from a 
writer I'd previously admired greatly.>>

I'm glad I've changed your mind, Melissa's right
(oh what a novelty!!*) starting with the second
volume would have  been unhelpful.

>I am a fast
>reader and sometimes have trouble finding 
>new material to feed the habit.

<I have that problem too - and right now it's 
particularly acute, because 
I've been having a sequence of minor 
winter-related illnesses, haven't 
been able to go to the library, have reread my 
home stash of fiction too 
many times, and have been reduced to reading my 
husband's New York 
Review of Books and bitching about the bad 
writing in the articles.>

I think TBS is exactly what you need right now.
Although I have an extensive fiction collection
and I frequently reread I do find myself standing
in the middle of it all chanting "Need new books,
need NEW books." every now and then.

Melissa wrote
<Stephenson puts all these
histories, normally studied in isolation, into 
context with one another: the
glittering and degenerate France of the Sun King,

Cromwellian and Stuart
England, the Hanoverian succession, the 
treasure-ships of the New
World...reading these books is like living this 
history in every place at

I tried to say something like this but it came
out wrong, thanks Melissa. 

<I didn't really like Daniel Waterhouse until
System of the World_.  I
wasn't bored by him or anything, but in 
_Quicksilver_ he struck me as kind
of wishy-washy, blown about by the actions of the

stronger men around him.........>

I was definitely reading him in reference to his
Cryptonomicon descendants, Lawrence and Randy. He
didn't strike me as wishy washy so much as
disengaged, both by temperament and because he
was the youngest of a family in eclipse (as
puritan supporters of Cromwell after the

This reminds me, I really enjoyed the bit where
someone jokes that if George I doesn't get it
right the Barkers will be back (here comes a
chopper.....). It's a key point in the
relationship between monarchy and, ahem, subjects
in these islands. I happen to know someone who
has inherited one of the sixty odd copies of the
death warrant for Charles I, way cool! (There was
one copy for each signatory, signed by them all
to spread the blame and prevent deniability).  

Melissa again 
<.......Or, in a more generous light, that he is
observer through which Newton
and Leibniz and their great quarrel are revealed 
to the reader.  In this
final volume, he gets to shine.  I was especially

impressed that although
*he* hadn't ever seen himself as an actor in 
these great events, he's not
slow to take on that role when the time comes.  
It's tempting to start from
the beginning and read straight through, to see 
if those initial impressions
are the same.>

I am impressed at the way Stephenson created a
character who could have been present as observer
or actor for so much of the history of the time
--from witnessing the execution of Charles I as a
tiny child, dandled on Cromwell's knee (later
having to walk under Cromwell's head on a pike on
London Bridge), contemporary of Newton's at 
Cambridge.......... and so on right up to the
Coronation of George I.

<I was thinking about the
Shaftoes, those who came to America in the 
earliest days--dissenters,
rebels, convicts--and had children, who had 
children, and eventually their
modern-day children drive cars and watch 
television and complain about the
degeneracy of modern society.  Time is a 
wonderful leveler.>

Amy's Shaftoe cousins in Cryptonomicon are a
wonderful mixture of old fashioned gentlemen and
thoroughgoing wild boys, truly Jimmy and Danny's

Browsing the web about TBS I was pleased to find
out that there are further works in progress,
including something set in the future that was
going to be part of Cryptonomicon originally.

*For the newly joined this is a longstanding in
joke, for, as you will surely come to learn,
Melissa is always right.


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