Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stephenson's Baroque Cycle

OK, many of you are probably familiar with cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon) - has anyone ever tried to dive into his massive trilogy, The Baroque Cycle? I got it a few months ago but hadn't attempted anything until a few weeks ago. Am now in the middle of it, and ye gods, what a mind-slam.

It's surrealist historical fiction from the 1680s, weaving together Louis XIV's imperial wars in Central Europe, the Newton-Liebniz battles over who invented calculus, women's role in Euro-nobility, and swashbuckling piracy among the Barbary Muslims. If it sounds too Yo-Ho, rest assured that the quality of writing here is at the Tom Pynchon-Richard Powers level - writing careens from prose to poetry to screenplay in a hilarious and unpredictable way, but it's as scary-profound as it is silly. As trilogies go, this one can take on the scope and style of Lord of the Rings or the Dos Passos America series.

You can find the trilogy everywhere, as it was on the NY Times bestseller list - the three constituent books are Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World. By the way, Richard Powers' new one, The Echo-Maker, is out now, and Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day comes out in a week. Won't dive into them until I'm done with Stephenson though.


1 comment:

Brian said...

I devoured the first volume, but cannot bear the thought of embarking on the second (sitting on my bookshelf).

Stephenson clearly did an extraordinary amount of research into the era, and he regurgitates everything he's found in a highly skillful manner, but after I was done I still felt like I'd just waded through barf. "Quicksilver" hasn't dimmed my admiration for Stephenson's talent at all, but it just felt exhausting.