Thursday, January 26, 2006

Finished Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle this morning: a remarkable read. It's about nothing less than the birth of modernity, and shrewdly intermingles plotlines about the rise of the modern banking and currency systems (Ezra Pound would've been fascinated, or maybe just outraged) with the birth of the new science as personified by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (who both appear as vivid characters in the book); Newton, of course, unifies both major plot strands as both author of Principia Mathematica and as Master of the Mint, first under Queen Anne and later under the Hanovers. Stephenson puts the reader in the position of rooting for the advance of Protestantism, Whiggism, empiricism, the free market; and against Catholicism, Toryism, alchemy, and feudalism. At the same time there are some cautionary notes: one character's belief that England's choice is between slavery or industrialization leads him to wonder if the outcome of the latter will necessarily be wholly good, while some of the villains—a Tory Lord, a Jesuit priest—get pretty good speeches about how they feel bound to resist the new "System of the World" in which values are produced rather than inherited. It has its flaws, among the most serious of which are the female characters, who behave in frankly unbelievable ways; geek-boy fantasies all. But I was very entertained. The whole thing is apparently a massive prequel to Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which I am now eager to read. Also on my list: George R.R. Martin's A _____ of _____ fantasy series, which comes highly recommended by Mr. Aaron Tieger, among others.


suzanne said...


I read the Baroque cycle this summer
and was WILD about it
it's much more fascinating than Crytnomicron___

and as synchronicity would have it
just finished George R.R. Martin's
Game of Thrones volume one of his series
and I was so upsewt I didn;t order all the rest sooner
as now I must wait
for volume two to appear on my doorstep

one of the best fantasy made=world
tales I have yet read
and I've read a good number of them

I echo the tiger's recommendation

Alan said...

I'd also highly highly recommend The Book of the New Sun tetrology by Gene Wolfe. (I don't know if you have a tetrology in you or whether you need a break.) It's my favorite novel series ever.

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