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Old 01-25-2016, 06:45 AM   #1
taosaur
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An Odd Couple: Neal Stephenson and Naomi Novik

Unintentionally, I find myself reading the second volume of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, and listening to the third book of Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. For the uninitiated, the former is a telling of the early onset of the scientific revolution, particularly in Britain but also abroad, and the latter is a telling of the Napoleonic Wars in an alternate history including dragons. I confess the confluence engenders some confusion. Obviously neither is parsimoniously accurate as to historical detail. Are there any inaccuracies or biases I should look out for in one series or the other?
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Old 01-25-2016, 08:07 AM   #2
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the latter is a telling of the Napoleonic Wars [...] Are there any inaccuracies or biases I should look out for in one series or the other?
No dragons took part in the Napoleonic wars.
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Old 01-25-2016, 11:14 AM   #3
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No dragons took part in the Napoleonic wars.
That is a highly contested matter of opinion, my good man, upon which the scholarship is sharply divided.

The two series do make an odd contrast in tone. Novik's books are mainly rollicking adventure, with some anachronistically progressive values here and there, but overall a pro-military, "honor and duty" mentality. Stephenson's books, on the other hand, are primarily dark comedy, with everyone's motives in question and most social or technological progress achieved largely in spite of political leadership and adherence to law, as well as in spite of great character flaws in those doing the achieving. The best way to keep similar events in similar parts of the world separate is to remember the tone and perspective with which they were related.

And/or the presence or absence of dragons.
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Old 01-25-2016, 11:52 AM   #4
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Not sure about the historical inaccuracies but, in the Baroque Cycle, half-cocked Jack is one of my all time favorite characters.
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Old 01-25-2016, 12:01 PM   #5
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No dragons took part in the Napoleonic wars.
That just hearsay evidence.
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Old 01-27-2016, 01:40 PM   #6
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Moving on to the next Temeraire book (and continuing, surely for some time to come, with Stephenson), it's truly the oddest pairing. I'm more or less always listening to one book and reading one or two others, along with being involved in continuing TV narratives, adventure games, and possibly a graphic novel or two, but I can't recall experiencing such a persistent feedback loop from any other combo.

Having come of age in the days of grunge, I'm not entirely averse to feedback, and in fact am finding it a source of entertainment in addition to the entertaining content of both series. Very frequently upon returning to one or the other, there's a moment of narrative vertigo as my mind struggles to arrange the chess pieces, not so much of the foreground characters as the political backdrop of changing European conflicts and alliances, and the historical figures involved in each. More than the similarities, though, it's the dissonance between the two worlds that's striking. While superficially set in many of the same cities and in not dissimilar eras (from a modern perspective), with many of the same nautical, martial and political preoccupations, the two diverge on fundamentals like what forces drive history, what makes up a person's character, and what details are important or interesting in historical events. The presence or absence of dragons is rather a quibble.

Granted, in Novik's case those elements are probably more a secondary effect of stylistic choices than any kind of coherent theme or thesis. She mashes together nautical adventure and epic fantasy, but subverts each only insofar as ships have been substituted with dragons and fantasy nations with historic ones.

Last edited by taosaur; 01-29-2016 at 12:26 AM. Reason: dat oxford comma
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