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Old 11-05-2008, 01:09 PM   #1
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Neal Stephenson

I feel that I should read Neal Stephenson's work. Can someone recommend an entry book. Also does anyone know where I can get a reasonably priced ebook of his? I live in the UK and Waterstones have none (surprise, surprise!).
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Old 11-05-2008, 01:24 PM   #2
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Books On Board have his stuff, including the new one, Anathem. Fictionwise may do too. Both are happy to sell ebooks to people in the UK (I got all of Neal Stephenson's novels from BoB, not long after I got my reader...)

As for an entry book... it depends what you're after! His style has changed over the years, so if you like Snow Crash, you may not like the Baroque Cycle, or Anathem, at all.

I like all his books (which would be obvious given I bought the lot of 'em as ebooks), some a lot more than others though.

Snow Crash would be good if you like cyberpunk/sci fi type stuff - and if you go for Snow Crash, it's worth bearing in mind it was written well before things like Second Life were around.

Diamond Age is futuristic steampunk in style - it's set in the future, but there is a Neo Victorian society. There were aspects of it I really liked, and I wanted to like a whole lot more (as I'm "into" steampunk); but personally I think it's the weakest of his books. It took a long time to get into, which is a bad thing given it's a short book. However, it has lent a phrase to our household talk, so it wasn't all bad.

Cryptonomicon is modern day & WWII computer espionage and adventure. Sort of cyberpunk-ish. Although it was written before The Baroque Cycle, it comes after them - some of the characters in the Baroque Cycle are ancestors of some of the characters in Cryptonomicon.

The Baroque Cycle is a series of three books (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of World). These are set in the late 1600s/early 1700s and follow scientific advances in that period. There is a side plot of piracy, and another of financial dodgy dealings and espionage. It took a while to get into Quick Silver, but as the books are large, and the story excellent, I forgave it that. These three are far and away my favourites of his, but may not be the best starting point.

And finally there's Anathem, his most recent. Again, that took a little while to get into (partly because there's a lot of almost-made-up words in it), but again it was well worth the effort. It's sci fi, set in the future, where scientists are cloistered away like monks and nuns... it's a brilliant book, but it is different from his earlier works.
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Old 11-06-2008, 11:58 AM   #3
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Worth noting that he also writes under the name Stephen Bury. And I recommend 'Zodiac'. An earlier work, but well-written and wickedly funny in parts.
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Old 11-06-2008, 01:28 PM   #4
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This thread belongs in Reading Recommendations.
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Old 11-06-2008, 01:28 PM   #5
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Re: Neal Stephenson

Thanks for the input. I have decided to 'dive in' with Cryptonomicon, from Books on Board. At c1000 pages for $7.19 or £4.60, that seemed a fair price to pay even if I turn out not to like it, but I am sure that I will. I saw NS give a video presentation on the web and he was very impressive, so I am looking forward to his book.

Bill

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Apologies for posting in the wrong area.
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Old 11-06-2008, 01:30 PM   #6
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This thread belongs in Reading Recommendations.
i've moved the thread.
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Old 11-06-2008, 01:36 PM   #7
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i've moved the thread.
Well done. And to keep on topic, Anathem is getting a lot of good reviews. But most say you have to stick it out past the first 3-4 chapters.
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Old 11-06-2008, 10:03 PM   #8
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The 3 magnum works of Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon, Baroque and Anathem have each some core concepts and a lot of adventure to carry forward the books. Since the core concepts take quite a lot of the books, if they do not captivate/interest you, the books may get a bit tedious

Cryptonomicon has cryptography and hacking with WW2 and contemporary treasure hunt as adventures.

Baroque has the beginning of institutional science and the origin of modern banking/money with pirates, Dumas style intrigue and England's internal conflicts and external wars against King Louie as adventure

Anathem has the nature of consciousness, the multiverse and the nature of reality with campus and beyond adventures a la Harry Potter

I've read them in inverse order of publication since the topics of Anathem are at the core of my interests and why I read sf and science/natural philospohy, the topics of Baroque are of some interest but I liked a lot the Dumas style intrigue and the topics of Cryptonomicon are of no interest to me so I fast read through it a lot
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Old 11-06-2008, 10:15 PM   #9
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The only thing I've read by him so far is Anathem (planning to read the rest.) I don't consider myself the world's most patient person when it comes to getting into a new book; if I'm not grabbed reasonably early on, I tend to find something else to read (lord knows there's no shortage.) In fact, I started it because of the discussion of it on io9.com that piqued my interest, and the fact that my non-fiction-reading husband liked Cryptonomicon and I thought it would be worth seeing if I liked the author since we almost never read the same things.

Anyway, I had some interest in the general premise, but no real commitment to sticking it out, so my point is, don't be too intimidated by the people who say it takes a while to get into it! I have a friend who has similar reading habits (short attention span until an author "earns" your attention for a difficult first several chapters) and she liked it a lot too.

Please tell us what you think if and when you read something of his!
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Old 11-07-2008, 06:27 AM   #10
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After hearing everyone rave about Neal for the past several years I gave Diamond Age a try sometime in 2007. I really felt let down after reading it. There were quite a few promising points to it though. That and the fact that many people claiming it was far from his best book has left me to give him a second go. By their recommendations I'm going with Snow Crash. If it stinks, I'm holding Taylor514ce responsible.

-MJ
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Old 11-09-2008, 10:05 PM   #11
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Diamond Age is futuristic steampunk in style - it's set in the future, but there is a Neo Victorian society. There were aspects of it I really liked, and I wanted to like a whole lot more (as I'm "into" steampunk); but personally I think it's the weakest of his books. It took a long time to get into, which is a bad thing given it's a short book. However, it has lent a phrase to our household talk, so it wasn't all bad.
What word did you end up adopting? Diamond Age is his only book that i have read so far and I really loved it, it is one of my favorite books ever. I agree though that it did take a while to get going but it was quite original and unlike most any other book I have read.

I tried to the read the baroque cycle and while I found it interesting I did not get past maybe twenty pages I had a bad headache that day and it got difficult to read. I intend to read it later though.

To the last guy why did you not like Diamond Age? Was there a specific reason?
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Old 11-10-2008, 09:14 AM   #12
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I just couldn't get into "Crypotonomicon" myself. I read about the first quarter of the book, but just couldn't carry on. "Tedious" would be the word I'd use to describe it.
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Old 11-10-2008, 09:30 AM   #13
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What word did you end up adopting?
Very frivolous - "The house of the venerable and inscrutable colonel" - the hubby likes KFC.

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I tried to the read the baroque cycle and while I found it interesting I did not get past maybe twenty pages I had a bad headache that day and it got difficult to read. I intend to read it later though.
It would be tough going with a bad headache. I'd also recommend not reading Anathem with a headache, either.
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Old 11-10-2008, 09:35 AM   #14
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Cryptonomicon is to the Baroque Cycle as The Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings. They are both huge, epic works that require commitment and dedication to get through, but many feel rewarded by the effort. Half-cock Jack Shaftoe is one of my favorite literary characters.

For shorter, self-contained works, Diamond Age and Snow Crash. Snow Crash, imo, is by far the best of the two. You have to love a book that names the hero, the protagonist, "Hiro Protagonist".
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Old 11-10-2008, 09:38 AM   #15
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Cryptonomicon is to the Baroque Cycle as The Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings. They are both huge, epic works that require commitment and dedication to get through, but many feel rewarded by the effort. Half-cock Jack Shaftoe is one of my favorite literary characters.

For shorter, self-contained works, Diamond Age and Snow Crash. Snow Crash, imo, is by far the best of the two. You have to love a book that names the hero, the protagonist, "Hiro Protagonist".
i suddenly have a powerful urge to read that book.
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