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View Full Version : The Neal Stephenson Appreciation Thread


sjc
08-31-2001, 10:29 PM
Who else likes Neal Stephenson's work? (Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon etc...) Who doesn't, for that matter?

I think Neal Stephenson is one of the best authors of recent times. I love his descriptions of societies in the future are very interesting. I also like how he writes characters, they are believable but more interesting than an average Joe Shmoe.

I thought his idea of a Franchised America in Snow Crash was very insightful and made an interesting backdrop for the story. I loved the neo-retro thing in Diamond Age with the Neo-Victorians and the Leased Territories in China (where the book was primarily set).


In any case, I wanted to know what other people thought of Stephenson's work. Did you like it? What did you lieke the most?

(P.S. I didn't mean to short shrift Cryptonomicon, it is a very good book. Also I am aware of The Big U and Zodiac but I think that they are not as mature as his later stuff.)

JDeMobray
08-31-2001, 10:44 PM
I loved Snow Crash and Diamond Age. But Cryptonomicon truly blew me away, not just for the tech stuff, but also for the depth of the story and the way all the various plots were woven together so elegantly.

(IMHO, by the way, if they ever do make a filmed version of Cryptonomicon, the Oscar winning role is Ari if only for the speech he gives during the meeting with Goto Deng. I can so easily see that being shown during the 'And the nominees are. . .' segment.)

Smeghead
08-31-2001, 10:46 PM
Two words: "Hiro Protagonist." Hee hee hee.

Purd Werfect
08-31-2001, 11:26 PM
I loved Zodiac, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon. I haven't read The Big U yet, but I'm not expecting it to be on par with his later stuff. And I was bored with his computer diatribe, In The Beginning...There Was The Command Line.

He's also authored, or possibly co-authored with his uncle, two books under the name of Stephen Bury, Interface and The Cobweb. Both were very good as well.

I'm looking forward to more books in the Cryptonomicon series, as from what I've heard, he's not done with that story yet,

KarlGauss
08-31-2001, 11:29 PM
Funny you should mention it, but I just finished reading Cryptonomicon. I was so taken by it that I called it a must read in this thread (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=84126#post1556344).

Are all Stephenson's books so eclectic? I really liked his entwining of WWII history, math, codes, and the Internet. As someone who knows a little bit about Allan Turing, his characterization seemed right on. And, Stephenson can write. His descriptions of people, events, and even the scenery, were idiosyncratic enough to be provocative but never so much that they detracted from the book's flow.

Cryptonomicon was not without its flaws, though. It was probably about three hundred pages too long and some plot developments were thrown in but never fleshed out or resolved (to my satisfaction at least).

Although it will probably never happen (who's ever heard of a movie about math and codes), I, (?like JDeMobray), also experienced the book like I was watching a movie. This is either testimony to Stephenson's narrative prowess or to my many years of watching too much TV and reading too few books.

Legomancer
09-01-2001, 01:23 AM
I've read Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon and enjoyed them all a lot, until the ends. I really wish he knew how to end a book other than to have a riot suddenly break out for no obvious reason and then just have all the action stop. It's frustrating because otherwise his books are really engaging and well-done, and then they just nosedive at the ends.

I also read Interface and really really didn't like it, but it was probably just not my thing.

sjc
09-01-2001, 08:05 PM
Originally posted by Legomancer
I really wish he knew how to end a book other than to have a riot suddenly break out for no obvious reason and then just have all the action stop. It's frustrating because otherwise his books are really engaging and well-done, and then they just nosedive at the ends.


Yes, all of the books of his that I have read have kind of let me down at the ending. The rest of the book is always so good that it didn't really matter. Maybe it is because the rest of the book is so good that the ending always disappoints. I'm not so sure though, I think he just isn't too good at endings.


originally posted by KarlGaussAre all Stephenson's books so eclectic? I really liked his entwining of WWII history, math, codes, and the Internet. As someone who knows a little bit about Allan Turing, his characterization seemed right on. And, Stephenson can write. His descriptions of people, events, and even the scenery, were idiosyncratic enough to be provocative but never so much that they detracted from the book's flow.


This is a good summation of why I like Stephenson so much: his books are eclectic, he's smart, and he can write. He really can write. Too many authors either can't write or don't have very original ideas (if they have any ideas at all). Man oh Man, if he could end his books as well as he does everything else, I'd probably give him the 'Best Author in 100 Years' Award. As it is, I am tempted to anyway. (I suppose I should read more books before coming to that conclusion)(not that I haven'y read quite a few).

archmichael
09-01-2001, 08:53 PM
I like his ideas a lot, but I would have to agree with his critics. He writes great stories, but it is obvious that he doesn't know how to end a story. I love the worlds that he creates, and you can tell he loves them as well. Maybe that's why he can't write a decent ending.

I was blown away by the Diamond Age. Most 'cyberpunk' authors can only seem to write convincingly from the viewpoint of men or AI. He did a very good job of writing as that little girl.

edwino
09-02-2001, 01:17 AM
with archmichael. Much like Crichton, he invents damn good concepts, writes damn fine stories, but can't end a book to save his life. Granted, I have only read Snow Crash, Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon but he is 0 for 3 IMHO.

matt
09-02-2001, 03:44 AM
Cryptonomicon was superb. I loved the different mindsets of the characters, Bobby Shaftoe's competence and utter lack of self-pity, Goto Dengo's gradual shift in attitude from the Japanese warrior concept, Waterhouse's simplistic genius. I loved the weaving of known history with speculation. I loved the humour and the optimism.

It also taught me a lot - the Germans really did develop a peroxide-fuelled gas turbine submarine, the Americans really did switch from high-altitude bombing to skip bombing, Alan Turing really did have a bicycle with a chain that kept falling off. The depth and breadth of research involved is impressive.

I read Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and Zodiac later. They're all good, but after Crytonomicon I was a bit dissapointed.

Mythos45
09-02-2001, 02:02 PM
I simply loved Cryptnomicon , when I finished it I immediatly started over from the beginning. A lot of the math (example: Turing's bike chain) went way over my head, but didn't detract from the story as whole.

I for one had no problems with the ending of Cryptonomicon . Having not read any of his other books, I can't comment on his skill at ending them, but what was so disappointing about Cryptonomicon 's ending?

I keep meaning to get his other books, but I'm afraid the same thing will happen to Stephenson as Chuck Palahaniuk. Namely, I read and loved Fight Club , then got another book of his, Invisible Monsters , and hated it. This then cost Palahaniuk a lot of the respect he'd earned in my eyes. Other Cryptonomicon fans, do Stephenson's other books stack up to it?

archmichael
09-02-2001, 02:56 PM
Mythos45: I am not an English major. I like to just read books, and experience them viscerally.

Neal Stephenson is one of the few authors who I will stop reading toward the end of the book, check to see how many pages are left, and then wonder how he is going to wrap everything up. He invariably doesn't pull it off. It's been awhile since I read the book, but I remember that quite a few threads were not resolved. There is no anti-climax in any of his stories.

You didn't notice anything wrong with Cryptnomicon, so I'll say that you will love Diamond Age and Snow Crash

Venkman
09-02-2001, 04:57 PM
Well, if you read Cryptonomicon first you might be (mildly) disappointed with his other books. I read them pretty much in order and to me he's clearly improved along the way. He always has several interesting ideas but I think his character development was much better in Cryptonomicon than the other books. Still worth a read IMHO.

And there's no question that he has a tendency to leave loose threads lying around but I was much less disturbed by that in Cryptonomicon for some reason. Do you remember the bit at the end of "Tom Sawyer" where it talks about how Tom of course had more adventures, but they were no longer the adventures of a boy but instead a young man and therefore didn't belong in that story? For some reason the ending of Cryptonomicon gave me the same feeling. Sure, lots more happened, but that's a different story.

sjc
09-02-2001, 09:01 PM
Mythos45, I second what Venkman said. If you liked Cryptonomicon then Snow Crash and should be pretty enjoyable. As for his other earlier work, well, maybe not. I've read [b]Zodiac but not The Big U, Zodiac was ok but not as good as his later stuff. In every book of his I have read a certain genius shines through.

[b]Venkman[b] also makes a good point about the ending of Cryptonomicon. It left a lot hanging but it still worked. Thinking back on it, Snow Crash was similar in this regard. The loose threads didn't bother me too much, but they did a little bit. The ending of Diamond Age was probably the worst in terms of not ending well. It made up for it, in my opinion, by being so good the rest of the time. (A good understanding of history, especially of pre-communist China and Victorian England and America, really helps the enjoyment of this book.)

sjc
09-02-2001, 09:03 PM
Whoops! Should have previewed. I didn't mean to bold that last paragraph.

Monkeypants
09-02-2001, 09:20 PM
I agree with Venkman too. I read Cryptonomicon first and loved it, including the ending. I liked the X-Y axes thing when they divided up the contents of the old home.

But I finished Snow Crash just a few weeks ago, and the end was a big letdown.

Does anyone know if Stephenson is working on anything new? Hopefully something shorter than Cryptonomicon.

Gozu Tashoya
09-02-2001, 09:43 PM
IMHO, Cryptonomicon is far and away Stephenson's best work, with by far the best ending (which, admittedly, ain't saying much). From what I heard, he is planning on turning the book into a trilogy, so get ready. :)

Coincidentally, I just finished the recently(?) re-released The Big U, and thought that its ending wasn't so bad either.

On yet another side note, I'm not the biggest fan of Zodiac, and I'll probably start on his Stephen Bury books as soon as I excavate them from my pile o' booksTM.

KarlGauss
09-02-2001, 09:59 PM
Originally posted by Monkeypants
I liked the X-Y axes thing when they divided up the contents of the old home.

This is exactly the type of thing I loved about Cryptonomicon. Quirky, unique, and damned interesting.

edbenson
09-02-2001, 11:10 PM
I'm a huge Stephenson fan as well. I read Snow Crash first, after seeing it hyped in Wired for so long. At first I wasn't too impressed simply because it seemed dated. (It was written before the Internet was opened to commerce and exploded.) But as I got into it I enjoyed it more and more, and once he got into the whole Enki thing I was hooked.

I read Diamond Age next, although the back-cover description had me not feeling too hopeful. I loved it though. The handling of the little girl and her primer was especially well done.

Cryptonimicon totally blew me away, and I simply didn't want it to end.

I've since read Zodiac and Interface, as well as re-reading my first three several times. Zodiac was better then I expected, Interface on the other hand never quite seemed to hold together.

I agree about his endings, but I think it's mainly due to the fact that his strengths as an author are his ideas and his style, neither of which helps with wrapping things up. William Gibson's books are the same way. Snow Crash's ending didn't bother me so much, although I did feel that Juanita got short-shrift. Cryptonimicon was a let down though, simply because I wanted to know what happened next. What happened to the gold, what happened to the virtual bank, etc.

His next book is supposed to be part of a trilogy with Cryptonimicon, but it's set in the 17th century (or somewhere around there). From what I understand it's based on crypto in that time.

Drastic
09-02-2001, 11:24 PM
I've only read Diamond Age thus far, his other works sitting in the mental to-read list (all readers know that interior list; the day that mine shrinks to zero is the day I eat a bullet). The ending left me thinking that I held a rare flawed printing that neglected to include the last hundred pages or so, but the first two-thirds of it, wow. One thing that particularly leapt out at me while I read it the first time was just how well he built up gut-wrenching imagery--thinking of the hell that peppered Nell's early life leading up to fleeing the home--by restraint.

Atreyu
09-03-2001, 12:54 AM
Originally posted by Purd Werfect
I haven't read The Big U yet, but I'm not expecting it to be on par with his later stuff.

It isn't. You can see hints of the style that he would develop in his later books, but The Big U is definitely a sub-par book for Stephenson.

[minor hijack]

Originally posted by Mythos45
I keep meaning to get his other books, but I'm afraid the same thing will happen to Stephenson as Chuck Palahaniuk. Namely, I read and loved Fight Club , then got another book of his, Invisible Monsters , and hated it. This then cost Palahaniuk a lot of the respect he'd earned in my eyes.

I didn't care for Invisible Monsters either, but you ought to consider reading Survivor. I really liked that book, but if they ever make it into a movie, they will likely have to change the title because of that TV show. I haven't read Choke yet, but I plan on it.

[/minor hijack]

lawoot
09-03-2001, 11:43 AM
I'm going to love this new forum... less than a week, and already threads on two of my favorite authors (Irving & Stephenson)

I actually started with Stephenson with The Big U, and that when it first came out. I even still own my First Edition copy (major typos and all), even though it was tempting to get rid of it when I saw someone selling one on e-bay, and the bidding was up to $600. I really enjoyed it, and thought the picture it painted was a realistic, if somewhat exaggerated, look at college life in the early 80's. (Maybe not the situations, but the PEOPLE.)

I missed Zodiac when it first came out, but I caught up with it a year or so after I read Snow Crash, and thought it was a fun book. I really enjoyed the charactyers in this one as well, and also the fact that he deliberately created a hero that was an Asshole.

Snow Crash. God, what can I say about Snow Crash? One of the best reads I've ever had. I'm currently re-reading this one at this time. Once again an exaggerated, but realistic world. Yeah, I could see corporate franchises taking over the world, very easily. Not only that, I think that most people wouldn't even raise a fuss over it, either. (Don't want to deal with American race laws? Go live in a pro-apartheid Burbclave!) The Republicans, in particular, seem hot on the idea of Privatizing everything, and this is the ultimate endgame of that route. Also loved the Uncle Enzo character.

The Diamond Age. Good book, but hard to get into. Loved the use of nano-technology (such as the image of cloudy days where the clouds are nanites waging war against viruses and each other)

Cryptonomicon. Great book. Lots of loose ends to tie up still, when he writes the next book(s). (I've heard that he's shying from the 'Trilogy' label, as it might be one book more, might be four) The Idea that Randy's ex-wife is living with the kid that either Gunther, Enoch Root or Bobby Shaftoe had with Julieta in Sweden. (G.E.B. Kivistik) I have a feeling that is going to be important in the next book. Also the fact that Gunther escaped from the V-Million, and nothing else is seen from him. Did he get the Bends and die?

Where was Enoch root between his 'death' and the end of the war, when he hooked up with the rest of the conspiracy?

Gozu Tashoya
09-03-2001, 11:59 PM
Originally posted by lawoot
(I've heard that he's shying from the 'Trilogy' label, as it might be one book more, might be four)

I dunno, aren't they all (HHGttG, Kevin Smith's NJ trilogy, etc.) these days? :)

ModernRonin2
09-04-2001, 02:44 PM
Drags a little in the middle, maybe, but it's still my favorite Stephenson. Crash is next, 'Nomicon after that, and Interface close behind. Never did really like Diamond Age. Bored me, basically. Haven't read The Cobweb yet, but I'll be getting to it. If I can find a copy of the text of The Big U, I'll read that. Rumor has it Stephenson hates that one and wishes it would disappear from existance 'cause it's so rough.

Regardless, Stephenson is one kick-ass author.


-Ben

Schadenfreude
09-04-2001, 03:18 PM
The first chapter of Snow Crash is one of the most dynamic piece of writing I have ever read. It pulled me in to the novel like very other openings. Of all of Neal Stephenson's qualities, I appreciate his writing style over the plots, characters, and such. A great stle means nothing without a solid foundation, but he doesn't fail in the basics, either.

I appreciate the way this book turned cyberpunk on its ear. I'd say that Stephenson's influence can definitely be seen in William Gibson's later work. The difference between Mona Lisa Overdrive and Virtual Light points to him having read the competition.

I was lucky enough to receive both Snow Crash and The Diamond Age as gifts when each came out. I've read both multiple times now, which I seldom do with new novels. I'd love to read Cryptonomicon again, but it's a little hard to fit in to my reading schedule.

The Big U was fun, but I didn't have my hopes up, based on the author's own comments. Still, a wacky read.

I loved Zodiac. Again, I have read it a couple of times, and laughed my way through both readings. I probably wouldn't have picked it up without the name recognition -- not my typical genre -- but I am glad I did.

Of the two books co-written as Steven Bury, Interface is the better. Its concept is just on the edge of possibility, and the story is fairly exciting. Cobweb didn't impress me nearly as much. It was a decent story, but nothing spectacular.

I am eagerly waiting his next book. I'd just like to know if he is indeed continuing in the Cryptonomicon vein, or if we can expect something entirely new.