Does Neal Stephenson know how to write endings yet?

I really feel like there has to be a third installment of the Baroque cycle/Cryptonomicon books, a book or series set in the future (or futures). A lot of the unresolved stuff in Cryptonomicon harked back to the Baroque cycle, and I think it was just there to be like 'Hey, this still exists! We will be talking about gold plates and monads and Wandering Jews again!"

But read Anathem. I loved it, and I loved it more the second time, when it made sense.


That’s a trend in a large amount of modern fiction. Why read books when a picture can just show you a scene? So authors increasingly load their works with details. Thousands and thousands of details. The idea is to take a scene past realistic into hyperrealistic, giving an amount of understanding that a mere picture can’t hope to achieve and the feeling of actually being there and living it with the characters.

It started in the 60s, I think, with writers doing lists, describing every object in a medicine cabinet, for instance. In the 70s Steven Millhauser made his reputation this way, with short stories that I once described as the poetry of lists.

But lists are actually pretty boring and once a few writers earned their bones that way, the rest couldn’t. Lists expanded into details. Novels became manuals that would teach you everything about a subject. Stephenson is one of those best known for this. What’s the Baroque Cycle except a series of workbooks on the history of minting or piracy or certain philosophies?

You can either get with it or skim past it. Frankly there are huge sections of the Baroque Cycle that are skippable, but I suspect than the ones I enjoyed reading might be ones that others would skip and vice versa.

It’s a trend and it will play out sooner or later. Stephenson is trendy. In 2015 I predict he’ll start putting out a series of books that are 100 pages long.

Yeah, that Herman Melville can suck it!

Wow…I’m glad I’ve never read any of this dude’s books (despite hearing about him all the time like he’s a god among men.) They sound awful.

I don’t mind the endings as much as the length of the middles. I’ve never been that concerned with neat endings, they don’t happen in real life very often. Larry Niven novels didn’t wrap up that well either, but I keep reading them. And there are plenty of authors who intentionally leave murky endings because they are already working on the sequel.

Anyway, default ending for any story, “They all got run over by a truck.” Unless the story takes place in England, then “They all got run over by a lorry.”

Define awful. If you think in the middle of a prison break sequence getting a hundred pages on exactly how the English Royal Mint worked when it was run by Isaac Newton sounds awful, or chapter on the characters refining phosphorus from raw ingredients, then yeah, you’re gonna find it awful. Or you might think it sounds awesome.

Yeah, that sounds awful. To me. And I say that as someone who’s interested in history. But I like my fiction writing to be spare and clean. I can’t dig the multi-page digressions and dissertations.

This is the first time that I opened a thread to post a point and find out I had already made it, more than a year ago. However, the conversation has continued.

I found the ending of *Cryptonomicon *to be unsatisfactory because…

There was a sequence near the end where the main character (whose name slips my mind) decrypts the message without displaying either the crypt text or the plain text on his screen, while the priest was imprisoned in the next room. I thought this scene was awesome. However, we almost immediately learn that he was wasting his time, because the priest *already knew *the plain text.

Shortly after that the main characters are sitting on a pile of gold in the middle of the Phillippine jungle, acting like their problems are solved. The End.

However, we knew from much earlier that knowing the location of a pile of gold in the jungle is not the end but only the beginning of your problems. In fact, in this case, there is a strong argument that the gold belongs to the Catholic Church, which has both lawyers and political muscle in The Phillippines to assert their claim to ownership. Thus, it is very likely that the protagonists do not control wind up controlling the gold at all.

And finally, to Argent Towers–yeah, if you are looking for spare, clean writing look elsewhere.

It’s not just that there are digressions and dissertations, though: they are written in these really fascinating ways. The three pages about eating cereal mentioned before? I probably read it 4 times. There’s just something about the way the man writes that stays fascinating. But that’s me. Story is about my lowest priority in fiction.

That’s how I feel about Stephenson, as well. I don’t read him for the stories, I read him for the language. Not that he doesn’t have great stories, too, but that guy could right a phonebook and make it completely engrossing. Very much a “journey not the destination” kind of author.