Quicksilver by Neil Stephenson (possible spoilers)

I just started reading Quicksilver by Neil Stephenson. Already it is soooooo good! I highly recommend it. Imagine what it be would like to have Isaac Newton as your college roommate?

Has anyone else started reading it, and would you like to carry on a discussion?

Is anyone going to a book signing ?

I have it on order from Amazon. I will check in once I get it.


Well, I read it, and I have to tell you, quite truthfully, that 200 pages in, I was wondering where he was going with it. 500 pages in, I was wondering where he was going with it. After I closed the book (900+ pages later) I wondered where he was going with it.

It has a pretty cover though.

I really hope that it’s as entertaining all the way through as Cryptonomicon was, whether we know where he’s going with it or not. He’s one of the few authors who, I think, can get away with rambling for 1000 pages and keep me glued to every page. (David Foster Wallace comes immediately to mind.) I just picked up Quicksilver Friday, but won’t allow myself to start it until I finish my current book (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.) It’s real nice to look at in the meantime, however.

I just started reading it, too, but I’m not far enough along to make any intellegent comments except that once again I am reminded of Pynchon. If the WWII sections of Cryptonomicon were Gravity’s Rainbow Lite, then this is Mason and Dixon Lite. I know, this is a very simplistic criticism, but that’s my inital impression.

Does this mean I should read Gravity’s Rainbow and Mason and Dixon then? I’ve picked them both up many times at the bookstore, but never followed through. If they’re anything like Neal Stephenson, then I think I’d love them.

Gravity’s Rainbow is closer to James Joyce’s Ulysses or Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor: A Family Tale than anything by Stephenson. It is a book full of narrative twists and turns, plus all kinds of themes Stephenson would never touch like an old Nazi talking about the joys of sodomising his boy servant. Pynchon is a genuinely talented, inventive author, but Gravity’s Rainbow is not for you unless you enjoy books where an author takes the traditional concept of the novel and tries to make something brand-new and original out of it. However, other works by Pynchon are a bit (just a tad) more conventional.


I’m up to page 615 and I agree with Hello Again. I hate to say it, but if this book weren’t written by Stephenson I don’t think I would bother finishing it.

I think there are similarities between Quicksilver and the movie Phantom Menace:[ul]
[li]their creators built their reputations with adventure stories[/li][li]they’re the first part of a trilogy[/li][li]adventure has been replaced with politics[/li][/ul]
I’ll probably buy Stephenson’s Attack of the Clones and the one after that but I’m really not looking forward to it any more.

I’m a couple hundred pages into it, and I’d say it’s not as good as Cryptonomicon. But I’m enjoying recognizing all the seventeenth-century semi-obscure scientsist he keeps throwing in.

How coincidental … just today I saw a copy of this book at my office’s shelf of free stuff. Sure is a big book.

I’m also a couple of hundred pages in and trying to figure out if it’s going anywhere and not thinking I like it as much as Cryptonomicon. It’s like. . . the historical references are interesting and I like the early modern science aspect but often the historical references seem as gratuitous and annoying as, say, a Caleb Carr book

(thinking of the Teddy Roosevelt cameos). I mean, Mother Goose? Why?! Captain Hoek? Do we NEED a 10 year old Ben. . . oh, Ben FRANKLIN, HAW! here? Ok, the Royal Society and the other scientists all make sense and I can accept the politicians and such but. . . you know.

Maybe I need my historical fiction either more historical or more fictional and this is just at the very wrong spot on the continuum for me? We’ll see how it goes, though. It’s enough of a hoot to keep on with-- I’m finding it very entertaining and worthwhile, but I keep having these short forehead slapping WHY? moments.

The other thing is that I can’t go ten pages without seeing Cromwell’s name, and getting Monty Python’s Oliver Cromwell song stuck in my head. It’s getting annoying.

I’m a product of the American educational system. In my history classes I was basically taught that Nothing Happened At All between 1620 and 1776. I’d heard of Isaac Newton, but other than that, most of the time I couldn’t tell which characters were real and which were fictitious.

The Dramatis Personae section at the end helped a bit, but I wish I had known more beforehand about that historical period, to appreciate all the research NS must have done. It might have made the story more enjoyable too.

I’m enjoying it because I’m realizing that Quicksilver isn’t historical fiction at all. It’s science fiction. Neal has said as much, himself. It isn’t quite fair to judge the genre yet, as he hasn’t quite shown all his cards. One main reason it will end up being obviously science fiction is:

[spoiler]Enoch Root. He’s seems to be extraordinarily long-lived since he’s been alive since the 1600’s and still lives down to the 1990’s. But in fact, he’s MOST likely(read page 20 again if you haven’t figured it out)…

a time traveler. Now doesn’t that throw a huge wrench into the history of America? Who knows just how much the development of science has been guided by his hand! I think the series will get very interesting as the volumes continue. It may even cast a new light on the proceedings of Cryptonomicon, as I think there’s more to be said about those characters.[/spoiler]

I’m enjoying the interactions among the historical persons, and I’m gaining an appreciation for the revolutions in knowledge that were going on in the 1600s. His characters are a lot of people I vaguely remember hearing about (“isn’t there some law from chemistry named after that guy”), and I’m interested in learning more about them.

NS slips in some science/maths jokes, which are funny in an esoteric geeky sort of way. (I’m sure I’m not catching most of them.)

For example: Daniel is hanging out with Isaac in an apple orchard. He sits down to think about something profound Isaac said and gets rotten apple slime smeared all over the seat of his pants.

Another example: “Fermat has died, leaving a theorem or two that still needed proving.” Har har.

The jabs at the Harvard boys were kind of funny too.

Is anyone going to a book signing? There’s one tonight (Tuesday 10/7) in NYC, another tomorrow (Wednesday 10/8) at the Harvard COOP, and another in Toronto on October 23. I hope NS schedules some more dates, like in DC or anywhere in VA, MD, or NC.

rdm, I was also wondering how Enoch the Red was connected with Enoch Root of Cryptonomicon. Your prediction is very interesting.

I just finished it last night and rdm’s comment makes so much sense to me now. I think I will go reread it.

I had a hard time with all the same names of Cryptonomicon, I kept trying to reconcile my mental images of Root, Shaftoe, et. al. from Crypto with the eponymous characters in QS which sometimes jarred.

Re: familiarity with the Time period: I do believe this is the first time my History of Science class in college has paid off:) Other than allowing a History Major to get a Science credit without any pesky math, I learned a lot about the RS and the development of scientific thought in the 17 and 18th centuries.

Still, this was a hard read. I had some difficulty getting a feel for the flow of the storyline e.g. the Clancyesque chapter headings blurred together so I found myself constantly going back and figuring out exactly when I was…Hmm, this goes to the spoiler above as well in a way!

I am impressed with the way NS kept the voices sounding authentic. In some of my International Studies courses we had to do similar thought experiments, imagining the reaction of say a Savoy noble to the Italian unification attempts of the 1850s. It was pretty challenging and I think Neal did it very well.

THe gratuitous Mother Goose references and the like were fun in a Terry Pratchett kind of way- once I recognized them as such and not jarring non sequiters.

I’m going to have to read this a second time to get a better feel for the book but I think this really needs to be viewed as a part of the trilogy. The story arcs don’t seem as developed as I’d like by the end of the first book. When it’s all finished, I think it will be a great series.

This goes along hand in hand with the fact that Enoch somehow (Cryptonomcion spoiler: ) “dies”. He “dies” yet there’s something very mysterious about the cigar box he was carrying. He’s still around years later, and that same cigar box later heals someone else. I originally took this to be some sort of philosopher’s stone after hearing the annoucement that the prequels would touch on alchemy. Now however, it may in fact be some sort of future technology.

I can’t imagine this series not getting extremely insane by the end. After all, just what IS the POINT to these books? There are similar themes of course. Cryptonomicon has the alchemical symbol for gold on the cover, and the symbol for Mercury is to be found underneath Quicksilver’s jacket. The goal of alchemy being to transmute gold from other substances. I’m confident Neal plans to tie these two storylines together at some point. Hopefully he is successful.

side note: I think it’s funny that there’s a ton of silver paint on the binding of the book. Upon it touching my hands, I found it turned my fingers sparkly gold. Intentional?

Actually, the future books in the series will also have metallic covers: Gold and a coppery bronzey color. Look mighty nice lined up on your bookshelf.

Meanwhile, the cover of Crytonomicon did not have the alchmical symbol for gold, which is a dot inside a circle. (see alchemical symbols used in the 17th century here and modern symbols here. ) It actually looks a bit like Sulphur turned upside-down, if it were to look like an alchemical sumbol, which I’m not sure it does.

Personally, I’m just not satisfied with a book that leaves me asking “What’s the point” after 900 pages, regardless of whether the point will be revealed in a further 900 or 1800 additional pages.

Avoid Robert Jordan.

I do, like the plague.