The Baroque Cycle (open spoilers, galore)

Has anyone else read Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle?

The books include:

The Confusion
The System of the World

and, I guess


I don’t often reread books, but these were engaging and interesting enough, and there was enough there that I thought they merited a second go around.

It’s a pretty intriguing series and pretty ambitious, having main characters like Isacc Newton and Leibniz. I could see why a lot of people might get bogged down and dislike the huge digressions Stephenson takes (like into monetary theory and markets) but I loved it all.

I absolutely loved the Shaftoe Characters (Half-cocked Jack of the 17th century, and Bobby Shaftoe of the 1940s.

Half-Cocked Jack, King of the Vagabonds has the title “Emmerdeur” which apparantly translated means “he who turns everything into shit.”

The most intriguing character to me remains “Enoch the Red.”


Anybody else want to talk about it?

I guess if there’s interest, we oughtta start off with Quicksilver.

Also, if anybody else has read these and is confused, this would be a good place to ask questions. Having just finished the books for the second time, I might be able to help.

Let me know.

I haven’t got to The System of the World yet, but I’ve greatly enjoyed the other three books. One thing I’d like to see is some sort of a resource that tells you how much of the stuff was Stephenson’s invention, and how much was historical fact. Anyone know a good website for that?

Ask and you shall receive:

I read Quicksilver with extreme anticipation when it first came out, thanks to my love of Cryptonomicon. I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, but I wasn’t gripped by it. Cryptonomicon I couldn’t put down. Quicksilver I could, quite easily, and it left me with no real desire to read the second book. And it’s not that I wasn’t interested in all the historical stuff - I was. As a matter of fact, I was already familiar with the majority of the events and people featured in the first book. I’m going to try it again in the near future, though, and see if I can get more into it this time.

But answer me one question with a simple yes or no, if you wouldn’t mind, without too much spoilage: Do we ever learn what the deal is with Enoch Root’s apparent immortality?

I found the second book to be a bit more rip-roaring and in the spirit of Cryptonomicon. I agree there were parts of the first book that dragged. He had a lot to set up.

If you want the one word answer “No.” We do learn more about it, though.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, but I read all 3000 pages, so I think I’m entitled to a post.

I enjoyed it mainly as fictionalized history. Before reading it, I wasn’t too familiar with the political climate of the time. I took it as a launching point to learn more about English and French history. The plot (such as it was) and characters didn’t do much for me.

It took me a long time to finish Quicksilver, but the next two are more tightly plotted, and went pretty fast. I would recommend to anyone who quit before The Confusion to pick up a copy and read at least up to page 300 or so—there is a fantastic action set piece with Jack Shaftoe and his co-conspirators. Best action sequence I’ve ever read (I don’t usually read action-oriented novels, though, so take that for what it’s worth).

Scylla is technically right that we still don’t know everything about Enoch Root, but I thought his real identity was pretty strongly implied near the end of The System of the World. We learn a lot more about the healing powers he used on Bobby Shaftoe and himself in Cryptonomicon.

I read them long enough ago that I’ve forgotten a lot of the details, but a couple of questions.

There are a lot of themes running through the books but is the main one the fate of Solomon’s gold - which seems to have special/magic properties?

Talking about gold, is there a (symbolic?) point to the fact that in two of the books a lot of gold ends up melted together underground, or is he just re-using that idea?

I am not a “reader” but I read all three (plus Cryptonomicon) and really loved them. In fact, I think I might read them again soon too.

I actually wasn’t a huge fan of the Shaftoes. Mainly because I am a big nerd and can’t really follow plots that take place in wars very well. During the land fighting and the “high-seas adventures” all I could think was “very well, but what are the SCIENTISTS doing now?!”

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed them and have recommended them to my friends. Although no one else believes me that they are really great books and are fun to read. I did recommend them to a Doper who is going on some sort of mission where she will have nothing to do but read for 2 years.

It was certainly fun, but my opinion still remains that the man needs an editor, big time. I think the whole thing could have been considerably cut down, by at least a third, without losing a thing.

I was petrified that, like many of his other books, he would not be able to end the damn thing, but I was impressed that he did manage to write a pretty good ending. Except for the Enoch the Red character – perhaps his next series will take place around Enoch in the Roman Empire or something…

I’m actually currently re-reading Cryptonomicon, and it is even more interesting this second time through, seeing how Stephenson had the wherewithal to tie it to his later-written Baroque Cycle.

I have read the Cycle once, and did so in pretty short order, so I am sure that I didn’t absorb as much as I could have from it. I’m definitely up for another attempt after I finish Cryptonomicon. Good thing I bought the books as I went along.

There’s a few things gnawing at me during my current reading of Cryptonomicon, though.

  1. Part of the strength of the Baroque Cycle and then Cryptonomicon is that there are these two families, the Waterhouses and the Shaftoes, that are entwined to one another* for at least four hundred years or so. And in every instance, there is no knowledge of the previous relationships. 1940s Lawrence and Bobby don’t know of Jack/Bob tied to Daniel in the 1600s. 1990s Randall and Amy/Doug don’t know of the 1600s connection, and get only cursory glances of the 1940s relationships. And somehow that is incredibly appealing to me as a reader. These two completely different worlds represented by the two families, one always the academic, the other always the rogue, coming together, but then losing contact again. But the part that bothers me: IIRC the ending of Cryptonomicon, there is a more permanent union of the two, with Randy and Amy closing the system with a relationship. The distinction between the Waterhouses and the Shaftoes of the future is going to cloud.

  2. GEB Kivistik. A bloated pretentious academic that Randy blasts early in the book, who turns out to possibly be the child of Bobby Shaftoe (the B), Enoch Root (the E), or Gunter Bischoff (the G) through the promiscuity of Julietta Kivistik. This interesting little side note seemingly has no real relevance to the larger metastory, but it seems like it should. Like whether Enoch Root, whoever or whatever he is, could actually father a child. Or whether a Shaftoe could escape the rogue archetype the entire family is trapped in repeating. Or something. But it drives me crazy that Stephenson gave no answers on something seemingly so small.

From some unsubstantiated fan page or another, I heard that Stephenson is interested in carrying on the larger Waterhouse/Shaftoe/info theory/gold metastory, whether it be some other historical bit between the Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon or in the future after Cryptonomicon. Hopefully it’ll further clear up what the hell Root actually is and all the others of little dangling threads that make these damned books so frustratingly enjoyable.

*Not to mention connections both have to Hacklhebers and Comstocks and Kivistiks and probably a few other recurring family groups that I’m not remembering right now. Not to mention Qwgmlm and Kinakuta.

There was originally supposed to be a third part of Cryptonomicon. A WWII part, a present part, and a future part. Stephenson dropped the future part, then went to work on the Baroque Cycle. My understanding is that he’s working on the excised future section of Cryptonomicon as a stand-alone work. Well, not stand-alone exactly.

I think Enoch is perfectly well explained. He’s an Alchemist, a contemporary of Solomon, who possesses the Philosopher’s Stone. Simple.

And uses it to save the lives of people that he would not mind being alive for a very long time. Daniel Waterhouse, Sir Isaac Newton, Bobby Shaftoe, Amy Shaftoe, Dappa, and who else?

Reading the *Cryptonicon * after reading The Baroque Cycle is essential, especially if you read it before. When Randy asserts that no one in his family has ever held much power, it did not mean anything the first time, but became deeply ironic after as Daniel had been Regent. Goto Dengo’s conversion to Christianity became not so much a conversion but a return to his roots.

I think my favorite character had to be Dappa. The duel was the best I have read about, and his writing made me laugh, get angry and think all at once. The scene with him and the young Tory ass was one of the best in the book.

Roger seemed to grow the most. Daniel was the most surprising to me with his intrigues with the princess.

Oh man! I didn’t even realize that until you pointed that out. Wow.

Are you sure it was applied to Amy and Bobby and Dappa? I was under the impression that Enoch was an all around knowledgeable guy chemically and herbally, and wouldn’t need to bring out the big gun (Resurrection) on people who were just ill.

I loved that part. Dappa admits that he speaks eight different languages fluently but doesn’t understand any of them because he’s just a negro and it’s all just a jumble of meaningless symbols.

No, Dappa speaks them all fluently, and understands them all perfectly. But he’s pretending to be the poor uneducated negro who doesn’t understand what he’s saying to avoid being run through with the beaten nobleman’s sword. It’s perfectly clear from his essays that he understands English and can wield it like a scalpel; English is one of his seven second-languages.

I can’t remember Dappa.

But Bobby was seriously injured on Guadalcanal, and somehow after being found half-dead by Root and taken back to his hut, he wakes up quite alive.

And Amy’s leg was on the verge of being amputated, at the risk of the infection getting into her bloodstream and killing her. Until Root took her behind closed doors and suddenly she’s all better.

Moral of my two posts: Read the entire post I’m responding to, so that I don’t use two entries instead of one, like a big honkin’ :wally

I know he was pretending. That’s what was funny.

Ah, I misread your sarcastic “admits” as an honest “admits.” My bad.

I’ve finished Cryptonomicon, and am now about 50 pages into Quicksilver on my second reading of the Cycle. Give me a few months, and I’ll be able to comment on Dappa’s death.

The only reason I say Dappa, is that Dappa is it appears that he is still alive in The Cryptonomicon. I think that dreadlocked black man who is part of that society is Dappa.

I wasn’t aware that he possessed the actual artifact, do the books say that?

The dangling story thread that I want cleared up the most is the lizard that Bobby Shaftoe was on about after Guadalcanal. “We don’t want to hear about the lizard, Sergeant!”

Does anyone know what Stephenson is working on now?