Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's been a while since I've posted here because I've been re-reading a very long book - Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, the first book in his Baroque Cycle.

I was re-reading it because I've had an odd reaction to his later books. I loved his earlier science fiction books like Snow Crash and Diamond Age, but starting with Cryptonomicon, his last book before the Baroque Cycle, I found that I didn't like the books on first reading, but liked them a lot more on second reading, and the same holds true for Quicksilver. I still think it is overly long, and could have used some more hard editing, but it seems more focused and interesting and make me think I might continue with the 2nd book in the series, The Confusion, at some point.

It's odd that some book stores put the Baroque Cycle in the science fiction/fantasy section because there really is nothing SF or fantasy about them - they are straight historical novels, where the main characters interact with a lot of real people (like Isaac Newton, Charles II, James I) and are involved or witness a lot of actual historical events (like the Great Fire of London and the Glorious Revolution).

Reading this book gives a nice background for why the American Founding Fathers considered it so important to separate religion and the state. The religious wars between Catholics, Anglicans and various other Protestant sects drove Europe into ruin numerous times during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Compared to other historical writers, like Patrick O'Brian, Stephenson does not try to create an accurate feel of the historical period. Instead, he draws on the similarities and emphasizes common ideas from his other books, like cryptography, science and computation.