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Reamde by Neal Stephenson has been released
September 20, 2011 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Reamde - Neal Stephenson's much anticipated book, has just been released. Perhaps you can ask Neal questions at one of his book-signings. I know I've got some questions about Bitcoin and what he thinks of his 1995 predictions now with the latest happenings over at Mt Gox. :)
posted by jackspace (169 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps you can ask Neal questions at one of his book-signings.

Goodreads is also streaming a live interview with him tomorrow evening!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:16 PM on September 20, 2011


What's with the smiley face in the FPP?

Reamde is on its way to my house as we speak. Judging from an FPP earlier today it will first pass through an evil warehouse where employees are kept in sweltering heat and replaced instantly when they collapse. With luck none of their sweat or tears will get on my book.
posted by Justinian at 2:16 PM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


He's doing a live video chat on Goodreads.com tomorrow at 6p Eastern/3p Pacific. I'll be at work. =(

FWIW, I'm glad this post is here if only because it's confirmation of the book title... wasn't sure if that was a really bad typo on the promo email I got yesterday.
posted by carsonb at 2:17 PM on September 20, 2011


Hey, wow, apparently I felt so guilty about purchasing and never reading Anathem (and then selling it when I moved) that I completely stopped obsessively checking if he put anything new out. How about that.
posted by griphus at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I've liked the books of his that I've read, but after reading that 1995 I'm struck with the feeling the Stephenson is the next Douglas Coupland.
posted by oddman at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I'll be seeing him at the San Francisco book signing)
posted by jackspace at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2011


Here's hoping it's more Anathem, less Snow Crash, Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


[please babies, ignore early threadshitting and we can more easily clean it up. Carry on.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:20 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


One amusing thought re: the linked story is that Google is unrolling their Wallet program, using the Nexis S phone's NFC chip.

If you upgrade Android to 2.3.7, and set up Wallet, you get a free $10 credit. They're literally giving you money to try it out ans establish the program.

Pretty nutty.
posted by herrdoktor at 2:20 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Neal Stephenson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Anathem, returns to the terrain of his groundbreaking novels Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon

Heh. Oh, well.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:21 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've liked the books of his that I've read, but after reading that 1995 I'm struck with the feeling the Stephenson is the next Douglas Coupland.

I've tried hard, but I can't figure out what you mean by this, even though I've read quite a few books by both authors.
posted by IjonTichy at 2:21 PM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reamde is subliminal README.
posted by willF at 2:22 PM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Heh. Oh, well.

In the year 2011 disappointment arrives faster than a pizza delivering Second Life samurai.
posted by theodolite at 2:23 PM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


For Forbes, he claims that online games are the Metaverse. (Forbes interviewing SF writers ... wow.)
posted by Twang at 2:23 PM on September 20, 2011


There's an interview with him in Forbes about the book, in which it is said:
In REAMDE, Neal Stephenson puts aside big ideas and philosophical discourses in favor of action, adventure, and lots of shooting. It’s a thriller, fast-paced and exciting, and it’s as much fun to read as anything he’s written.

Of course, it’s still a Stephenson book, and characteristically epic. When Chinese hackers write a virus targeting T’Rain —it’s called “REAMDE,” a misspelling of “README”— it affects a huge cast of characters, including Russian Mafia thugs, a British secret agent, an Eritrean orphan, American survivalists, and one extremely dangerous Welsh jihadist.

REAMDE is also characteristically lengthy; at over 1,000 pages, it’s Stephenson’s longest book yet. But the plot moves so quickly and smoothly that I read it in a fraction of the time it took to complete his last novel, the slightly shorter (but much heavier) Anathem.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:24 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's hoping it's more Anathem, less Snow Crash, Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon.

But Cryptonomicon was his best work! Even if it did have the typical Stephenson problem of lacking any sort of satisfying conclusion.
posted by Justinian at 2:25 PM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm hoping for more Cryptonomicon, my self. Anathem was fine, but the saga of Bobby Shaftoe is a personal high point.
posted by bonehead at 2:25 PM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


"With luck none of their sweat or tears will get on my book."

The cardboard box will keep it safe.

A Neal Stephenson thriller! And a thriller that's over a thousand pages long. It will be very interesting to see how he sustains his pacing over such a length.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:29 PM on September 20, 2011


Reamde is on its way to my house as we speak. Judging from an FPP earlier today it will first pass through an evil warehouse where employees are kept in sweltering heat and replaced instantly when they collapse. With luck none of their sweat or tears will get on my book.

It arrived at my Kindle last night at around midnight and I'm liking it so far. It did not pass through an evil warehouse. It passed through the evil Internet.
posted by The Bellman at 2:30 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am seeing him tonight at Town Hall in Seattle!
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:30 PM on September 20, 2011


Apologies for typos, using dumb smartfone. Gonna use the ten bucks to buy hohos and dingdongs at 7-11, which has the PayPass readers.
posted by herrdoktor at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm about 70 pages in to the Kindle version, and so far it is somewhere between Cryptonomicon and The Cobweb. With bits of cstross's Halting State / Rule 34 creeping in here and there.

There is a pretty nice Snowcrash reference, though.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


one extremely dangerous Welsh jihadist

Yeah, Neil Stephenson has officially jumped the shark, or at least run out of ideas.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 PM on September 20, 2011


Harper Collins sent me one for free, for some reason I can't even begin to fathom. It pays to review your spam once in a while is all I can say.

I'll read it, but I'm in the middle of "The World as I Found it" right now so it might be a while.
posted by rusty at 2:32 PM on September 20, 2011


Any thoughts on his thoughts on Bitcoin?

Also, does anyone have any questions for Neal that we can ask him at these book signings (and post the answer right back here)?
posted by jackspace at 2:36 PM on September 20, 2011


Hey, wow, apparently I felt so guilty about purchasing and never reading Anathem ... that I completely stopped obsessively checking if he put anything new out. How about that.

Amazon actually started hyping this too me about a month or so ago. I'm actually a little dissapointed that it's back to the Cryptonomicon type stuff. I liked Anathem and I really liked the Baroque Cycle. That said, who knows where this book will take us, hopefully not just some boring completely mundane 'real world' novel.
posted by delmoi at 2:39 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


For D.C. metropolitan area peeps,

He'll be at Politics and Prose on Saturday night and will be at the National Book Festival on Sunday afternoon.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:41 PM on September 20, 2011


less Snow Crash, Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon.

Until a man is twenty five, he still thinks, every so often, that he knows what the best books by an author are, and that under the right circumstances, he can denounce three of their baddest mother fucking (in the world) works.

Which is to say; I have to disagree.
posted by quin at 2:44 PM on September 20, 2011 [32 favorites]


Also, does anyone have any questions for Neal that we can ask him at these book signings

be honest, Neal, how many times in your youth did you swing around a piece of rebar and pretend it was a samurai sword
posted by Greg Nog at 2:44 PM on September 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


What became of that "Mongoliad" project of his? Is it still running? Is it any good?
posted by Iridic at 2:48 PM on September 20, 2011


Judging from an FPP earlier today it will first pass through an evil warehouse where employees are kept in sweltering heat and replaced instantly when they collapse.

Mine came via Milton Keynes. Which do you think is worse?
posted by biffa at 2:48 PM on September 20, 2011


I love Stephenson's earlier stuff and may like this one a lot and have been looking for a good thousand-pager to sink my teeth into. Can someone let me know if it's sort of rapey [as some of his other books have been] or not? Also for people into this sort of gaming-thriller epic tale thing, you might like the Daemon/FreedomTM pair of novels.
posted by jessamyn at 2:49 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anathem was basically unreadable nonsense that completely lacked a coherent plot or interesting characters. And I say that as someone who has read and enjoyed almost every other book he's put out. Though, honestly, he's been nothing but downhill since Snow Crash.
posted by empath at 2:51 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know if we're supposed to pronounce the title as "Reem-dee" or "Read me"?
posted by bpm140 at 2:51 PM on September 20, 2011


If you upgrade Android to 2.3.7, and set up Wallet, you get a free $10 credit. They're literally giving you money to try it out ans establish the program.

Pretty nutty.


You're too young to remember 1995-2000, aren't you?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Does anyone know if we're supposed to pronounce the title as "Reem-dee" or "Read me"?

It is pronounced "Featherstonehaugh".
posted by Justinian at 2:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


pardon me but I believe you mean Cholmondeley.
posted by elizardbits at 2:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Word to the wise - at the last book reading I went to for Anathem, it seemed like most of the questions were not really questions but attempts to make the asker seem smart. Neal demolished them with erudite knowledge on obscure subjects. It was almost comical - he does years of research and someone thinks they can throw a clever curveball? Yeahhhh..... no.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:56 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


pardon me but I believe you mean Cholmondeley.

No, it's spelled Cholmodeley, but it's pronounced Throatwarbler Mangrove.
posted by The Bellman at 2:58 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Iridic, the guys at Subutai Corporation extended my subscription for free, but I haven't gone back and checked out any chapters for six months now. It's a shame too, I was really digging the Mongol warrior sent back to keep an eye on the Khan. I might pick it up once it's collected into a book I can get through in a week.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:00 PM on September 20, 2011


Anathem was basically unreadable nonsense that completely lacked a coherent plot or interesting characters.

Clearly your brain just couldn't handle it. I thought it was kind of silly in a sense but I enjoyed reading it.
posted by delmoi at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would totally be picking up REAMDE today if it weren't for my broken ankle and my second job that takes up all my pleasure reading time.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:03 PM on September 20, 2011


Imma kindle this sucker right now.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:08 PM on September 20, 2011


Cool. Haven't read Anathem, didn't have the patience to deal with the made up language stuff in it, but I've read everything else that he's written. I'll probably download the Kindle version in the next week or so.
posted by octothorpe at 3:09 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Clearly your brain just couldn't handle it.

I didn't get more than a few hundred pages(!) into it but I gathered he was trying to make some kind of philosophical point by obfuscating schools of philosophy that I was familiar with behind made up terminology. I found myself just wishing that he would just say what he wanted to say without dragging me through a tedious story involving characters I just couldn't bring myself to care about. It was just dull, and seemed like it was going nowhere.
posted by empath at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


After hearing a lot of fellow IT people talking about Daemon I gave it a go. Right about the part (very early in the book) where the "super cool hacker badass" is shown to have forearm tattoos of "interwound CAT5 cables" I quietly put the book down and attempted to find the authors phone number so I could yell "NEEERRRRDDDD!" in my meanest voice.

It felt like a child writing fantastical a story about his awesome friends in a 3rd grade English assignment.
posted by lattiboy at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't actually have a kindle, so I'm trying to decide if I should buy it anyway and try to read it with the PC software. The answer is probably no.
posted by delmoi at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2011


herrdoktor: "If you upgrade Android to 2.3.7, and set up Wallet, you get a free $10 credit. "

upgrade Android to 2.3.7

upgrade Android

/Looks down at bug-infested samsung android phone that will never see another upgrade
/realize there's still 14 months on the contract
/weeps
posted by mullingitover at 3:18 PM on September 20, 2011


Also, Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle are works of such staggering writing skill and imagination Stephenson could produce nothing but sparkly vampire novels and I'd still cut anybody who talked shit.
posted by lattiboy at 3:19 PM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm about 70 pages in to the Kindle version, and so far it is somewhere between Cryptonomicon and The Cobweb. With bits of cstross's Halting State / Rule 34 creeping in here and there.

Well, that's enough for me to know I can skip this one. Still need to read the Baroque Cycle, though.

for people into this sort of gaming-thriller epic tale thing, you might like the Daemon/FreedomTM pair of novels.

I've been flogging these on the Blue for years. I'd be interested to know if anyone ever listened.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:20 PM on September 20, 2011


Empath, unless you really hated it, I would suggest trying again. I've read most of his work, and I thought Anathem was one of the best things he's done. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of the story, but it's totally worth it.
posted by blurker at 3:21 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


mullingitover, this won't give you that $10 credit but if your phone is on the list, it will make it eminently more usable than whatever buggy Android build you're suffering through at the moment.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:22 PM on September 20, 2011


less Snow Crash, Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon.

Yeah that might be the nuttiest thing I have ever heard. Perhaps you are from some different parallel universe where Snow Crash isn't awesome. Perhaps this universe is closer to the platonic ideal.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:23 PM on September 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


I didn't get more than a few hundred pages(!) into it but I gathered he was trying to make some kind of philosophical point by obfuscating schools of philosophy that I was familiar with behind made up terminology.
There may have been some of that, but -- and I don't want to spoil it -- there's a turning point in the story and it turns into a story with a lot more action, and very imaginative action at that. I think the philosophy stuff earlier is just to make the later half of the book seem deeper and make sense. There's no real philosophical "point", certainly nothing that applies to the world outside of the story's universe.

I thought the 'philosophical' story arc at the beginning of the book was interesting and fun to read as well, though, so who knows (I also enjoyed all the terminology. I picked it up pretty quickly and didn't need to use the dictionary very much)
posted by delmoi at 3:24 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have two of his books but haven't read either. My husband tells me I probably won't like Snowcrash for the infodumps and I keep gazing longingly at Anathem and then shaking my head at its length. Should probably read it anyway though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:26 PM on September 20, 2011


Right about the part (very early in the book) where the "super cool hacker badass" is shown to have forearm tattoos of "interwound CAT5 cables"

I do not remember that. I wonder if it was in the Dutton edition but not the earlier Verdugo edition. I read the latter, but I have a signed copy of the former and it has at least one scene added at the very beginning that I did not care for. If the "super cool hacker badass" in question is Loki, however, your thoughts re: "awesome friends" are misplaced.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:26 PM on September 20, 2011


for people into this sort of gaming-thriller epic tale thing, you might like the Daemon/FreedomTM pair of novels.

I've been flogging these on the Blue for years. I'd be interested to know if anyone ever listened.


I read Daemon. I... didn't get it. I mean, it was a brisk enough read, but seemed like just kind of a cheesy techno-Saw to me. No?
posted by eugenen at 3:33 PM on September 20, 2011


If you pay the full $35 cover price when you're getting Reamde, you're getting Reamde.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Neal Stephenson, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Anathem, returns to the terrain of his groundbreaking novels Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon.

Heh. Oh, well.


That's what convinced me to pre-order it and why it is sitting here on my desk whispering "Read ME" in my ear.
posted by grapesaresour at 3:40 PM on September 20, 2011


jackspace: (I'll be seeing him at the San Francisco book signing)

Me too! Want to meet up?
posted by Pronoiac at 3:40 PM on September 20, 2011


I gathered he was trying to make some kind of philosophical point by obfuscating schools of philosophy that I was familiar with behind made up terminology.

That's not what Anathem is about. I'm mean that's the plot up until mid-book as delmoi mentions, bit it's not what Anathem is about.

I'm not usually surprised by twists in books. Anathem is one of the few in recent memory that really snuck up on me.
posted by bonehead at 3:43 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read Daemon. I... didn't get it. I mean, it was a brisk enough read, but seemed like just kind of a cheesy techno-Saw to me. No?

That's certainly not what I got out of it.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:44 PM on September 20, 2011


Hrm. More like Snow Crash and Diamond Age, you say? I might have to abort my halfhearted start of the Baroque cycle to pick it up.
posted by Kyol at 3:47 PM on September 20, 2011


I don't agree with the crowd that says he hasn't written anything good since Snow Crash. He's written a huge variety of stuff, and just about all of it has merit as well as flaws.

He hasn't written anything like a decent ending since Snow Crash, though. Much as I enjoyed the bulk of Anathem, the final couple of acts felt like they were only there because, well, he had to write something.
posted by gurple at 3:51 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hrm. More like Snow Crash and Diamond Age, you say? I might have to abort my halfhearted start of the Baroque cycle to pick it up.

So far it is very present-to-near-future. The Russian Mafia looks like it is about to show up, and one of the female characters has an EBook reader, though.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:52 PM on September 20, 2011


I gathered he was trying to make some kind of philosophical point by obfuscating schools of philosophy that I was familiar with behind made up terminology

There's more to it than the annoyance and cleverness factor, which I'll admit is a bit high. It's actually a fairly foundational aspect of the book, though that payoff doesn't come until you're pretty far into it.
posted by fatbird at 4:02 PM on September 20, 2011


Purposeful Grimace: "mullingitover, this won't give you that $10 credit but if your phone is on the list, it will make it eminently more usable than whatever buggy Android build you're suffering through at the moment."

I know about cyanogenmod, but I'm going to chance turning my shitty android phone into a brick no matter how low the risk. However, the day iPhone comes to t-mo, I'm going to find out if this fucker will blend. Then I'm going to burn the ashes, and pee on it to put it out. Goddamn google for letting the OEMs turn their promising OS into a crapfest.

/derail

Anyway, I've read Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, loved them all, and I couldn't bring myself to make it through the first chapter of Anathem. Sigh. I'm looking forward to Neal coming back to his roots though, this looks promising. Is Enoch Root going to make an appearance?
posted by mullingitover at 4:04 PM on September 20, 2011


I liked the major shifts - wait, what kind of story is this? - in both Daemon and Anathem. The transition in Daemon was a bit shakier.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:13 PM on September 20, 2011


I've liked the books of his that I've read, but after reading that 1995 I'm struck with the feeling the Stephenson is the next Douglas Coupland.

I've tried hard, but I can't figure out what you mean by this, even though I've read quite a few books by both authors.


Well Coupland, more or less, came out of nowhere and wrote a handful of really good/great stuff. He really seemed to capture the zeitgeist of a generation. And then he just seems to have lost it. His books stopped mattering (or selling). I couldn't tell you what the last thing he did was. I think Girlfriend in a Coma was maybe the last work of his I read (was that the one about AIDS?)

I'm starting to get the vibe that something similar is happening to Stephenson. He captured the nerd zeitgeist and now is becoming a little bit stuck in the mud revisiting genres and tropes he's done before. Maybe he won't fade the way Coupland did, but you never know.

It's just a feeling.
posted by oddman at 4:30 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm starting to get the vibe that something similar is happening to Stephenson. He captured the nerd zeitgeist and now is becoming a little bit stuck in the mud revisiting genres and tropes he's done before. Maybe he won't fade the way Coupland did, but you never know.

This seems like a weird idea to base on his having written a near-future thriller after one of the more experimental (and, arguably, successful) novels of his career (which were preceded by an incredibly ambitious set of huge sellers)...
posted by brennen at 4:35 PM on September 20, 2011


I agree. So he is writing another near future thriller after having written perhaps 3500 (published) pages of non-near future thrillers and this is evidence of being stuck in the mud?
posted by Justinian at 4:41 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I couldn't tell you what the last thing he did was. I think Girlfriend in a Coma was maybe the last work of his I read (was that the one about AIDS?)

Wasn't Girlfriend in a Coma about a guy's girlfriend literally going into a coma? And then she wakes up but huge swathes of the world go to sleep?

That one was way better than his more recent work. "Phoning it in" doesn't even begin to describe the fail that was jPod.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:41 PM on September 20, 2011


Right about the part (very early in the book) where the "super cool hacker badass" is shown to have forearm tattoos of "interwound CAT5 cables"

I like to delude myself that this was actually an to allusion to my friend Rick, "Mr 3D", with whom I wired the Dalai Lama on to the Internet. The man has the "Tibetan Wiring Deity" tatoo-ed on his arms.
posted by jackspace at 4:45 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anathem was basically unreadable nonsense that completely lacked a coherent plot or interesting characters.

This is so exactly the opposite of my experience with Anathem that I . . . I just can't. I've read nearly everything Stephenson has written, and I loved Snow Crash and enjoyed Cryptonomicon a lot. I enjoyed every individual vignette in the Baroque Cycle, too, but I thought it meandered a bit too much and never really got going.

Anathem, though? Anathem is a couple hundred pages of fascinating worldbuilding, that leads almost imperceptibly into a wild, fascinating, tightly-plotted, exciting adventure story that actually has an arc with a climax and a denouement and everything. I LOVED Anathem. Best thing since Snow Crash imho.
posted by KathrynT at 4:51 PM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


Re: Anathem, just gonna quote my own Goodreads review from 2 years ago:
A lot of the reviews say if you can make it through the first 100-200 pages of exposition, then the story is great. But there just isn't enough time in this world to wade through a novel's worth of setup, and somebody should've told him so. I've tried twice now, and this needs to go back to the library at some point. So I'm declaring defeat. Maybe when I am a very old woman with nothing better to do I'll give it one last try, but probably not before then!
And I really enjoyed his other books, particularly the crazy sprawling Baroque Cycle. I might go for this one when it hits the library, if he's "gone back to his roots."

FWIW, I own a paperback copy of the quirky non-fiction extended essay "In the beginning...was the command line" although it's been years since I read it. (Pulling down from the shelf now....)
posted by epersonae at 4:54 PM on September 20, 2011


Listen it's a feeling, I'm not gonna get into an internet argument trying to justify. I will observe however that a number of people in this thread didn't like Anathem and a number of people are taking Read Me to be a bit of a rehash over the covered ground of Snowcrash, et al.

I mean, I bet there are people that still read Coupland, too.
posted by oddman at 5:02 PM on September 20, 2011


gurple: "He hasn't written anything like a decent ending since Snow Crash, though."

I thought that System of the World ended pretty satisfyingly and wrapped up all of the plot strands of the three books as well as anything that far-flung could.

posted by octothorpe at 5:08 PM on September 20, 2011


Listen it's a feeling, I'm not gonna get into an internet argument trying to justify. I will observe however that a number of people in this thread didn't like Anathem and a number of people are taking Read Me to be a bit of a rehash over the covered ground of Snowcrash, et al.

I felt that Anathem's characters were basically TV characters (fairly blank, generics), and that the plot lurched from one disconnected bit to another, like he had written one normal length novel and several mediocre novellas and stitched them together after the fact. I also felt that this was true of Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. If you didn't like that, it's fair to ask if this book is also like that.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:16 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's funny: I found Anathem to be what the Baroque Cycle should have been--namely, about 2/3rds shorter.
posted by fatbird at 5:19 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anathem was basically unreadable nonsense that completely lacked a coherent plot or interesting characters.

I hear what you mean, but you're downplaying the book's strengths.

This new novel is apparently action-heavy, and I wonder how it will read. Stephenson's prose is often so obtuse and strange and rather cold and analytical that action scenes lack the visceral punch they need. Anathem was a real mixed bag for me, and I still can't decide if I liked it or not. It's ambitious as hell and I liked the concepts (spoiler alert!): what would life be like in a parallel universe in which this is the same and this is different? What would math and science be like in a world just a wee bit askew from ours? But his style...Stephenson has an odd writing style his prose read unlike any author out there. Which is good--he's doing something different. But yeah, parsing his work will create this grey fog in my brain.

And with every one of his books, there comes a point in which I yell at Neal out loud (I don't think he hears me) : "Ok, Neal, I get it, nerds should rule the world! We should have a nerdocracy because nerds are better than everyone else! Please don't make me feel stupid for still not knowing what the hell trigonometry is, even though I somehow passed that class."
posted by zardoz at 5:21 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anathem

Or as I like to call it, A Canticle for Leibniz.

I used to get beat up a lot at school.

posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2011 [25 favorites]


lattiboy: Also, Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle are works of such staggering writing skill and imagination Stephenson could produce nothing but sparkly vampire novels and I'd still cut anybody who talked shit.

I own all four of these books, and while I enjoy them, I would like to talk shit about them. Unfortunately, Adam Cadre beat me to the punch, so I'll just paraphrase some of his complaints: Stephenson can't write women and doesn't really care about characters except insofar as they allow him to make cool set-pieces (and only really writes three characters, anyway—the Nerd, the Badass, and the Nerd-Badass); his action scenes are turbid and muddled because he insists on describing perceptions as though we're in a movie, rather than reading a book; his structure is lamentable. I like these books, but every once in a while I just have to shake my head and put them down.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:44 PM on September 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


FWIW, I own a paperback copy of the quirky non-fiction extended essay "In the beginning...was the command line" although it's been years since I read it. (Pulling down from the shelf now....)

His nonfiction is pretty good. His 1996 article on laying undersea cables is pretty damn interesting for an article on undersea cables.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:59 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


My copy arrived today. Normally I won't do hardbacks on the plane, but I'm doing HPN>DSM>OMA>SDF>HPN next week, so I think I'll make an exception and bring it along.

Anyway, I liked Anathem a lot. I read the whole Baroque but can't say I retained it.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:12 PM on September 20, 2011


Very excited for this.

It took me a good 200 pages to get into Anathem but the payoff is excellent. If anything, it's surprisingly quaint in what it's trying to say, which is not at all what I'd ever expect from Stephenson.
posted by bardic at 6:44 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]



I guess delmoi and KathrynT and I will have to start a book club. I loved the "exposition" in Anathem, especially learning all the idiosyncrasies of the world, and found the characters and plot engaging.
posted by blurker at 7:13 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I will be total outlier guy here and say I thought Snow Crash was entirely derivative of Gibson and Womack lacking the former's fully formed universe and the latter's Faulknerian control of language.

Everything else he's written though has been golden in my opinion, in its own very special and not to everyone's taste way.

Also, well framed FPP, I thought; thanks!
posted by digitalprimate at 7:18 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm looking forward to giving this book a go, after I finish Storm of Swords. Count me as another one that couldn't make through the sloggish parts of Anathem to get to the "good" parts. I also loved everything else by him that I've read, including even the Baroque Cycle, as winding and detailed as it was. :P
posted by antifuse at 7:27 PM on September 20, 2011


I started reading Anathem and got about 100 pages in when I realized I hadn't retained anything. I had no idea what was supposed to be going on and what the hell Stephenson was working towards. I hadn't internalized the vocabulary and only vaguely understood the environment.

After the realization, I immediately went back to the beginning and started again.

Anathem is now, with out a doubt, my favorite Neal Stephenson book.
posted by Telf at 7:43 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Stephenson can't write women and doesn't really care about characters except insofar as they allow him to make cool set-pieces (and only really writes three characters, anyway—the Nerd, the Badass, and the Nerd-Badass); his action scenes are turbid and muddled because he insists on describing perceptions as though we're in a movie, rather than reading a book; his structure is lamentable.

All of which is to say, Stephenson is a smart nerd first, and a writer of literature second. At some point you really just have to decide whether the reams of interesting research you'll find out about is worth the sometimes clunky writing. I think it is.

Every Stephenson book would be, in terms of literary worth, a million times better if Thomas Pynchon had written it, but then most people would complain that they couldn't understand any of it.
posted by rusty at 7:44 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


The transition in Daemon was a bit shakier.

In fairness, it was Suarez's first novel. I love Anathem. I like it best of all the Stephenson I've read, and in fact it stopped me from giving up on him entirely as a writer. I actually thought Anathem toned the nerd-worship way down, which was one of the things I liked about it.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:47 PM on September 20, 2011


Anathem

Or as I like to call it, A Canticle for Leibniz.


You also forgot to close your italics tag...
but this brings up a true story! I went to the signing for Anathem, which was pretty awful and boring, exactly as infinitefloatingbrains described. Best of all, one dude stood up and asked, if, as both books had a hooded figure depicted on the cover, Anathem was going to be anything like A Canticle for Liebniz. Although Stephenson handled it gracefully enough, there was a physical groan emanating from his posture at the podium.
I really admire Stephenson's ability to both cater to and contend with a slavering nerdboy fan base. But there is a continuity error in the 1st edition of Anathem, wherein they show up in Cord's mobe, at a way northern point, when it is in fact it was left behind well before that. I would go back and find it exactly but I just picked up Reamde this evening and am eagerly thumbing it's 1K of new goodness.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:50 PM on September 20, 2011


Also, does anyone have any questions for Neal that we can ask him at these book signings

Oh, how is that epic feud with Gibson & Sterling going lately?
posted by ovvl at 7:51 PM on September 20, 2011


I didn't realize there was a glossary when reading Anathem, just learned the words from context. I spent the first hundred pages or two really pissed off at the book, the author, the made up language. But for some reason I didn't give up on it. I am so glad I didn't, because I now think it's one of the greatest things I've ever read. I wouldn't change a word.
posted by BurnChao at 7:55 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can someone let me know if it's sort of rapey [as some of his other books have been] or not? Also for people into this sort of gaming-thriller epic tale thing, you might like the Daemon/FreedomTM pair of novels

It's weird you would say that, because I gave up on Daemon after the meth-fueled, broadcast on the internet, rape scene at the rave. Not because it was a rape scene in particular, so much as because it had kind of an after-school special feel to it, and also seemed as if Suarez had never been to a rave, kind of didn't like the kids that did, and imagined that this was the sort of thing that happened at them regularly but that people deserved it.

To each their own, I suppose, but that scene made me feel way dirtier than anything Neal Stephenson ever wrote.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:17 PM on September 20, 2011


Snow Crash was fun, Diamond Age was fun, but I didn't really get Cryptonomicon. Maybe he needs to admit he's writing pulp.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:25 PM on September 20, 2011


Interesting (and a bummer) that he's skipping Los Angeles on the book tour, but has two stops in the bay area. We don't read too good around these parts... I guess?
posted by ancillary at 8:31 PM on September 20, 2011


As someone currently at the REAMDE reading here in Seattle, I kind of have wonder why I go to Stephenson readings. I appreciate that he does the voices, I suppose, but the Q&A makes me physically cringe nearly every time.
posted by lantius at 8:32 PM on September 20, 2011


I think everyone would be much happier if they just did what I did, namely consider Stephenson Tom Clancy for smart people. Or at least computer literate pop culture fans. It's genre fiction, no?

And for the record, the Stephenson ranking goes like this;

Cryptonomicon
Baroque Cycle
Anathem
Snow Crash
Diamond Age
and shudder, Zodiac.

50 pages in and Reamde (which I'd say reads as REAMED) a pun, puns being the first sign your are not dealing with the best writer ever, seems three parts Crytonomicon, two parts Fratzen's Freedom and a pinch of "Gun Enthusiast Monthly" magazine.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm shocked nobody's mentioned two very readable thrillers Stephenson co-wrote: The Cobweb and Interface. Near past and near-future techno thrillers. I'm looking forward to reading REAMDE.
posted by artlung at 9:03 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best part so far, reference to google basing google earth on "some old science fiction novel".

Snow Crash, Zodiac, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, Baroque Cycle, Anathem.

Don't get me wrong I'm not saying Anathem is bad, I like it a lot. I just like his other books more. I also think Snow Crash is pretty derivative, or at least seriously influenced by Gibson. It is also pretty uneaven, there are parts that read like he polished the shit out of them in some writers group and parts that seem dashed off. But it gave us The Three Ms, music movies and microcode, and was just so damn fun. He also didn't know what the fuck BIOS stood for but I will give him a pass on that.

The Big U is out there if you want to actually want to read it.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:08 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Q&A was redeemed by Stephenson pointing out another project he is dabbling in; dubbed "Heiroglyph", it deals with innovation starvation and hearkens for a resurgence of optimism in scifi and speculative fiction.
posted by lantius at 9:13 PM on September 20, 2011


True story. Five years back (my god FIVE), I once took my copy of Cryptomonicon to work once; was reading it on a commute, and it was too big to keep in my bag. So I left it on my desk when I went to lunch. When I went back to my desk, people were gathered around, with my then boss holding forth on how he fully expected to see pictures of naked women in it, but instead found cryptography stuff, and that therefore, I should seek a "life".

I offered him the book; told him he could finish it first if he prefers, I could always read it later. He took it up. He still hasn't returned it. This was five years back.

And oh, I suppose I won't be breaking NDA's if I say this here, but I once was offered to lead the setup of a cloud-computing cluster based out of Brunei. The plan was to outsource development to Manila and re-use an empty warehouse, a cavern even, for the setup. Didn't work out eventually, mostly because I didn't I was getting the right team to pull this off, but people tell me that this was right of Cryptomonicon. I wouldn't know; I still haven't finished the damned book because the mofo still hasn't returned it, and because of some residual guilt about not finishing books, I've studiously avoided buying another Stephenson book ever since.

Think I should make an exception with e-books, but that's a different tale.
posted by the cydonian at 9:15 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Big U is out there if you want to actually want to read it.

Heh. For anyone who's tempted, realize that there was a very good reason Stephenson refused for years for it to be reprinted. (I assume the pile of money he was being offered for reprint rights eventually got too big to ignore.)

Reamde is 1000 pages?! And here I thought I was so clever putting a hold on it at the library before it was out. (Sadly, I'm not a fast reader, and will be hard-pressed to make it in 3 weeks.)
posted by Zed at 9:27 PM on September 20, 2011


The big U and Zodiac aren't his best, but fun reads with some cute ideas. If they weren't by Stephenson I would have judged them pretty good, but after Snowcrash and the Baroque books I rate him pretty high.
I remember getting a bit emotional toward the end of the baroque cycle at the thought these characters I had just spent 3000 pages with would be disappearing out of my life soon.
posted by bystander at 9:39 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought the reading was great, plenty of humor and definitely made me want to read a book I might have put off for a while (still haven't braved more than 50 pages of anathem, and this as I'm finishing V., the final Pynchon for me, so i don't shy from thick or convoluted books).

I agree w/ Lantius that the Q&A was awkward. don't like the folks who act is if they are having a cocktail party conversation while 20 others are waiting for their chance.

he did make an awesome comment regarding 'literary' vs genre fiction , to the effect that highbrow critics and the literati are nice and all but hey... look at the crowds at comicon!
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:24 PM on September 20, 2011


I will be total outlier guy here and say I thought Snow Crash was entirely derivative of Gibson and Womack lacking the former's fully formed universe and the latter's Faulknerian control of language.

I'll outlie by your side. (From here I also like to look over to the left and view The Matrix as derivative crap, too.)

I'm a short ways into REAMDE and I feel like Stephenson is trying to be a little DFW, even, what with the family re-u, and the F.M.'s. A couple times I've even felt like I'm reading something by a MeFite, right around the dwarf fortress-ish stuff and the "Reader, I bought his IP" line.
posted by fleacircus at 12:26 AM on September 21, 2011


The Big U is out there if you want to actually want to read it.

If you go to or went to university in the Boston area, you may identify more strongly with this book and appreciate identifying some of the half-disguised landmarks. It's a fun read but nonetheless will not be winning major literature prizes.
posted by whatzit at 3:37 AM on September 21, 2011


I'm surprised there's so much Zodiac hate here. I think I liked Zodiac more than I liked Diamond Age, frankly.
posted by antifuse at 4:58 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Celsius1414: "one extremely dangerous Welsh jihadist"

Owain Glyndwr?
posted by Chrysostom at 5:40 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm re-reading the Baroque Cycle as we speak. There are three threads to it, one exciting and swashbuckling, the others tense political potboilers, one of which doesn't get roiling until the third book. It's really three trilogies shoe-horned into one. It's also a lesson in trade, finance, politics and math, and how we got to where we are from where we were. Also, amazing characters - Eliza and Jack, Jeronimo and Mr. Foot, Daniel and Peter Horrocks, and intense action interspersed with long discourses where he doesn't shy away from esoteric or technical detail. An amazing series of books. I think it actually had more in common with Zodiac - outlandish characters in exciting situations, that could suddenly veer off for a three page explanation of molecular biology that only made the action more intense!

I wasn't too much of a fan of Cryptonomicon - it was too New-Economy Libertarian Utopian to be taken seriously. I also wasn't a fan of the Diamond Age, which was yet another tedious attempt to explain and solve colonialism from the colonist's side, and left off the "Boxer Rebellion" with the happy ending of the Noble Savages winning against the European Oppressor in a self-flagellating Christian Armageddon at the hands of Insctuitable Foreigners, when it was never so simple or clean. Snow Crash has not aged well, but is a fantastic read anyway. (It did predict the rise of Armenian hard rock accurately, tho.)

Anathem was an unworkable and borderline stupid attempt at world-building - worse, it presented amazing philosophical ideas, like neo-platonism, in a way that made it impossible to follow along and learn more. It was the most infuriating and egregious case of "calling a rabbit a smeerp" I've run into, ever.

I'm hoping Readme is more Zodiac and less Anathem.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:41 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Was home sick yesterday, happily discovered it was available on Kindle and devoured it.

It's basically one of his Stephen Bury books -- technothrillers involving characters from the Midwest -- brought home and raised up as one of his own (so lots of fun, geeky, videogame, hacker-y stuff).

It has some fantastic action scenes, plenty of hilarious moments and moves pretty quick.

It is nothing like Anathem (which I also loved).

And the cast is great -- sort of a single Heinlein ur-Competent Man diffracted into a diverse, global, highly entertaining bunch of characters.
posted by sixswitch at 6:50 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


correction, b1tr0t mentioned The Cobweb.
posted by artlung at 6:57 AM on September 21, 2011


I think I liked Zodiac more than I liked Diamond Age, frankly.

Ditto. My wife and I still joke about authority bellies, and the scene of our hero shopping at the hardware store trying to figure out how to accomplish the engineering task he'd set himself is maybe the best creative engineering problem solving inner dialogue I've ever seen in fiction. (I'd put Cobweb and Interface ahead of the Diamond Age, too.)
posted by Zed at 7:26 AM on September 21, 2011


it presented amazing philosophical ideas, like neo-platonism, in a way that made it impossible to follow along and learn more

This was not my experience.

It was the most infuriating and egregious case of "calling a rabbit a smeerp" I've run into, ever.

I don't think this concept applies to philosophical ideas. How do you call something "neo-platonism" in a world that has no Plato?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:33 AM on September 21, 2011


digitalprimate: I will be total outlier guy here and say I thought Snow Crash was entirely derivative of Gibson and Womack lacking the former's fully formed universe and the latter's Faulknerian control of language.

I'm interested in what, in particular, you thought was particularly derivative of Gibson and Womack, unless you're referring to the general concepts of cyberspace (which Gibson didn't invent) and near-future dystopia (ditto). The world of Snow Crash (and of Diamond Age, really) is as fully formed as that of Gibson's Sprawl trilogy, and as for Womack... well, I enjoyed Random Acts of Senseless Violence, but was completely unengaged by Heathern.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:32 AM on September 21, 2011


It was the most infuriating and egregious case of "calling a rabbit a smeerp" I've run into, ever.

Comments like this remind me of the criticisms of Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky that went along the lines of "the portrayals of the alien spiders were dorky and way too human" and think some people don't get (or didn't read far enough into the book to get) what's really going on in these books.
posted by aught at 8:46 AM on September 21, 2011


It was a good novel sabotaged in that it was wrong-headed in its conception, tedious in its revelation, and frustrating in its obfuscation.

He's taking ideas that are directly lifted from philosophical works, and events and schisms from real academic history, and doing so in a way that makes it insanely difficult to give those works and events their proper attribution or sort out their interrelationships, both in the story, and for the curious, in the real world. I get what he's trying to do, but to my thinking, he's failed to do it, and in that failure, was disrespectful of his source material.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:02 AM on September 21, 2011


I agree, word for word, with everything Slap*Happy said in this thread about all of his books. "Calling a rabbit a smeerp" is exactly what my problem with Anathem was.
posted by empath at 9:53 AM on September 21, 2011


I agree, word for word, with everything Slap*Happy said in this thread about all of his books. "Calling a rabbit a smeerp" is exactly what my problem with Anathem was.

I think he was kind of damned if he does, damned if he doesn't with this. I certainly had trouble getting adjusted to Anathem at the start of the book, though ended up enjoying it greatly. However, the bits of philosophy, etc. that he was drawing on that I was already aware of.... He didn't use things quite verbatim from the real world equivalent. I think if he had used the regular terms for everything, he'd have gotten accused of flubbing details or misrepresenting things.

Not to say this doesn't make the smeerp criticism fair, I think it is a fair one, just that I'm not sure what he could've done about it that wouldn't have caused him to get dinged for other things.

Not sure when I'll get to the new book, but given that I've enjoyed to various degrees all his other books, I'm sure I'll dig this one too.
posted by sparkletone at 10:06 AM on September 21, 2011


Am I the only one who had absolutely no problem parsing the vocab and understanding the Anathem universe without even realizing the glossary existed? Not trying to say I'm of superior intellect to any of the above MeFites (definitely not the case) but after seeing so many comments about it here, I'm really surprised. It required attention on the reader's part, yes, but everything that you needed to understand it was there in context clues. And a lot of the supposedly alien words had familiar-ish roots that provided additional clues (I mean really, "speelycaptor"?!). Can't wait to pick up REAMDE.

Also, sixswitch, you read a 1000-page book in one day while you were home sick? Better not let your boss know about that one!
posted by dust of the stars at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2011


I forgot, I was going to throw in a link to the first Stephenson I ever read, a short story called "Jipi and the paranoid chip." A nice little bonbon, in case you missed it.
posted by dust of the stars at 10:22 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who had absolutely no problem parsing the vocab and understanding the Anathem universe without even realizing the glossary existed? Not trying to say I'm of superior intellect to any of the above MeFites (definitely not the case) but after seeing so many comments about it here, I'm really surprised. It required attention on the reader's part, yes, but everything that you needed to understand it was there in context clues. And a lot of the supposedly alien words had familiar-ish roots that provided additional clues (I mean really, "speelycaptor"?!). Can't wait to pick up REAMDE.

I had no problem figuring it out, but the reward wasn't worth the investment of effort it took to learn the vocabulary. It was obfuscation for the sake of obfuscation.

I mean, just look at this:
I spoke in bursts because I was trying to write and talk at the same time: "When I came—that is, before I was Collected—we—I mean, they—had a thing called a speely. .. We didn't say 'speel in'—we said 'cruise the speely.' " Out of consideration for the artisan, I chose to speak in Fluccish, and so this staggering drunk of a sentence only sounded half as bad as if I'd said it in Orth. "It was a sort of—"

"Moving picture," Orolo guessed. He looked to the artisan, and switched to Fluccish. "We have guessed that 'to speel in' means to partake of some moving picture praxis—what you would call technology—that prevails out there."

"Moving picture, that's a funny way to say it," said the artisan. He stared out a window, as if it were a speely showing a historical documentary. He quivered with a silent laugh.

"It is Praxic Orth and so it sounds quaint to your ears," Fraa Orolo admitted.

"Why don't you just call it by its real name?"

"Speeling in?"

"Yeah."

"Because when Fraa Erasmas, here, came into the math ten years ago, it was called 'cruising the speely' and when I came in al¬most thirty years ago we called it 'Farspark.' The avout who live on the other side of yonder wall, who celebrate Apert only once every hundred years, would know it by some other name. I would not be able to talk to them."

Artisan Flec had not taken in a word after Farspark. "Farspark is completely different!" he said. "You can't watch Farspark content on a speely, you have to up-convert it and re-parse the format…."

Fraa Orolo was as bored by that as the artisan was by talk of the Hundreders, and so conversation thudded to a stop long enough for me to scratch it down. My embarrassment had gone away without my noticing it, as with hiccups. Artisan Flec, believing that the con¬versation was finally over, turned to look at the scaffolding that his men had erected beneath the bad rafter.

"To answer your question," Fraa Orolo began.

"What question?"

"The one you posed just a minute ago—if I want to know what things are like extramuros, why don't I just speel in?"

"Oh," said the artisan, a little confounded by the length of Fra Orolo's attention span. I suffer from attention surplus disorder, Fraa Orolo liked to say, as if it were funny.

"First of all," Fraa Orolo said, "we don't have a speely-device."

"Speely-device?"

Waving his hand as if this would dispel clouds of linguistic con¬fusion, Orolo said, "What ever artifact you use to speel in."

"If you have an old Farspark resonator, I could bring you a down-converter that's been sitting in my junk pile—"

"We don't have a Farspark resonator either," said Fraa Orolo.

"Why don't you just buy one?"

This gave Orolo pause. I could sense a new set of embarrassing questions stacking up in his mind: "do you believe that we have money? That the reason we are protected by the Sæcular Power is because we are sitting on a treasure hoard? That our Millenarians know how to convert base metals to gold?" But Fraa Orolo mastered the urge. "Living as we do under the Cartasian Discipline, our only media are chalk, ink, and stone," he said. "But there is another reason too."

"Yeah, what is it?" demanded Artisan Flec, very provoked by Fraa Orolo's freakish habit of announcing what he was about to say instead of just coming out and saying it.

"It's hard to explain, but, for me, just aiming a speely input de¬vice, or a Farspark chambre, or whatever you call it. . ."

"A speelycaptor."

".. . at something doesn't collect what is meaningful to me. I need someone to gather it in with all their senses, mix it round in their head, and make it over into words."

"Words," the artisan echoed, and then aimed sharp looks all round the library. "Tomorrow, Quin's coming instead of me," he announced, then added, a little bit defensively, "I have to counter-strafe the new clanex recompensators—the fan-out tree's starting to look a bit clumpy, if you ask me."
I cringed reading that pile of techno-babble, but I figured at some point, he would stop, but it just never ends.
posted by empath at 10:23 AM on September 21, 2011


. . . no wonder the book's so long. Well, empath, you've just pretty much cured me of my desire to read it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:25 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who had absolutely no problem parsing the vocab and understanding the Anathem universe without even realizing the glossary existed?

I didn't have trouble exactly and don't recall needing the glossary much. I'm used to reading SF and fantasy novels where for a while you have to guess what an unfamiliar term means based on context and what not. But it did take some time for the set of made up terms to not pull me out of the story and try to parse their meaning every once in a while when I ran into them.
posted by sparkletone at 10:32 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I cringed reading that pile of techno-babble, but I figured at some point, he would stop, but it just never ends.

To each his own then, and doubly so in Stephenson's case! I enjoyed that passage and it turns out to be a fairly significant one plotwise.
posted by dust of the stars at 10:37 AM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


See, I thought the language use in Anathem was deliberate, to show-not-tell the culture shock between the tower and the outside world, and between the different sections of the tower itself. It wasn't just calling a rabbit a smeerp, it was illustrating the depth of isolation involved. I think pulling you out of the story and making you parse it was exactly the point, and for me it added to the experience.
posted by KathrynT at 10:38 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


See, I thought the language use in Anathem was deliberate, to show-not-tell the culture shock between the tower and the outside world, and between the different sections of the tower itself. It wasn't just calling a rabbit a smeerp, it was illustrating the depth of isolation involved. I think pulling you out of the story and making you parse it was exactly the point, and for me it added to the experience.

That's exactly what I got out of the quoted passage, too. You guys are just pissing into the wind, though. Minds are made up, no change will happen here. For the record, though, empath's and PhoBWanKenobi's reactions to that bit of Anathem are exactly the reaction I had to the bit of Riddly Walker I was exposed to, and why I will not read that book. To each his own, indeed.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't even. That's not obfuscation for the purpose of obfuscation, that's not even obfuscation. That's the use of neologisms in a conversation about neologisms and language shift.

The passage makes it sound a lot more smeerpy than it is.

I don't think this counts as a spoiler: Anathem is set in a society that's been scientific for a very long time. A few thousand years ago, after some catastrophes, they gathered up all their science nerds and put them in maths, or science-monasteries, where they remain isolated. The maths are segregated into different groups. Some come and and meet the world every year, others come out and meet the world every ten years, others every ten or thousand. As part of dealing with this internally, people in the maths speak "Orth," an archaic language that's basically the local equivalent of Latin or Greek.

I think, from memory, that almost everything in Orth is translated pretty directly into boring, normal, modern American English. Except, of course, that different people are associated with various philosophical and scientific advances on Arbre than on Earth. Telescopes are "telescopes," not "far-seers" or "glomptrips." Nuclear waste is "nuclear waste." I can think of a few exceptions -- they call whatever the current government of the day is the Panjandrums, and call whatever the current equivalent of the internet is, if there is one, the Reticulum. But not many.

And almost the whole book takes place either in a math or well within the mathic world, so there's really very little confusion. The smeerpish stuff really only comes in, I think, when they're trying to talk to people outside the mathic world or are forced to deal with nonmathic people or concepts.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was thinking about this last night - have there been any Stephenson main characters who've had children? None come immediately to mind.

Which may just be knowing his audience, because if you have kids you probably don't have time for his books.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:51 AM on September 21, 2011


Eliza in the Baroque Cycle reproduced at some point, no? Your point about reading time versus urchin caretaking is well taken.
posted by dust of the stars at 10:57 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I forget if Eliza does, but don't believe so. On the other hand, Daniel most certainly has a son.
posted by sparkletone at 11:02 AM on September 21, 2011


ROU_Xenophobe: "I think, from memory, that almost everything in Orth is translated pretty directly into boring, normal, modern American English. Except, of course, that different people are associated with various philosophical and scientific advances on Arbre than on Earth. Telescopes are "telescopes," not "far-seers" or "glomptrips." Nuclear waste is "nuclear waste." I can think of a few exceptions -- they call whatever the current government of the day is the Panjandrums"

I thought it was pretty clear that they called them the Panjandrums because they were mocking them. That's basically the usage of the word in our reality.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:08 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's exactly what I got out of the quoted passage, too. You guys are just pissing into the wind, though. Minds are made up, no change will happen here. For the record, though, empath's and PhoBWanKenobi's reactions to that bit of Anathem are exactly the reaction I had to the bit of Riddly Walker I was exposed to, and why I will not read that book. To each his own, indeed.

I don't even. That's not obfuscation for the purpose of obfuscation, that's not even obfuscation. That's the use of neologisms in a conversation about neologisms and language shift.

(I hadn't made up my mind, incidentally.)

I guess the source of the depth of my reaction is that it seems self-consciously clever--interjecting a conlang in a very conspicuous way, to discuss linguistics in a way that seems divorced from the way people--even linguists!--actually talk. Riddley Walker, meanwhile, actually sounds like the account of a 12-year-old boy within his society. One seems to draw attention to the language as a way of stating something about the language; the other asks you to integrate yourself into the main character's world view so that you can have a more immersive experience of the entire environment and story. It was conlang for immersion, while this passage, at least, seems to be doing the exact opposite--using conlang as a way to drive home themes about language itself, perhaps at the expense of an immersive experience.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:12 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, with a novel in dialect like Riddley Walker, the easiest way to derive meaning isn't to have the words defined--in context or out--but to just read it aloud.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:18 AM on September 21, 2011


See, I thought the language use in Anathem was deliberate, to show-not-tell the culture shock between the tower and the outside world, and between the different sections of the tower itself. It wasn't just calling a rabbit a smeerp, it was illustrating the depth of isolation involved. I think pulling you out of the story and making you parse it was exactly the point, and for me it added to the experience.

That's sort of how I felt about it too... But I read a lot of science fiction, and once you pick up a given writer's style in introducing technobabble, it eventually is pretty easy (for me) to pick up in context. My problem with Anathem in general was that the worldbuilding just took TOO LONG. I really, *really* wanted to like it, I wanted to get to the "good parts" that my friends kept telling me were just around the corner if I could just tough it out, but I gave up eventually. I *will* try again at some point, but I'm thinking Reamde will likely come first.

Which may just be knowing his audience, because if you have kids you probably don't have time for his books.

Not even remotely true, of course. I read for an hour or two before bed every night, which is also 2-3 hours after my 2 year old goes to bed. :)
posted by antifuse at 11:34 AM on September 21, 2011


I guess the source of the depth of my reaction is that it seems self-consciously clever--interjecting a conlang in a very conspicuous way, to discuss linguistics in a way that seems divorced from the way people--even linguists!--actually talk.

As I mentioned above, the 'conlang' serves a purpose within the narrative in several ways, some very significant in the larger scheme of things. It's not just an affectation.
posted by fatbird at 11:34 AM on September 21, 2011


have there been any Stephenson main characters who've had children?

In the Baroque Cycle? Most of them, and they're large motivators for the characters...

Eliza has three surviving children, the abduction of her eldest from his crib being the motivation to destroy world commerce in revenge, Jack adventures with his two adult sons, and Daniel leaves a young son behind in Massachusetts in order to create an inheritance for him.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:35 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess the source of the depth of my reaction is that it seems self-consciously clever--interjecting a conlang in a very conspicuous way, to discuss linguistics in a way that seems divorced from the way people--even linguists!--actually talk

Yes this. To much exposition, too much unnatural dialogue, not enough character and plot, and made immensely worse by the amount of effort one has to put in to even understand what's being talked about.
posted by empath at 11:40 AM on September 21, 2011


Proof that I need to read the Baroque books again: It's been long enough that I didn't even remember Jack's kids, or Eliza's.

(I like them a lot more than most people seem to have.)
posted by sparkletone at 11:45 AM on September 21, 2011


As I mentioned above, the 'conlang' serves a purpose within the narrative in several ways, some very significant in the larger scheme of things. It's not just an affectation.

Oh, but see, that doesn't necessarily help things for me. But I have a trouble with clever literary gambits generally if they don't serve plot or characters, so maybe I'm the wrong reader for it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:45 AM on September 21, 2011


It does serve the plot, quite fundamentally, but I can't really tell you how without spoiling it for you. I'll just say that I had the same reaction as you, persevered, and was ultimately rewarded for it.

Ultimately it's a taste thing, but I did want you to understand that it's not just a clever literary gambit.
posted by fatbird at 11:50 AM on September 21, 2011


Well . . . perhaps I should say "self-consciously clever." I've never been able to finish Cloud Atlas for the same sort of reason. But perhaps I'll give it a whack, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2011


Riddley Walker, meanwhile, actually sounds like the account of a 12-year-old boy within his society. One seems to draw attention to the language as a way of stating something about the language; the other asks you to integrate yourself into the main character's world view so that you can have a more immersive experience of the entire environment and story. It was conlang for immersion, while this passage, at least, seems to be doing the exact opposite--using conlang as a way to drive home themes about language itself, perhaps at the expense of an immersive experience.

(perhaps I judged wrongly, but "you've just pretty much cured me of my desire to read it" sounded like you'd made up your mind to me)

This is your opinion, and that's fine as far as it goes, but that is as far as it goes. To me, Riddly Walker, meanwhile, actually sounds like two pieces of styrofoam rubbing together on the chalkboard of my brain. I find it literally painful to read, and I actively hate it, to a degree even I find somewhat baffling. It screams "affectation" to me, and it always will. This in no way invalidates your experience of the book.

Also, for me the world building parts ARE the "good parts," along with the other parts. I'm not sure what the "good parts" are supposed to be for other folks. Action? There's always Neal Asher!
posted by adamdschneider at 12:09 PM on September 21, 2011


(perhaps I judged wrongly, but "you've just pretty much cured me of my desire to read it" sounded like you'd made up your mind to me)

"Pretty much" being the operative words, and as I said upthread, it's one of those books I'm always meaning to read. It's not as if I had a strong thesis for or against it either way.

Rich interpersonal relationships and well-realized, but also well-integrated settings ("seamless," so to speak) are the good stuff to me. And I hate "action." But I can't speak for any other reader.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:13 PM on September 21, 2011


I felt that naming the cell phones in Anathem "jeejaws" was hilarious!
posted by ovvl at 3:21 PM on September 21, 2011


I think of Stephenson like I think of Sartre. The man is brilliant and his concepts are fascinating, but his prose is tortured. Having read Gibson (and Camus), I have to wonder whether, if Stephenson loved a woman---terribly loved her, to the point where he would throw his car off a cliff for her---if, even then, he would let her edit his books.
posted by diorist at 5:11 PM on September 21, 2011


Zed, re The Big U:
For anyone who's tempted, realize that there was a very good reason Stephenson refused for years for it to be reprinted. (I assume the pile of money he was being offered for reprint rights eventually got too big to ignore.)
My understanding is that he saw that people were selling old copies on eBay for upwards of a hundred dollars each and could not stand the thought of anyone paying that much to read it, so gave in and allowed the reprinting, so if someone really wanted to read it, they wouldn't have to pay more than fifteen bucks.

Just finished REAMDE. I went in avoiding spoilers, knowing nothing more than that it was the new Neal Stephenson and that it was about gold farming. When I was about 200 pages in, I had noticed that themes/references that carry over from Cryptonomicon include: the Hakka, Manila, Shekondar, discovering facts that make a job hard but your isolated boss thinks it should be easy, being compelled to do a task under duress, gold, military and hacker habits, silly/revealing business meetings. Carried over from Anathem (and less from Snow Crash/Diamond Age): ikonographies/narratives and the importance of story.

When I was about 800 pages in, I noted: "It reads as though Cory Doctorow, in preparing to write For The Win, had drawn upon his eleventh grade lit teacher Thomas Pynchon, who had taught him what 'puissant' meant and given him Alan Furst novels to read, but also upon the paperbacks that he'd found in the bookcases lining the wall of his social studies classroom, which included Tom Clancy and Where the Red Fern Grows."

I finished it this morning, walked into the study, thudded it onto my husband's desk, and said with wonder, "I cannot recommend that you read this."

I cannot recall the last Stephenson I read that had fewer ideas, and I include his short fiction in this. Those lovely little similes and metaphors and fanciful explanations of technical topics and arias, soliloquies on the nature of things, the Stephenson signatures? Nearly absent. Imagine a Michael Crichton novel that stretches to over a thousand pages. I'm disappointed. REAMDE is essentially a serviceable technothriller, and that's all. I saw it as an unworthy followup to Anathem.

I hadn't read his Stephen Bury books before this, and perhaps if I had, I'd have been better prepared for the tone, and enjoyed it as sixswitch did. As it is, I went in wanting thoughts I had never thought before, and got a dressed-up action movie instead.

Next on my shelf: Kim Stanley Robinson short stories, so So Long Been Dreaming anthology of postcolonial scifi, Making Software: What Really Works, and Why We Believe It, and Pynchon's Mason and Dixon.
posted by brainwane at 7:44 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Technothrillers like REAMDE are competence porn. And I am not averse to competence porn (great swaths of Leverage, lots of Stephenson, some Alan Furst scenes, etc.). But if that's all you get, and the worldbuilding/character/prose/plot aspects of the story are only minimally novel, beautiful, or interesting, then it gets all Mary Sue. REAMDE doesn't cross that line but I can see where it gets all liminal.

I have a hypothesis that this is related to the narrative workaround of throwing obstacles & actively antagonistic yet mindless NPCs into the protagonist's path, which gets you all Connie Willis-y, but I still need to develop this.
posted by brainwane at 7:53 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those lovely little similes

It has never, ever occurred to me before this moment that anyone would describe those as lovely. I assumed everyone just put up with them. They are one of the top things I cannot stand about his writing. I have never thrown or even been tempted to throw a book, but when I got to the one in Cryptonomicon about the car gliding out of the trees "like a bad idea from the mind of a green lieutenant," if Stephenson had been in the room I would have thrown it at him.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:56 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw Stephenson last night in Portland. He read two excerpts from REAMDE (which he pronounces "reem dee") totalling about 30 minutes. He then took questions from the audience for about an hour. I left as people were lining up for autographs.

He was remarkably introspective, honest, and humble. The passages from REAMDE were hilarious.
posted by neuron at 8:22 AM on September 23, 2011


Yeah, I am about halfway done with reamde. I've never had so little interest in finishing a Stephenson book. He needs to pare this shit down next time, like to the core. We don't need a half page description of what the explosives in a bomb vest looks like, you are writing a thriller, throw in the name of an explosive and be done with it, people who read thrillers love that shit. Don't pull shit like claim that all computer nerds can pick locks, that shit hasn't been true since the MIT TMRC. What is with the Aspergers stuff, did he also buy into the myth that anyone who is good with a computer has Aspergers? It is frankly insulting to computer nerds and people with Apsergers, since he made them all so damn incompetent.

Maybe I'll just stop where I am and go reread Zero History.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:58 PM on September 23, 2011


Only about 40 pages in and enjoying it. Probably not going to change my universe for the better like Diamond Age and Anathem and Cryptonomicon did. But cool. Like a Simpsons Halloween episode.

Anyway, for those of you bothered by Anathems language, it might help to realize that it is in fact a Satire, in which things get silly names because they are supposed to be slightly crazier versions of the way our own world works in order to reveal how ridiculous certain aspects of our culture are (in particular, their specificity). It's not just because of the plurality of worlds stuff--it's for the same reason Gulliver didn't just go on vacation to Dublin and Kafkas Amerika is spelled w a K.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:59 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also Reamde is mostly about video games so I hoped there would be some thoughts about his thoughts about Warcraft-type game worlds here but there aren't. Maybe I'll start a new thread if I find anything good out there on the subject.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:04 AM on September 26, 2011


Sandpoint [Idaho]… which had all the indicia-- brewpub, art gallery, Pilates, Thai restaurant-- of a place where Blue State people would go to enjoy a high standard of living while maintaining nonstop connectivity and assuaging their guilty consciences in re global warming, fair trade and the regrettable side effects of Manifest Destiny.
Christ, what an asshole. I guess if I trade my yoga mat for a 1911 I'll be on track for Stephenson-righteous living.
posted by morganw at 9:37 PM on September 26, 2011


Christ, what an asshole. I guess if I trade my yoga mat for a 1911 I'll be on track for Stephenson-righteous living.

Stephenson has a go at a lot of things. My suspicion is that he probably personally likes a lot of those things and the mockery is in part self-mockery. As someone who lives in such a town, who lives in such a town for those very features, I read that as a small bit of fun, not as sincere condemnation. (But I'm still waiting for REAMDE and don't have context beyond your quote.)
posted by Zed at 7:32 AM on September 27, 2011


I read that as a small bit of fun, not as sincere condemnation.

Yeah, I read Reamde as a psycho-thriller action-comedy. If you don't see the humor in Stephenson's writing, you are missing at least half the fun.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:13 AM on September 27, 2011


> If you don't see the humor in Stephenson's writing

I do, I do. I'm overstating my objection when I call him an asshole, but I got a little tired of his worship of a man (or perhaps a Short Round-ish woman) who can build a wall, set a bone and field strip an A.I.
posted by morganw at 11:26 PM on September 27, 2011


Well, I finished REAMDE. Stephenson needs an editor, badly. If only because I twitched in pain the fourth time I saw the phrase "well supplied with (knives|guns|etc)"... that's lazy writing.

For what it was, the book could've done without three or four characters, one locale, and about six hundred fifty pages.

Anathem was quite a pleasure to read, though.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 5:50 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just finished reading Reamde. It is a reasonably well-written techno-thriller. Like all Stephenson books, it is uneven at places. it is certainly longer than it needed to be. Towards the last third, I started skipping paragraph (sometimes pages) of descriptions of the journey through BC/Idaho. I got somewhat tired of all the cruelties that Stephenson was putting Zula through. Having said that, I liked the book.

I have liked both Anathem and Cryptonomicon. Anathem was awesome. Reamde is not as ambitious. But then it is a different genre altogether with very different audience expectations.

About his writing and editing -
I once asked an acquaintance - "Do you like Leonard Cohen's singing?", and this guy replied, "He sings too?". I feel a bit like that discussing the literary merits of Stephenson's writing. He writes very well researched books, has a lot of interesting ideas that he explores through his books, knows how to build a narrative ... but writing clear prose is certainly not his strong point. At least that is not why people read Stephenson anyway ...

I also think Stephenson has gotten somewhat better at endings (starting with Anathem).
posted by justlooking at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2011


Okay, so I finished reading Reamde about a week ago, and have picked up Anathem again to assuage my geekfury at the total lack of imagination in Reamde. I was so excited to read Stephenson's latest, but he's really just phoning this shit in. Anathem has so much greater depth of ideas and projection of and into another world that Reamde reads as entirely flat. Boo. Will not re-read.

Note to self: when major reviews describe this as an authors "most accessible" work, that means you (the hardcore fan) will be left severely wanting.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:06 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well I'm not sure if I've finished Reamde or not! My Kindle version received an update due to missing content when I was three quarters of the way through. Now there are references to things that happened earlier that I never read; but scrolling back, they're there now!

Having said that, I enjoyed the book for what it is - a thousand pages of in one eye and out the other techno-popcorn. I've enjoyed all of Stephenson's other works. Cryptonomicon is one that I can pick up and start reading in the middle, Anathem once it got going was great, Diamond Age, Snow Crash, Zodiac were all great fun. The Baroque Cycle was a bit of a slog but worth it for the international trade and finance (I'm easily entertained) and the odd frisson of the familiar Cryptonomicon characters in a new mileau.
posted by Standeck at 12:34 PM on October 3, 2011


16% of the way into Reamde right now (having finished Ready Player One in 2 days), and I have to say I am liking this bit much more than I liked the start of Anathem. We'll see if it can hold on to me the rest of the way through :)
posted by antifuse at 1:37 PM on October 3, 2011


I thought the first section was super-slow. I liked the China section, and kind of hated the last part in Idaho. I also thought most of the characters were pretty unlikeable except for the Russian and Hugarian. It wasn't a bad book, but it could have been half the length.

(The descriptions of the game and sections devoted to exploring the people behind it were boring, to say the least, and I expect will seem lame to actual players of currently existing games (I'm not one, so not sure) and very quickly dated.)
posted by maxwelton at 2:54 PM on October 3, 2011


The descriptions of the game and sections devoted to exploring the people behind it were boring, to say the least, and I expect will seem lame to actual players of currently existing games (I'm not one, so not sure) and very quickly dated.

Well, I played WoW on and off in the early years, and actually quite enjoyed the sections describing the game and exploring the people behind it. For whatever that's worth. :)
posted by antifuse at 1:52 PM on October 4, 2011


This book is wildly uneven.

It does capture some of the sprawling nature of the information age world, but a lot of its diversity feels forced.

Black welsh jihadist.
Hungarian hacker.
Chinese hacker.
Chinese minority spunky chick.
Adopted Eritrean spunky chick.
Canadian-Chinese spunky spy chick.
Russian mafia.
Afghani jihadists.
Medievalophile fantasy writer in a castle..

Etc.

His portrayal of T'rain, while interesting in many ways, also smacks of someone taking too much liberty with what is actually possible in a game. Most of his portrayals of MMORPG mechanics are feasible, and obviously researched, but some of them are so out there it feels like something my grandfather would assume was possible.

It was a fast read, considering it's about twice as long as it needs to be. Not his finest hour.
posted by flippant at 8:06 PM on October 5, 2011


Finished it yesterday. There was a book that wore out its welcome. I think it was based on a true story: not one Neal Stephenson novel has been made into a big dumb action flick.
posted by Zed at 9:09 AM on October 7, 2011


I also found the tacit endorsement of the militia/religion-crazy people kind of odd.
posted by maxwelton at 1:00 AM on October 8, 2011


Maxwelton, it wasn't so much a tacit endorsement of militia culture as it was a contrast with the terror cell going on the offense. One of the characters even remarks that the mountains around Bourne's Ford are pretty much the same as the mountains in Afghanistan. It's left as an exercise to the reader to wonder why Jake acts defensively and Abdallah acts offensively.

One of the motifs about T'Rain is that Good and Evil in the game are as interchangeable and meaningful as what kind of color a player chooses for his or her avatar. The real world on the border of Idaho and British Columbia offers no such moral equivalency. It's a recurring theme in Stephenson's work that modern moral relativism vanishes in extremis.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:51 AM on October 8, 2011


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