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Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle (Baroque Cycle 1) Paperback – 7 Oct 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (7 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099410680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099410683
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author



Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer, known for his speculative fiction works, which have been variously categorized science fiction, historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk. Stephenson explores areas such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system.

Born in Fort Meade, Maryland (home of the NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum) Stephenson came from a family comprising engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, while her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University. He first specialized in physics, then switched to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.

Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic "The Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Quicksilver is a massive, exuberant and wildly ambitious historical novel that's also Neal Stephenson's eagerly awaited prequel to Cryptonomicon--his pyrotechnic reworking of the 20th century, from World War II codebreaking and disinformation to the latest issues of Internet data privacy.

Quicksilver, "Volume One of the Baroque Cycle", backtracks to another time of high intellectual ferment: the late 17th century, with the natural philosophers of England's newly formed Royal Society questioning the universe and dissecting everything that moves. One founding member, the Rev John Wilkins, really did write science fiction and a book on cryptography--but this isn't history as we know it, for here his code book is called not Mercury but Cryptonomicon. And although the key political schemers of Charles II's government still have initials spelling the word CABAL, their names are all different...

While towering geniuses like Newton and Leibniz decode nature itself, bizarre adventures (merely beginning with the Great Plague and Great Fire) happen to the fictional Royal Society member Daniel Waterhouse, who knows everyone but isn't quite bright enough for cutting-edge science. Two generations of Daniel's family appear in Cryptonomicon, as does a descendant of the Shaftoes who here are soldiers and vagabonds. Other links include the island realm of Qwghlm with its impossible language and the mysterious, seemingly ageless alchemist Enoch Root.

As the reign of Charles II gives way to that of James II and then William of Orange, Stephenson traces the complex lines of finance and power that form the 17th-century Internet. Gold and silver, lead and (repeatedly) mercury or quicksilver flow in glittering patterns between centres of marketing and intrigue in England, Germany, France and Holland. Paper flows as well: stocks, shares, scams and letters holding layers of concealed code messages. Binary code? Yes, even that had already been invented and described by Francis Bacon.

Quicksilver is crammed with unexpected incidents, fascinating digressions and deep-laid plots. Who'd believe that Eliza, a Qwghlmian slave girl liberated from a Turkish harem by mad Jack Shaftoe (King of the Vagabonds) could become a major player in European finance and politics? Still less believable, but all too historically authentic, are the appalling medical procedures of the time--about which we learn a lot. There are frequent passages of high comedy, like the lengthy description of a foppish earl's costume which memorably explains that someone seemed to have been painted in glue before "shaking and rolling him in a bin containing thousands of black silk doilies".

This is a huge, exhausting read, full of rewards and quirky insights that no other author could have created. Fantastic or farcical episodes sometimes clash strangely with the deep cruelty and suffering of 17th-century realism. Recommended, though not to the faint-hearted. --David Langford --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"[A] massive tour-de-force- Dense, witty, erudite, packed with fascinating characters, and gripping despite a distended length, Quicksilver is both a worthy prequel to Cryptonomicon, and an indication that Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is shaping up to be a far more impressive literary endeavour than most so-called "serious" fiction - No scholarly, and intellectually provocative, historical novel has been this much fun since The Name of the Rose." (Charles Shaar Murray Independent)

"Staggering diversity and detail ... An astonishing achievement." (Sunday Telegraph)

"A great, heaving countryside of a book...consistently funny...fluent and elusive, while retaining just the right hint of poison" (Telegraph)

"Stephenson mixes a library’s worth of ideas with compulsive derring-do … its scope and inventiveness become addictive." (Time Out)

"A breathless ride…the writing gives an immersive sense of time and place" (Face)

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Green Alien on 11 Jan. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Quicksilver is the first part of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, a magnificent historical romp that explores the Age of Enlightenment with a humerous, intelligent and well-researched mix of fact and fiction. When originally published it was as 3 volume hardback set; however, each hardback book contains 2 or 3 sub-books and these have been published separately by some paperback publishers such as Harper Torch, so the paperback version of the complete cycle can consist of 7 separate books! My advice would be to check what you are getting before parting with your cash as some of the paperbacks on sale aren't the bargains they seem to be.

For example, the first hardback volume of Quicksilver consists of Quicksilver, The King of the Vagabonds, and Odalisque, and runs to nearly 1000 pages; the paperback that just contains Quicksilver is only 456 pages. Buyer beware!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Hind on 18 Dec. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It irritates me intensely that Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is frequently classed as Science Fiction, even in bookshops. It is quite straightforward Historical Fiction (or Faction as it mixes real with imagined characters). It seems if you write one SF novel in your life, you are forever tainted with that label! This cycle of books will appeal to anyone interested in history, particularly the history of ideas. Stephenson's great talent, also evidenced in his Cryptonomecon, is his ability to infiltrate a surprisingly deep and sophisticated educational experience into a really good novel.

I have just finished reading the complete cycle again and for the first time in order (more than two thousand pages in total). It is a stonking good read, with only the odd page or six tending to drag a little. It is easy to say it needs an editor, but the problem is that an editor would probably cut far too much, and the wrong bits. Stephenson can make a conversation about philosophy between two princesses in a garden into a really exciting page-turner, but his action passages tend to drag badly. These can feel like a scene-by-scene description by a nine-year-old boy of a movie he's just watched!

Stephenson's trick is to tell the story from the perspective of three invented characters who have a modern outlook on life (while not being glaringly anachronistic). This enables him to render characters like Leibnitz and Newton accurately as only partly modern figures (Newton is an alchemist and Leibnitz something of a religious obscurantist), whilst allowing them to be viewed and interpreted by characters we can identify with.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Mar. 2004
Format: Hardcover
I admit Stephenson, aong with James Ellroy, is one of the few authors I buy as soon as a new book is released. I've enjoyed every book he's written, even his earlier stuff such as The Big U where he was crafting his trade. Cryptonomicon is a fantastic read which goes flying off on tangents such as cryptography, politics of the Phillipines, dot com business and the perfect way to eat breakfast cereal. As a result, I waited with bated breath for Quicksilver.
I was not disappointed. Set in the reigns of Charles II, James I (of England, if you're Scottish) and William and Mary, it traces the lives of Daniel Waterhouse, Bob and Jack Shaftoe and Eliza, a freed Turkish slave. Walk-on parts go to Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebniz, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Christiaan Huygens, Samuel Pepys, Judge Jeffreys, Christopher Wren and John Churchill, to name but a few.
As in his other books, there are several stories going on at once, which he moves between regularly, but there is an underlying central theme involving the politics of Europe in that era. I read the book once and immediately read it again, the second time picking up the classic Stephenson detail about the creation of the banking system, the Puritan movement, the gigantic scientific strides taken in the period and the intrigues which took place in the courts of England, France and the Netherlands. It is not surprising Stephenson takes so long between books as the research he does in diverse subjects is enormous. For instance, he has clearly studied Winston Churchill's biography of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, which is a humungous collection of letters, etc covering the period that could have been converted into a novel on its own. But this would have covered perhaps 10% of what this story is about.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Katie Stevens on 27 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
When I first started this book I found it opaque and thought it had too many storylines which seemed completely unconnected with too many characters that I didn't particularly like. I ended up setting it aside for several months and only picked it up again in order to finish it so that I could get rid of the terrible thing. However, evidently the break was exactly what I needed, as this time around I found it fascinating and everything clicked into place, and now I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Baroque Cycle.

The book was still confusing and was by no means an easy read. It is written in several different forms: regular prose, playscript style and in letters where the real message is hidden in italics among the main body of the missive. The narrative skips about from one character to another, in between countries and passing over chunks of time, so Stephenson keeps you on your toes constantly. But this time I enjoyed the challenge rather than being frustrated by it. I think part of the reason that it feels so difficult is that it's such a large book that it can be easy to find it overwhelming. I noticed that the novel is in fact divided into three books, and I think that when I approach The Confusion, the rather appropriately named second volume of the Baroque Cycle, I will take a break to read something palate cleansing in between the composite books so that I don't become fatigued and disillusioned as I did with Quicksilver. This seems a far more sensible way to tackle these massive, dense books and I would recommend this approach to anyone else.

Although there were lulls in between the good bits, when Stephenson gets it right his writing is perfectly pitched, wry, deadly accurate and very quoteable.
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