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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Different but the same
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...
Published on 28 Mar 2004

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars When science was fiction...
This first book in Stephenson's "Baroque" cycle starts brilliantly, timehopping chapters introducing a complex brew of early science, religious descent and dynastic politics in late 17th England.
Things go horribly downhill in the middle section with the introduction of two very annoying characters, Jack the Vagabond and Eliza, the slave-girl he rescues from the...
Published on 29 Jan 2005


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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much too soon, 28 April 2005
Having finished reading this book (for two months) a few days ago, I feel I've now recovered sufficient energy to write a review.
OK, it's interesting (in places) but you can't help feel that much of the book's meandering content isn't necessary. I'm not saying that every novel should follow the three tier 'beginning-middle-ending' format as such, but Quicksilver takes things a bit too far. Padding a book with superfluous characterisations and (un)events does not a clever book make, and I'm afraid that Neal Stephenson may have shot himself in the foot here.
Having said that, everybody seems to love it. I think either they're pretending to like it a bit more than they really do to sound clever, or I'm missing something. I was often left scratching my head trying to fathom out the point of the narrative and, despite what others may tell you, more than a fleeting interest in 17th century history and/or science is required to glean maximum enjoyment from this epic (and arduous) tale.
Anyway, moaning aside, there are good points. Stephenson has to be credited for the level of detail he's managed to cram into the 900+ pages, and one wonders how he had time to research so much material. It should also be mentioned that for all the, frankly boring, 'filler' material, there is enough content to hook and reward the more patient reader.
Overall I'd say my boredom to enjoyment ratio was probably about 60:40. Somewhat worryingly, that's probably enough to encourage me to read The System of the World, the 'next' installment in this massive trilogy. I'm hoping that the synopsis of each of the other two books ring true and that they can fill the frustrating voids left behind by this volume, and that as with books such as The Diamond Age, value is added by subsequently revisiting the material. If so, I'll gladly eat my own words, while digesting Neal Stephenson's.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth the effort but consume in small doses, 27 Dec 2010
By 
Katie Stevens "Ygraine" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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. It is full of encoded stereotypes, contemporary and modern, and biting satire. He has an impressive way with words, and hopefully I'll be able to appreciate this a bit more in future volumes now that I've learnt to stop fretting about the plot(s).

I've been a bit nervous about reading alternative history in the past, primarily because my historical knowledge of any given period isn't sufficiently complete for me to be able to distinguish exactly what is history and what is the author's own deliberate departure from it. In order to verify everything that went on in Quicksilver I would have to research for years, and I have a huge respect for the effort that Neal Stephenson has obviously put into crafting his slightly off-kilter seventeenth century, but at any rate the events of the book were so bizarre (I seem to recall chasing ostriches in Vienna, although that was in February's section so I may well be wrong) that I decided to throw caution to the winds and just to go with it. I think that is the best attitude to have when reading this book, as its wonder doesn't rest on what is accurate and what isn't but on the world full of intrigue, real or not, that Stephenson has created.

Quicksilver is hard work to read, but ultimately I found it to be worth the effort. The story is very tangled, but cleverly so, and the rewards for the reader who is prepared to sit and unpick the knots are great.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!, 8 May 2008
I think Neal Stephenson might be my favourite writer. Friends that came to this after Cryptonomicum or his cyber punk novels have sometimes found it heavy going - you need to be able to read it in big chunks to really immerse yourself, especially at the start when you need to get into the style. But it's dealing with the same Stephenson ideas as always: loyalty, the individual vs the system, and above all information: how to handle it, think about it, and that in the end everything including money is based on information.

It's an extravegant slice of history - Restoration in England, religious settlements in America, the founding of modern currencies and stock markets, the shift from alchemy to modern science and technology, colonies, world trade, - even Peter the Great and the sack of Vienna make appearances.... Plus laugh-out-loud humour and characters that live on in your head long after the books are over. Fantabulous.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertainingly Educational, 18 Dec 2007
By 
J. Hind "John Hind" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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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. Contrast this with John Banville's frankly unreadable novels about Copernicus, Newton and Kepler in which the accurately rendered thought processes typical of the times are alien and incomprehensible to the modern reader. We forget that science has selected the stuff these early scientists got right and edited out whole bodies of nonsense.

Read these books for their exciting narrative, great characterisation and lovely, flip humour. But you will find that you have absorbed an amazing amount of knowledge, both traditional historical knowledge and also the foundations of modern science and capitalism. This experience left me viciously angry about the lousy standard of history teaching in schools. When I was taught this period, nothing happened that did not involve the British, and history was the tedious machinations of kings, politicians and religious nutters. Stephenson's history is global in scope and unashamedly emphasises the origins of the ideas that have lasted to shape the modern world.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long enough to last, 19 Dec 2006
By 
How many times have you read a book and you are half way through and you realise that within a few days it'll all be over... and that thought depresses you. You want to continue exploring the world the author has created, to read more about the characters within and find out all the small bits that have been hinted at. Well, most of the reviews of Quicksilver on here complain of the length of the book and talk of it as a weakness. Personally, I see it as a strength. You get hooked into the story Stephenson weaves and the length of the book ensures maximum satisfaction. There are two more after this and both are bigger. It's a sprawling magnum opus for Neal Stephenson. The culmination of years of work and deserving of every accolade the industry throw at him.

The story is 90% fiction with a liberal dashing of fact thrown in for good measure. Set in the 17th century, we follow the predecessor of Neal Stephenson's other heroes (the Waterhouses and Shaftoes of Cryptonomicon) as he becomes a narrator for a tale of royal intrigue, scientific warfare waged between Liebniz and Newton and the beginnings of the fictional Shaftoe legend.

This truly is one of the very best books I have had the pleasure to read in the past ten years. The inclusion of real historical figures, such as Robert Hook, Isaac Newton, Liebniz and various Kings of Britian and France just added to the whole atmosphere of the book. My particular favourite character is the enigmatic rogue, Jack Shaftoe. Deserter from the English army and turned mercenary he sets out with fortune hunting in mind and ends up becoming King of the Vagabonds. The story of his rise, fall and rise again and the clever way that Stephenson has weaved all the pieces of his puzzle together makes for the best reading of a not-really-that-sciencey fiction story I've encountered. Read it and rejoice.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly delightful romp through the Age of Sir Isaac..., 18 Jan 2005
By 
Mark Shackelford "mark shackelford" (Worthing, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
I am grinning at the brilliant twists and turns, laughing out loud at the VERY funny bits, and half looking forward to getting the sequel and half sad to finish this opus.
A marvellous sequel / prequel / pre-sequel(?) to the magnificent Cryptonomicon - which you really should read BEFORE this one, as the characters in Quicksilver are echoes/shadows/ancestors of the ones in Cryptonomicon.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Baroque Cycle - Fascinating and Amazing, 9 Oct 2005
By 
Becky (Hampshire, UK) - See all my reviews
The three books which make up the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World) are a massive achievement. In an historical novel it is quite obvious that the historical context needs to be described vividly to make the novel viable. However, the detail within the Baroque Cycle goes beyond providing context for the plot; it is awe-inspiring. Not only do we appreciate the historical situation in England, France, Germany and other, much further-flung, places, but half the story is told from the viewpoint of 'high' society. So the political and religious struggles are paramount to the plot. That's not unusual; chronicling the development of science, explaining the concepts of high finance (still in use today) and revealing surprising facts about the origins of words, traditions and the rise of globalisation and inter-connectedness in the 17th and 18th centuries is.
The main plot is centred on the two historical characters of Sir Isaac Newton, the characterisation of whom feels wonderfully real, and Baron Gottfried Leibniz and their vicious (especially on the part of Newton) quarrel about who first invented the calculus. Think that's a dry subject for a book? Surprisingly not, at least not how Stephenson writes it. Other plots and sub-plots emerge, but the most story-like one is Newton's struggles with the counterfeiters when he is at the Mint. This story 'begins' at the end of the Confusion and is resolved in The System of the World - and the conclusion to that episode marks the conclusion of the Baroque Cycle.
In reality there are three main characters: Daniel Waterhouse, Jack Shaftoe and Eliza. All three grow over the course of their lives in realistic fashions, which often means not all that predictably. My favourite flipped from one to another. Daniel is the constant of the books. He grows from a product and tool of his puritan father's predictions of the apocalypse to an old man with significant political clout and wisdom. His adventures are just as dangerous as Jack's, but played out among the men and closed doors of power. Jack gets all the swash-buckling (look out for the origin of this word) adventure - he and his crew provide the high seas, high octane drama and improbable tales. Jack represents the lower end of the social spectrum, gambling and risking and sometimes winning, he provides a great deal of fun. If Daniel and Jack can be seen to be in many respects as the polar opposites of each other (in outline at least) then Eliza is their bridge. She starts out with Jack in mud and poverty and rises to glamourous Versailles. But she comes into her own when she starts to illuminate the murky world of finance and banking. She trades in stocks, she lends cleverly and earns her high political power with vulgar cash.
The depth is staggering, the sweep is wide (America to Malaysia), the plot develops, twists and entices. They are mammouth books, but most certainly worth it. Stephenson's tremendous writing alone is worth a look. The way he can explain complex subjects or detail a landscape is as amazing as his research.
Someone suggests reading Cryptonomicon first. I read it after the Baroque thinking more great literature would follow. It didn't to be honest. The Baroque Cycle is for anyone. Cryptonomicon is for computer geeks. It was great to spot the shadows and descendents of Baroque characters and is enlightening in its own way, but I didn't feel it was half the novel that Baroque was.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical whirl, 28 Jun 2005
By 
Gareth M. Duggan "garethduggan" (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
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First of all, I take my hat off to Mr Stephenson for maintaining the astonishing level of concentration that must have been required to produce a work of this length and depth. It swings between high science and low morals, bounces from boudoir to battelfield and gleefully tosses vagabonds and thugs into league with nobles, gentleladies and savants. In Jack Shaftoe, Stephenson has created a rough-edged hero for the ages: a man whose charisma, cunning and joie de vivre are matched only by his ability to find himself in and out of the most outrageous situations. Daniel Waterhouse should be the baseline for any author studying extended character development, as he grows from a geeky, uncertain scholar quivering in the shadow of Sir Isaac Newton into a man of influence and wisdom able to stare down the same Newton years later. Eliza? She's every smart man's dream come true, with her beauty, wit and steely, almost scary intellect.
And as Stephenson stitches these marvellous lead characters into his masterwork he adds the enigmatic Enoch Root, Louis XIV, the Duke of Marlborough and dozens of others with a rich, inventive style.
This is history for sci-fi geeks, science for history buffs and a rattling good read for anyone else. Shaftoe's swaggering adventures provide the ribaldry, Waterhouse's dance on the cuttinig edge of science gives an intellectual depth and the machinations of Eliza are both love story and political thriller.
Read it now, then go get the two sequels and read them as well. Be prepared for occasional heavy going, because you don't get depth without some painstaking and sometimes overhwelming detail, but ultimately this is the most satisfying historical read since Michener was at the peak of his powers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent epic, 4 Dec 2010
By 
Sentinel (Essex) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Quicksilver, the first volume in this massive epic trilogy, introduces us to characters, both real and fictitious, who will drive the action across many countries/cultures/civilisations, and across over two and a half thousand pages. Apart from real characters such as Isaac Newton, King Louis of France, Leibnitz in Germany, Stephenson introduces Vagabond Jack and Countess Eliza, two incredibly alive and believable 'soldiers of fortune' and survivors of the murky 17th & 18th century, who serve to guide the reader through the arcane cultures and political tightrope necessary for survival in these turbulent times. By contrast, Daniel Waterhouse, another fictional character gives an insight into the scientific search for knowledge within the 'Royal Society' in London, including the magical lure of alchemy.
This novel, like the trilogy, is packed with historical fact, brilliantly realised detail and invention, and tremendous action sequences. Stephenson manages his wealth of material, so that the narrative has a 'thriller quality' to it, to sustain even the half-awake mind. This is densely-packed stuff, which might not suit those who don't wish to put in the effort required to enable this fascinating world to come alive, but the rewards for a little engagment are substantial: after a while the reader feels they are walking through these dangerous, uncertain and fascinating times. A stunning piece of writing, if you give it the attention it requires. I've read masses in my life, but this has to be one of the best pieces of detailed and sustained 'worlds' ever created.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One-third ONLY of the original Quicksilver!, 28 Nov 2009
By 
Henk Beentje "Henk Beentje" (Kew, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
I agree with both reviewers (though any bit of the cycle deserves five stars!) - This is the book of the same title, but consisting of only ONE THIRD PART, of the original Quicsilver. Here are the details

"Quicksilver" is now divided up and published in three: "Quicksilver", "King of the vagabonds", and "Odalisque".
"The Confusion" has been split in two: "Bonanza" and "Juncto"
"The system of the World" into three, "Solomon's Gold" "Currency" and "The System of the World".

So nothing new, sadly. Wish it were. You have been warned!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, youre really lucky - you have a treat ahead of you. Start with Quicksilver, and have yourself a ball!
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Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle)
Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle) by Neal Stephenson (Mass Market Paperback - Feb 2006)
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