- Save 10% on selected children’s books, compliments of Amazon Family Promotion exclusive for Prime members .
Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle (Baroque Cycle 1) Paperback – 7 Oct 2004
|New from||Used from|
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Special offers and product promotions
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
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.
"[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)
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
Despite the setting, the language and dialogue are in modern English, with the odd stylistic reversion to baroque forms. Sometimes Stephenson appears to slip up and uses an American term such as "gotten", but this may be deliberate. His knowledge and research in areas such as geography, codes, architecture, history and early science is astonishing. It becomes diificult to detect where facts about the lives of Newton, Wren, Leibniz, James II etc. drift from historical fact into fiction. The major fictional characters have depth and develop during the cycle in a satisfying way.
The cycle is not high fiction, but it's also not a simple narrative. Stephenson uses more than one literary method to cary the plot, including sections written as for a play. There are some excellent and imaginitive action sequences which move along at a great pace. However, there is no escaping from the fact that these are big books and they take a certain level of commitment to complete. Perseverence is justified for the satisfaction gained.
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.