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on 6 March 2018
I originally tried to read this book when it was first published, and failed. I recently purchased it on Kindle and have just completed all 3 volumes of the Baroque Cycle ... and loved it. An astounding story with a scope stretching around the world and covering more than half a century during a time of huge change - economically, scientifically and politically. You probably already know of many of the characters, but NS weaves them in a fantastic story told in many different styles. In part, it reminds me of Life and TImes of Tristram Shandy, while other parts are picaresque and some sections are epistolaric, and may others in between. There are parts which remind me of the epic novels of John Barth, particularly where one of the main characters, Jack Shaftoe, features in stories being related with in the main narrative. The Baroque Cylce is a huge achievement, particularly since it is a fantastic and fun read.
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on 17 February 2016
I loved Anathema and was delighted to see there was a sizeable series to get my teeth into. I was disappointed. I couldn't see what the connection between some of the aspects was meant to be, and the lengthy establishment of the character Enoch at the beginning came to nothing. The story picked up pace a bit when Eliza appeared, but again it seem disconnected to the whole. I didn't spot the promised comedic moments. I was left with the impression that I'd read a lot of writing, some of which was very good, but not a book.
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on 13 August 2014
This is a review of the whole Baroque Cycle. Majestic seems a good word to describe the cycle. The story circumnavigates the world, starting in post revolution Britain and returning in time for the first Georgians. Along the way we meet many kings and queens - more majesty.

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.
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on 5 March 2016
I am struggling to write this review as I do not whether to recommend reading the book or not. It was a very clever book but I found it almost too clever and often had to revisit pages to try and understand the relevance of the text. It concerned lots of different characters and flicked backwards and forwards in time and had lots of different story lines all going on at the same time.The historical aspects is what drew me to the book in the first pace and I think that is what kept me reading to the end. I did not dislike it nor particularly like it and felt a sense of achievement and relief at reaching the end. I may allow a suitable gap before starting Book 2.
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on 18 December 2007
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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on 16 December 2014
I knew a fair bit about the period, so I spotted early in the first section that this wasn't really a historical novel - Stephenson's CABAL is quite different from Charles II's. There were some interesting historical characters that I had never even heard of: Liselotte, Rossignol and Fatio particularly come to mind. And I hadn't realised that D'Artagnan actually existed. As some other reviewers have pointed out, the adventures of the main fictional figures are significantly less interesting than their observations, but you can't have everything - I'm certainly looking forward to the later volumes.
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on 7 May 2011
I can do no better than to encourage you to read this 1 star review...and assume the complete opposite. The reviewer obviously had no patience for the creation of a masterpiece.

17 of 45 people found the following review helpful:
1.0 out of 5 stars Pynchon gone bad, 4 Oct 2003
By "jdkuchen3" - See all my reviews
This review is from: Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle 1) (Hardcover)
This book has be announced as a "publishing event." And that is exactly what it is: an event. It's neither a good novel nor an interesting one. 900 pages sounds like a lot and it even sounds like a lot more when reading "Quicksilver." There is nothing to keep you going, no storyline that is even just a little engaging, no character you care for. It reads like "Ulysses" or "Gravity's Rainbow" without their respective revolutionary narrative innovations. It drags on and on and on. I would compare it to bad Pynchon: encyclopedic, monumental, and booooring. "Quicksilver" is a postmodern deconstruction of narration gone bad: it offers no plot, flat characters and is more concerned with language than with content. Yet the novel is not some artistic trick to emphasize the artificiality of texts, or some post-structural narrative experiment, but a complete failure on part of the author. I would be surprised if only one third of the readers were actually willing to pick up the upcoming installments. Why should you, if you could stop anywhere in this text without actually missing anything...
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on 20 August 2009
Having recently become interested in the Baroque period in general, I found this a fascinating book. Stephenson fleshes out the many genuine historical characters in such a way that you do learn a bit of history, and I feel that when I read another factual book about this period I will be able to put faces to the names. He doesn't half rabbit on though. It's printed in an eye-strainingly small font and is still the size of a brick. The good news is there are regular gripping bits which you can't put down, but when you feel the pace is slackening, its safe to go into skim-reading mode. There's a huge chunk in drama-script format which I skipped altogether. There are some irritating stylistic features - particularly the speech anachronisms which you're never quite sure are intentional - but the tone is quite light. I liked this book enough to really miss it when I finished and have ordered the second volume.

By the way, Stephenson may be known as a Science Fiction writer, but there's absolutely nothing of that in this novel.
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on 26 December 2016
This is one of the best novels I have ever read, if not the best. After a slow start of 70 or so pages (of necessary character and place-setting development) it takes off into the sky for a cerebral journey through 18th Century Europe which manages to be perceptive, enlightening and furiously-paced. I cannot recommend Half Cocked Jack highly enough as just one of the beautifully-drawn characters through whose eyes you'll discover Neal Stephenson's world
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on 29 December 2012
The erudition, writing and just the sheer pleasure and joy from these books needs to be savoured with time and definitely not hurried. Stephenson is head and shoulders above most contemporary authors in the fiction category. I often think his books are lost on the fantasy fiction shelves and he deserves a far wide readership. Like all things good the reader needs to invest time and a little effort but it's sure worth it.
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