on 14 December 2012
"For me, the main man is Waterhouse, who is not much present in the second book, though he remains near the centre of things. I see from visiting Stephenson's website that The System of the World seems to involve Waterhouse more closely, so I'm looking forward to it." And I was in no way disappointed -- Dr Waterhouse is active throughout, along with his old mate Mad Isaac.
on 8 February 2010
This is the third book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle - well, the last three books, since Stephenson actually wrote eight books that made up the cycle which were then published to form a trilogy. Here the majority of the action takes place in London, where virtually all of the protagonists we have been following end up bringing the story to a mighty conclusion.
The basic plot is that of a murder mystery, but comprises many other components. Daniel Waterhouse has completed his epic trip back across the Atlantic at the urging of Princess Caroline. She wished him to bring about the reconciliation of those two mighty Philosophers Leibniz and Newton. In the process of which he ends up stumbling across Jack's scheme to debase English currency (which he is being blackmailed into by the King of France and the dastardly Edouard de Gex). Trying to summarise the plot - the many strands and the different events - is difficult without having to repeat what happened in earlier books or flick through many pages trying to remind myself of exactly who Saturn was and why the Tsar of Russia made an appearance.
The cast of characters is enormous and it can be difficult to keep them separate at times, although our main characters have become extremely three dimensional. Daniel, Eliza (although she makes a small appearance in this volume), Jack, Isaac Newton, Dappa, Bob Shaftoe, Ravenscar, Princess Caroline, Leibniz - all these characters become beloved and it is of interest to see what happens to all of them.
The three volumes as a whole - the Baroque Cycle - are a truly amazing achievement. It is nigh on 3000 pages dense with facts, with ideas, with characters, with exciting escapes and political machinations. We are shown the beginnings of the world system that we know today - with law enforcement, political parties (Whigs and Tories), real estate and, of course, currency. Either this was written as a fact or Stephenson came up with an extremely clever idea in that currency is called such because of the current of money flowing into London, in this case. There are many such moments during all three books, where you marvel at the level of research and detail that has gone into every element of the story.
It is interesting that these books are almost always shelved in the fantasy/sci fi section but, barring the presence of Enoch Root and his little procedure (I shall not say more, for fear of spoiling certain things!) they are more historical in nature.
One of my disappointments in this and the previous books is the pacing - we can go from thrilling page-turning events into a deep philosophical discourse and this can make the reader grind to a halt. Despite the exciting nature of the plot in general, there were times when I felt as though it was a struggle to read any further, and this is a sad fact when considering that this should be a series read by everyone. It is a classic in the making - or would be, barring the slow and turgid prose at times. Having said that, it didn't do Tolkien any harm and some people may, in fact, find this one of the charming aspects of Stephenson's writing.
I am extremely glad that I read this series, but I shall not be embarking on a re-read for many, many years - if at all. However, I do have the notion that the characters and events will niggle and stay with me - the mark of a book that has had a big effect on me. This should have been a five star experience, but I keep it to four stars purely because of the difficulty of the reading. Recommended (with reservations!)
on 24 March 2009
They're absolutely amazing...
Of the three of the Cycle (discounting Cryptonomicon) Quicksilver is possibly the hardest to get in to and subsequently can put you off reading the rest, but trust me endure and it gets easier and suddenly you're reading at three in the morning thinking ' I really need to stop reading I've got work tomorrow...'.
As you move through Quicksilver in to Confusion (which I must confess I read in a week, it's a swashbuckling pirate story!) things start to solidify a bit more about what's going on and by the time you reach the end of System of the World it almost feels like an elightenment.
Historical novels can often be so painstakingly researched they're almost un-readable but Neal Stephenson is the exception. Everything is so vivid and tangible it's an exciting series to read and re-read and if you've ever wondered where money came from, where science came from, and more importantly what it's like to be a pirate sailing the high seas then this is it...
on 24 October 2011
I have finally finished re-reading this book, and I am happy to say that I will never attempt to do so again. The third volume of this trilogy is again divided into three books, and I don't think I'm being unreasonable by saying that absolutely nothing happens in the first one. Daniel Waterhouse basically sits in a carriage or walks around London and "notices" every small detail about the geography of the city (and anywhere else he goes), which only shows that the author did a lot of research, but which does nothing for the story, if this can even be called a story. The uppermost thought in my mind as I was reading this was that Neal Stephenson has to be one of the most eloquent nerds on the planet. Or maybe I should use verbose instead of eloquent, because he just goes on and on about nothing, and half of the words he uses need to be looked up (I didn't look them up because I don't care what they mean). He uses "too" several times again in an inappropriate manner, but the worst one in this book is "wee". There is nothing small or little here, only "wee". Personally, I think anyone who isn't Scottish sounds stupid if they use it, but this was just ridiculous. He must have used it fifty times in as many pages. He uses all kinds of alternate spellings with words, like "musick", "smoak", or "a-maze", which I suppose is supposed to give it a more archaic feel, but it didn't do anything for me - nor did the use of "stone's throw", "bow shot", musket shot", "hand's breadth", etc. for measuring distances. There were almost too many things to mention about the writing that annoyed me, so I won't say anything more about it, apart from the dialogue and "action" scenes, the latter of which were not much better than a Robert Ludlum novel. One example of dialogue I can give is when Leibniz, a well-respected philosopher (among other things), hears something he can't believe, and says, "Say what!?" I may be wrong that this is a modern American colloquialism, but it still sounded absurd. It seemed that the reader was always supposed to stand in awe of certain people, like royalty, or Isaac Newton (who appears as Saruman in this series), but none of them ever say anything to deserve such awe (for the obvious reason that the author was incapable of portraying such persons). The plot was too loose (partly because of interceding, endless description), and the ending was just as boring as the rest. I don't remember disliking anything that this author wrote before I re-read this series, but now I am afraid to re-read anything else by him. One reason I think this didn't work for me could be that this is based on real life, and this is more of a colourful text book than a novel. The detail in his science fiction books is interesting because he is making it up - creating a fantasy world, whereas here he is merely reproducing what he found fascinating. He should have left this as one book instead of a trilogy.
on 26 March 2009
I approached this book with some trepidation. Having struggled to make my way through the turgid, prose heavy text of Quicksilver and flown through the exciting, action packed Confusion, i feared that the return of Daniel Waterhouse (main protagonist of book 1) that the style would also revert to type.
I needn't have worried, Stephenson maintained the action allowing this book to tick over and introduced a broad cast of engaging characters without sacrificing his trade mark detail.
Totally recommended for lovers of history, detailed writing and factoids, this is a good book - my only slight complaint is that the central story is unclear, it would be very easy to view this book as simply a series of events, however, despite this slight criticism i would recommend this book, so long as you have staying power.
on 26 March 2009
The Baroque trilogy.
I wish I could have written even just one of these books but I'm glad I didn't because I wouldn't have enjoyed reading them as much as I did, if I had. But if only I could have.
This book was such an unexpected joy. I swore never to read trilogies again. Twenty years later I'm glad I'm weak willed. This is the third book in the Baroque cycle and the review I write is for the trilogy, don't deprive yourself by only reading one book.
It made me feel good, the hunger for the next page, the wordplay, the entertainment, the knowledge, the enlightenment. The man's a genius. If you like history, if you like etymology, if you enjoy a fantastic story within a story within.... just buy it, absorb it, you won't regret it.
on 27 October 2011
Well, I have lived in Neal Stephenson's Baroque world now for about three months, breathtaking books, totally engaging on so many levels. There is a wealth of historical information, plus a stonking good yarn. I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone.
on 23 March 2009
'Genius' and 'Mansterpiece' are overused words in book reviews, but both apply to the Baroque Cycle. The only reason you will want to put these books down is to rest your arms. You certainly could read TSOTW without reading Quicksilver or the Confusion, but I wouldn't recommend it - can you imagine how much character development you would miss from the first 2,000 pages!?
Make time for these books - push through the 20 pages here or there that don't entirely grab you and keep going - you will be very well rewarded for your efforts!
on 7 February 2010
Neal Stephenson writes a far ranging story of 17th and 18th century science, finance and politics, with rip roaring, bodice tearing, swashbuckling action to relax the mind between complex forays into philosophy and history lessons on the beginnings of natural science, banking systems, insurance and trade theory. This type of historical fiction is much more fun than pure fiction, or pure history. Give it a try and be prepared for an old world that seems new.
on 8 April 2005
.... pretty much whatever I say. Don't worry though, you wont be dissapointed!
If you haven't read Quicksilver, go and get it!