3/10/2007

Crappy Book Review: Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson

I could not finish this book. It is hard for me to describe how much I hated it, but for you, I will try.


It is now obvious to me that historical sci-fi is just not my cup of tea, especially not bloated "works" of this magnitude. I did enjoy Snow Crash a fair bit when I read it many years ago and had high expectations for this book, all of which were crushed fairly quickly.If you are interested in exploring Neal Stepheson's work, I recomend reading Snow Crash and skipping this one, unless the words Historical Fiction quicken your pulse.

There was one flash of a ripping good pirate yarn in the early going that kept me reading for the first 2/3 of the book searching vainly for similary compelling prose, but I finally stopped reading as Stephenson digressed in to historical minutia designed to cloak the fact that there was pretty much no plot, or reason to keep subjecting myself to this novel. All I could think of was, where the hell is the editor? I am guessing all three books could have been condensed down to one 900 page novel and moved along quite swimmingly, instead of getting bogged down with Stephenson showing how much irrelevant shit he knows about the late 17th century.

This was the first 900 page volume of three. In additiona to its laughably self important heft, it was furthermore marred by quaint and pointless "historikal" spellings. Anything that ends in "-ical" becomes "-ikal", "fancy" and "fantasy" become "phant'sy", "surgeon" is "chirurgeon", "jargon" becomes "zargon", "phanatique", "coelestial" etc. etc. etc. The rest of the dialogue and text is written in anachronistically modern style.

One gets the feeling that the original manuscript was written entirely in Chaucerian English, but his editor traded further oversight in exchange for a mostly intelligible novel.

There were three or four fictional protagonists in the book, but nearly every other person is the book is an actual historical figure. Often to no end but to add more pages to the swollen narritive. Example:
The book opens with one of the fictional characters seeking another in Boston in the early 1700's. He enlists a small lad on the street to help him. A clever lad. Dangerously clever, no doubt. His name is ben. Why it is a young Ben Franklin. How tewwibly tewwibly clever! Fucking pretentious drek. The whole book is like this. Every little plot twist pivots on an interaction with a real person, even if it is completely irrelevant to the course of the novel.

I am sure some of you reading are excited for this book. I have no desire to read this further or even keep it in my house. I will make a deal with you, fine readers, I will trade this book (paperback, last third unmolested by human eyes) for an interesting coaster brake hub. Failing that, best offer over $4 dollars shipped and the book is yours. Email offers to "tas" at tariksaleh :dot: com. I will decide by wednesday noon and mail the book by friday...

9 comments:

cyclofiend said...

Quicksilver's a toughie... definitely a bit further off the path. You might like Crytonomicon, which has a pretty good tale in among the history (set partly during WW2). It deals with (among other things) codes and cryptography, the creation of actual working computers and there's even a treasure hunt... ;^)

cyclofiend said...

NICE TYPING, four-thumbs!

Um, that'd be "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson...

(that's what I get for staying up so late...)

-- J

WMdeRosset said...

Tarik,

The Baroque saga was a bit of a tough sled unless you read very quickly, and are motivated to finish. The books do pick up a bit in the second volume, but the middle third of the first volume was deadly. Yep, I finished them all.

Stephenson seems to have lost his profound knack for a cracking good yarn. In exchange, we get Ideas. Big Ones. Explicated. And the plot, characters, and so forth are paralyzed appendages. Alas.

That said, I can highly recommend his earlier (pre-Diamond Age).

Jim G said...

Probably criminal, but I always get W. Gibson and N. Stephenson mixed up I've loved everything I've read from Gibson, but I find Stephenson seriously hit-or-miss. Diamond Age was pretty painful.

Jon Livengood said...

Wait, this wasn't a book about a stock broker turned bike messenger?

Tarik Saleh said...

William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Kevin Bacon, all the same to me!

I guess I may try the cryptonomicon next, but I will probably give it a while for the memory of this pile of crap to fade.

David said...

I recommend "The Bid U," his first book, which is back in print after years out. It was kind of a cult classic before he hit the bigtop.

It's like "1984" set in the American Megaversity, literally.

David said...

Sorry, that's "The Big U."

flahute said...

Just to prove that not all historical fiction is complete shite, I heartily recommend David Liss's novels "A Conspiracy of Paper", "The Coffee Trader", and "A Spectacle of Corruption" ...