Anathem/Cryptonomicron/Snow Crash

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Keyoke, Sep 5, 2009.

  1. Keyoke

    Keyoke King of the Lurkers.

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    Hello,

    Well, I've been looking at the above three books by Stephenson, and I've always been very hestitant on reading his stuff. Not sure why, but, every time I look into these books, they seems to focus on the sciences. Crytopgraphy, math, etc.

    I want to read them, but, I am wondering if their are giant explanations of math, sciences, etc, that will bog me down, or just confuse me..

    Any thoughts? I do enjoy scifi, Hyperion is one of my favorites..

    Keyoke..
     
  2. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    I'm trying very hard not to laugh, here, at the idea of Stephenson's work being like Gregory Benford's. If you liked Hyperion, you'll have no problem with Stephenson's work. Start with Snow Crash, which is a beautiful cyberpunk novel and the shortest. Then try Cryptonomicron, which is large dual timeline story set in World War II and the near future. It's mostly war and personal stuff. There are action sequences. There is some material about codes and encryptions, but you'll be able to follow it fine. It's a novel to be taken in chunks though.

    I have not yet read Anathem and my understanding is that Anathem is more trippy and philosophical. I don't know if it has anything technically difficult or not in it; my suspicion would be not, but those who read it can tell you more. But definitely give the other two a try.
     
  3. nquixote

    nquixote trolling > dissertation

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    I loved Anathem. I thought it was one of the best sci-fi books I've read. It is very nerdy (which I love).

    To be honest, I thought Snow Crash was kind of corny. It wasn't bad, but it seemed that Stephenson was being very tongue-in-cheek when he wrote it.

    I haven't read Cryptonomicon. The Diamond Age is very good.
     
  4. FitzChivalry

    FitzChivalry A servant of Lord Arioch

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    Snow Crash is the best cyberpunk i ever read, still. Nothing too technical about it, it's a great starting point for Stephenson, start there.
     
  5. metalprof

    metalprof I should be working

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    I think you can take either Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon first. I read Cryptonomicon first, but that wasn't a strategy, it's just the way it happened. They are completely different reading experiences. Snow Crash is quick and sharp, and would be easy to get through quickly. Cryptonomicon is long and a slower read; you have to be more on your toes over the long haul to keep track of how the different timelines may or may no inter-relate.

    I think either or both should be prerequisites for Anathem, simply because Anathem is more ethereal and slow at times, and you need to have developed some faith in advance that yes, Stephenson is very likely to eventually take you some place interesting in the book even though it may be slow going at times.

    Of course, you can do what I did and read the Baroque Cycle before Anathem, in which case reading Anathem is like reading a postcard :)

    Ken
     
  6. Jennifer P

    Jennifer P Registered User

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    The Baroque Cycle is only really kindasorta sci fi, though. I dunno. What the heck would you call that thing?

    (I would definitely not read Anathem first. It's NOT an easy book).
     
  7. Soon Lee

    Soon Lee Registered User

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    The Baroque Cycle is SF in the came way "Cryptonomicon" was.

    Agree with the people who recommend reading "Snow Crash" first. "Anathem" is his most difficult work to date (though the Baroque Cycle is longer) and has massive chunks of talking heads discussions of different schools of philosophy & also shows the process of using "the scientific method". It's uber-geeky & I felt that it got bogged down.

    But it also has one of the best lines I've read in a SF book in ages (spoiler protected):
    "Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said. "We have a protractor."
     
  8. nquixote

    nquixote trolling > dissertation

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    Damn, I had forgotten that awesome line. Thank you. :D
     
  9. metalprof

    metalprof I should be working

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    Yes!

    My favorite line as well :)

    Ken
     
  10. FitzChivalry

    FitzChivalry A servant of Lord Arioch

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    I avoided both because i never found any SF elements in the reviews or the descriptions of the books, what are the SF elements?
     
  11. Soon Lee

    Soon Lee Registered User

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    The SFnal elements, I'm not sure there are any. There is a character who appears in both "Cryptonomicon" and The Baroque Cycle, implying access to some sort of Elixir of Youth (which could be taken as Fantasy OR SF).

    Rather than being overtly SF, they both are written with SF sensibilities, e.g. The Baroque Cycle has the feel of historical fiction written by a SF writer. And "Cryptonomicon" feels like WW2 fiction and a contemporary tech-thriller from the PoV of a SF writer.

    I've read and greatly enjoyed both. Both have aspects of 'truth is stranger than fiction' and both contain much that seem implausible, until you realise that some of the weirder portrayals are actually historically factual. Also, with the first volume of the Baroque Cycle, "Quicksilver", Stephenson attempts to tell the story of the foundation of modern civilisation, in terms of the development of the scientific method, and economic systems that are the basis of the world as we know it.

    It might sound a bit dry, but Stephenson is an entertaining writer who manages to weave fact with fiction and makes it a fascinating read.
     
  12. FitzChivalry

    FitzChivalry A servant of Lord Arioch

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    Yeah ,that's what i figured, good and interesting authors can be found in any genre, but i found that i'm really not interested in fiction that isn't SF or Fantasy. I have the same problem with Shadow of The Wind, i can't bring myself to read it because it's not really fantasy.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2009
  13. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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  14. phil_geo

    phil_geo Rat Thing

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    I remember some classic Stephenson force-feeding of facts in Snow Crash, but it is much less than other novels. I recall it fell into two categories - (1) online gaming, where his predictions are absolutely prophetic and show a deep understaning of computer game technical hurdles and computer graphics, and (2) linguistics and cognitive science.

    One thing Stephenson is guilty of in every book is having a character give a two page monologue on some technical topic to educate the reader on the subject. Its very interesting if you are intested in the topic, and if you aren't, you can skip over it (like I did for some of the longer passages on linguistics in Snow Crash).

    That said, Snow Crash is one of my favorite novels and I highly recommend Cryptonomion (I haven't read Anathem), but you will be skipping a lot of passages if you aren't interested in any of the scientific topics.
     
  15. Michigan

    Michigan Registered User

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    They aren't really SF(Cryptonomicon at least), at least as most people would define it. Stephenson just got labeled a SF writer because of Snow Crash.
     
  16. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Cryptonomicon has SF elements because half the story takes place in the near future when certain things are somewhat different, more developed than now, mostly in terms of computer stuff. There are also indications of time distortions, stuff like that. It's not very heavy, but it's definitely there and the novel fits within the field.

    The Baroque Cycle is sort of steampunk as I understand it, but really did sort of abandon much of a SF framework. My problem with it is that Stephenson was playing around with style and while the baroque experimentation was interesting, it was so heavy I really didn't want to deal with it, though I may change my mind one day.

    So what you have is an author who writes very different types of books each time, though with a heavy interest in history. Snow Crash and The Diamond Age are the closest to each other, but even they are quite different from each other. Snow Crash makes an excellent introduction to Stephenson and Cryptonomicon sucks you in. Then you can decide if you're up for Anathem -- which is also different from the rest -- or not.
     
  17. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    I kind of have a slightly different Stephenson perspective insofar I loved the Baroque Trilogy, really, really loved Anathem which I read several times so far, I was so-so on Cryptonomicon which I finally read after 5 or 6 tries and I am quite uninterested in the rest - gave Snow Crash and Diamond Age a try but they are far from my interests

    But I love historical epics and the mixture of intrigue, politics, high finance and picaresque adventure in the Baroque with its superb characters made it worth the time, while Anathem could be described as JK Rowling meets Plato and Penrose - it even has magicians of a sf sort true, but magicians nonetheless

    Cryptonomicon had a part - the WW2 adventure stuff - that I liked, but the cryptography overall left me cold - kind of like plumbing or agriculture, cryptography may be important but bores me to tears, give me the Multiverse and Platonic philosophy any day, and same with the supercomputer stuff, something else that gets marked as plumbing in my book...

    So I think that it depends a lot on what you like and Anathem is the only core sf that Neal Stephenson has written - ie dealing with the mysteries of the universe rather than with plumbing - while the Baroque is historical fantasy of the highest class with a little bit of the fantastic to boot
     
  18. nquixote

    nquixote trolling > dissertation

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    The Diamond Age is excellent sci-fi...it's the neatest portrayal of nanotech I've ever read. It does, however, have the characteristic "WTF Neal Stephenson ending", which people have teased him about many times over the years...
     
  19. phil_geo

    phil_geo Rat Thing

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    I am not aware of any computer or technical things that are from the near future in Cryptonomincon. I think they were all existing technologies when Stephenson wrote the book - Finux (Linux), the Pontifex cipher (Solitare cipher), and Van Eck phreaking are all real. Van Eck phreaking is actually obsolete now with flatscreen monitors.

    You could argue the current economic state of Manila was not the present day state and that the charater Root is the same one from the 1700s in other Stephenson books, but I think the technical details were all present-day.
     
  20. Hookey

    Hookey New Member

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    Hi, noob here. I'd actually recommend pretty much everything Neal Stephenson has written, and for lots of different reasons, including his early stuff like Zodiac and Interface. Snowcrash is still the best Cyberpunk novel I've read (so much that I was "Hiro Protagonist" in online games for years :)).

    Of his later (massive) stuff, Cryptonomicon is still the one I go back to and re-read now and then. As for whether The System of The World is SF, well, in the strictest sense of the word yes, its fiction about science. In fact its about the very building blocks of the scientific method (and an awful lot more like the modern monetary system, religion and the birth of the modern nation state and the proto-industrial revolution), which makes it sound rather dry, but its got pirates in it, so that's alright. It certainly made me go off and read a lot more about the enlightenment and that whole period that started the "modern" era. Its also hard work at first because its starts slowly and you don't really understand what's going on, but definitely worth sticking with.