November 30th, 2004, 06:32 PM
Seeker of Stuff
December BOTM: Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
Time to discuss this doorstopper of a novel.
I started reading this a little while ago, but had to stop because it was simply too heavy to take with me on my cross-country trip. I am also finding it a bit too large to take to work with me. This is clearly a book that needs to be read sitting down!
I must say that I was enjoying it and I will certainly finish it upon my return.
Anyone manage to finish this book and want to begin the discussion?
November 30th, 2004, 08:30 PM
I'm also not finished. Didn't get to read nearly as much as I expected on holiday, so I'm only 100 pages in. Ho hum. I'll be along in a week or two, I guess.
November 30th, 2004, 09:47 PM
Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it
I hit the half-way mark this morning. Didn't get much of it read last week but I'veb been doing better so far this week. Hopefully I'll be done by the end of next week. Took me about 200 pages to get into it, but I'm enjoying it now.
November 30th, 2004, 10:15 PM
I've been enjoying it a lot right from page one, both in style and setting. Finding it very interesting looking at the science of the day and the rivalry between Newton and Liebnitz.
December 1st, 2004, 06:22 AM
Hey I can edit this!
I'm just over 300 pages in. I found it surprisingly easy to get into but it's starting to drag a little at the moment. I'll post back when I've finished.
Mostly it's made me interested to read more about the history of that era. I can't judge how clever Stephenson's being with his references (or how accurate) but I'm I'm impressed so far with how he's weaving the various strands into a compelling tale.
December 1st, 2004, 11:46 AM
OK, I managed to finish it two days ago, but it took me three weeks (and getting behind on other reading) to do so. However, it certainly wasn't because it wasn't interesting, it was just so darn long! There were only a few bits that dragged for me, mostly towards the end. For the most part it was really engaging and the characters were really interesting.
There were tons of little vignettes in there that did nothing to further the story as a whole (which, BTW, I'm still not sure what the "story as a whole" is...). However, most of those little stories were funny and/or interesting, so I can forgive that. I have to admit, it is so much easier to read pages and pages of stuff about 17th century science and history than it is to read pages and pages of stuff about 20th century cryptology, ala "Cryptonomicon." Probably that's because: I'm lazy, math isn't my specialty, and I was raised with a love of history.
It really is amazing how much of the texture of life back then he manages to bring to life. The fact that much of it was nasty and brutish, but so many huge advances were taking place, both scientifically and economically. I can see why the period fascinated him. I'm looking forward to seeing where else he will take it (I've asked for the other two for Christmas). I have to say that my favorite character was the long-suffering Daniel Waterhouse. Even though he wasn't very proactive, I liked him a lot. He had a lot of sympathy.
One of the weirdest things about the book to my mind, however, was how he'd choose to write different chapters in different styles. Normal narration, letters, even the odd snippet of a play's script. I couldn't quite figure out (especially with the script styled chapters) why he would choose a certain style for a certain instance.
December 1st, 2004, 12:09 PM
I am only 1/6th of the way in so far, but I have noticed that the 1713ish story line is told in present tense and the 1665ish one is told in past, which I found sort of interesting when I noticed it. It makes sense when looking at the 1713 story as a frame for all of the recollections of the past. I sometimes don't really notice things like tense and POV until I think about them a little and sort of had an "ah-ha" moment when I realized that the different sections were in different tenses....(sort of like the "ah-ha" moment I had in The Light Ages about a quarter of the way through when I realized it was in first person. I know it, but I don't register it consciously for some time...must mean good storytelling.)
Originally Posted by Archren
Other than that, so far really loving all of the kooky experiments that the folks are doing and getting the view of the world that these characters had.
So, now the question is: How is this science fiction?
December 1st, 2004, 04:26 PM
Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it
This has always been the arguement with Quicksilver - it's not really Science Fiction - what it is though is fiction about science. It feels like you're reading SF though and Neal Stephenson has a mostly SF following, so does it really matter? Does science fiction have the be set in the future, or on a different planet, or describe technology that is further ahead of when it was written? Or does it just have to relate in some way to the sciences?
December 1st, 2004, 11:30 PM
Just thought I would pop in and read the posts and say hi, and sign up so I could get the rest of them.
Sounds interesting, I like history so who knows by the time you are all done talking I may have to read it.
December 2nd, 2004, 11:42 AM
Emohawk - I was going to give my standard answer that Quicksilver may not be "science fiction" but it is "speculative fiction," with speculation about the science and economics of the times. Then I realized that he isn't even really doing that. I mean, everything is so true to the period that there isn't really anything speculative about it. It's all real. It's much more like a ton of fun adventure stories. I think people who say that Stephenson isn't writing SF anymore have a good argument, but that doesn't keep it from being fun to read.
There are only two counter arguments that I can come up with: 1) the character of Enoch Root. What's up with him? How's he not aging, and how does he seem to know a lot more than those around him? 2) In showing how scientists can and do influence politics behind the scenes (Daniel Waterhouse & the Royal Society during the post-Cromwell era) it is speculative, or at least it is "fiction about science," even if it isn't "science fiction."
December 3rd, 2004, 01:04 AM
Read this a while and will re-read it this month.
IMO, it's not SF. It may be alternative history or speculative fiction. What I do know is that it is the sort of thing SF readers might like; it is about 'science' and it is written by a writer known to write SF. In that sense, it's a bit like WILLIAM GIBSON's PATTERN RECOGNITION.
It's a book in much the same mode as CRYPTONOMICON; if you liked that...
The theme as far as I could tell, was the birth of the 'scientific method'. There is a lot is print devoted to the Royal Society, its beginnings, the key players etc. A large portion of the book describes the transition from 'alchemy' or other hand-wavy magical arts to the birth of rationalism. As one who works in research, I found it fascinating.
NEAL STEPHENSON is keen to share the research he's uncovered, hence the many side-stories, the cutesy bits that don't have any relevance to the main plot (whatever that is). QUICKSILVER is a sprawling monstrosity.
Personally, I really enjoyed it, even and sometimes especially the digressions. This is by no means a perfect book.
Like CRYPTONOMICON, it could have been leaner; a lot of the digressions did not advance the plot and served more as colour or infodumps allowing Stephenson to share interesting bits and pieces with his readers. Having said that, I wonder if Melville's MOBY DICK would have been hailed as a classic if his digressions had been left out? Maybe it's the journey, not the destination.
December 7th, 2004, 04:00 PM
Well, I'm feeling rather bad about this, but I've put QS mostly on hold for the moment. With the gig season being in full swing, I just don't have time to read more than about 10 pages or so a night before I'm passing out, and that's just not getting me through QS at any reasonable speed. I really love the book, but it's just so darned big for a december book. I guess making a living trumps reading a book, though, so I'll get back to it as soon as I have more time again.
December 7th, 2004, 04:31 PM
Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it
It took just over 2 weeks (though the first week was slow going) but I finally finished Quicksilver. As I think I mentioned before it took be able 200 pages or so to get into it - partly I guess because it wasn't until then that I felt I was making any progress through this massive tome. Once I got through that mental barrier though I didn't have much trouble finishing it.
Overall I quite enjoyed it, probably even slightly more than I was expecting, and would have to say that I'll continue with the cycle and pick up the next two volumes when they come out in MMP. That in itself is fairly high praise when you consider the amount time and effort (not to mention money) that Mr Stephenson has gambled on us, the readers, commiting to his significant novel(s).
I won't go into many details, partly because there's just too much to cover and partly because a lot of you are still reading it and I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just give some general impressions I had of it overall. Quicksilver is composed of 3 books, and I found the second to be easily the most entertaining and easy to get through. While the first book is probably the most fascinating, I found it a little difficult to get through at times because it seems to be almost entirely devoid of any sort of plot progression. It just seems to amble from one little historical snapshot to another without really going very far. Having said that, however, most of these "snapshots" are fairly interesting in themselves, it's just as a whole that they don't seem to resolve a whole lot. That may just be my own personal tastes though. Often thoughout the book I was at once awed at Stephenson's research, knowledge and ability and frustrated that he was just using this novel as a way to arbitrarily show this off.
Something that I struggled with throughout the whole novel was his addition of literary tricks such as including discourse through letters and plays and whatnot. While they're all very clever, I didn't find that they really added a whole lot to the novel (the exception being some of the later letters in the third book) and were probably largely unnecessary in any more than a way to flex his skills as a writer. Once again though, that may just be my own personal taste.
It's be repeated many times in reference to Quicksilver that it could probably use some editing, so i won't labour that point other than to say that while this is very true, I'm not sure what parts you'd trim because once you started you'd probably find that a rather significant portion of the novel could be removed without much effect on the story. Having said that it would probably also remove the book's personality, so it's probably the correct decision not to tamper with it too much.
Overall a pretty good (and significant) novel which is worth reading. I'm relieved I've finally finished it though and can read something else.
December 9th, 2004, 01:24 PM
Well, I guess I lied. I still seem to be reading this book. I like it an awful lot. I've finally gotten into the second section, and so far I'm not finding it as compelling as the first, but I'm not so very far into it yet. I really liked Daniel's story for all of the interesting political and philosophical happenings, and was certainly not left with a feeling that there was no plot. I did feel that things were happening, potentially very important things. So amidst all of the craziness of December, I plod along. This may take the prize for the book that takes me the longest chunk of calendar to finish in my life so far. At the rate I'm going, I should have it finished in another four weeks, making it only six weeks to finish....sigh....
As far as the editing goes, I agree, Emo, that the whole point of the book is to have all of this stuff in here. It's more a mood and a setting thing to me than it is a tightly written narrative. And to try and make it into the second would severely damage the first. I haven't felt annoyed at any of the diversions so far, as to me they really don't seem all that diverting. They all show something interesting either about the period or the people who populate it. So far, I don't feel like the book is really about the people, but about that period, with the people being just vehicles to show the happenings of the time.
December 29th, 2004, 11:19 PM
Finished re-reading QUICKSILVER a few days ago. My impressions haven't changed but I did take more note of Archren's comment (thanks) about the different styles; it didn't sink in the first time the varied storytelling styles Stephenson used in the book to good effect. He was playing around with different forms of written/print, perhaps a nod to cryptography and the various modes of information transfer that play an important role within the book.
I still believe that this is an 'important' series. It is as much SF as CRYPTONOMICON was i.e. not very, but still 'of interest to those in the genre'. More and more I find the comparison between QUICKSILVER and MOBY DICK an apt one.
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