Where to start with Neal Stephenson?

Discussion in 'Neal Stephenson' started by Diziet Sma, Apr 4, 2017.

  1. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    Message received loud and clear: where should I begin? I checked out Seveneves and somehow the blurb rang a bell with Bear’s The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars. Is there really any resemblance between the two? Because if so, I could definitely plunge myself into Stephenson's books.

    After reading Up the Walls of the World by J J Tiptree, I remember @Boreas recommending me Stephenson’s Snowcrash as SF that looks at language. How are Stephenson's narrative and characterisation? It has been shelved as Cyberpunk. Not sure whether this will be my thing…
     
  2. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Honestly, @Elvira, you can start with any of his books that catch your interest. But they all have varying degrees of didactic writing with Seveneves, his latest, probably having some of the most extreme and long digressions (but still great fun, and with a strong emotional resonance). Reading those digressions is half the fun in reading Stephenson.

    Maybe the best place to start with Stephenson are the novels Snowcrash (1992) and The Diamond Age (1995), both of which act as companions to each other. The first one posits an outrageously skewed scenario with tongue firmly placed in cheek and the chaos that results, and the other examines the same themes by positing a potential societal solution. Snowcrash is a game changer in SF. It basically bookmarked the end of the cyberpunk era by lovingly parodying the genre. The Diamond Age is not as tongue-in-cheek, but still infused with a lot of humour like all his works. I love Snowcrash, but The Diamond Age is one of my favourite SF novels, definitely one of the best political SF novels together with Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Both are fast reads, and Snowcrash's opening scene is positively pyrotechnic.
     
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  3. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Elvira, since you're in the sci-fi zone from Bear's books now, Seveneves is where you should start. Not only will you like it but you might find like I did that having it as an intro to Stephenson will make you want to read his others.
     
  4. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    Thank you, Ken! Already bought it. You are, after all, our chief orbital mechanic.
     
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    All right, then! This'll be your coming of age hardcore SF experience! I really hope you enjoy it and will be looking forward to your opinion on the Seveneves thread!
     
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  6. Christophe

    Christophe Full Member

    Has anyone read Cryptonomicon? I very much enjoyed Snowcrash and The Diamond Age, but Cryptonomicon has been laying here unread on my bookshelves for the longest time. Next to Seveneves :).
     
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Great book! But for me, a disorienting ending. It has one of the most memorable Stephenson sequences with Captain Crunch. Very funny, lots of cryptology, and I like how he tied the historical narrative with the modern one. Alan Turing's character was so well done, and Stephenson was so elegant and subtle and even sensitive with regards to aspects of his personal life, and on top of it all, warmly humorous. After I finished, I thought there was going to be a sequel. I'd even heard rumours (pre-mass internet days) that he was writing a sequel, which I was waiting for. I kept waiting....and then I find out he goes back 300 hundred years in time and starts writing about Newton and other figures of the Enlightenment era. Go figure...
     
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  8. Christophe

    Christophe Full Member

    Thanks for your reply Boreas! Guess I will have to put Cryptonomicon on top of the TBR pile. And I still have to read The Baroque Cycle as well.
    So many books, so little time, sigh.
    Stephenson is such an amazing and diverse writer.
    After I read Snowcrash it was kinda difficult to enjoy Gibson's Virtual Light. As you wrote: Snowcrash was like the symbolic end to Cyberpunk, written in a very tongue in cheek style, and yet very eloquent and intelligent (the origin of language, Sumerian mythology, ...).
     
  9. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    You know, I've read no Gibson! I've been debating whether I should start with his short story collection or just jump into Neuromancer.

    And also has one hell of a great female character! YT has always been a favourite. Yes, the language and Sumerian sections were fantastic! I think this is what I mentioned to Elvira about the book.
     
  10. Christophe

    Christophe Full Member

    Well it depends :)
    I'd say his short story collection Burning Chrome is a good way to start.
    As for Neuromancer: I read it way back in the late Eighties and was blown away by it.
    I also liked the follow up books in the Sprawl trilogy: Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.
    Didn't care much for The Bridge trilogy. Virtual Light was a letdown after reading Snowcrash and Idoru was just ridiculous, in my opinion.
    Do or did you like cyberpunk?
    Have you read Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan or Michael Swanwick?

    Snowcrash was full of memorable characters:
    Raven (mean badass), Juanita, Da5id, ... and of course Hiro, greatest sword fighter in the world.

    Do you like Underworld? Apparently some of their songs were influenced by Snowcrash. One song is titled Juanita and they also have a song called Rez.
     
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Only Sterling's Schismatrix and related Shaper-Mechanist stories. I'm more familiar with cyberpunk through comics and films instead of novels.
    For my 18-year old self, that was one of the most amusing, tongue-in-cheek jokes of them all. Sort of like The Culture, although it took me longer to really appreciate the full measure of audacity that designation implied.
    No, I thought it was just silly. Saw the first one long ago, barely remember anything except for that tightly leather-fitted tush, which is probably the best thing to remember about it.
     
  12. Christophe

    Christophe Full Member

    I meant the music project not the movies :).
     
  13. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    Sumerian sections? Origin of language?? I thought Snowcrash dealt superficially with language. Time to reconsider...
     
  14. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Here's the post where I previously mentioned language in Snowcarash to you. Stephenson never focuses on just one topic...he throws out ideas like he's got a never ending pot of concepts he wants to discuss, and language is one them. It's also a theme in The Diamond Age, if I remember correctly, but maybe to a lesser degree.
    Whoops, yeah I don't really know their music.
     
  15. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Well-Known Member

    Oops! Completely forgot about this comment! Thanks.
     

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