Saturday, April 14, 2012


By Neal Stephenson

Any one who has read anything by Stephenson will be aware of his ability to weave vast amounts of complex details into a story and may well approach this novel with some trepidation, but fear not. Not only are the complex details in this book presented in a readable and enjoyable fashion, but for once Stephenson's characters are drawn in a way that makes them both understandable and likable. I will go as far as to say that this was easily my favourite Stephenson novel to date and its a great shame that my old debating friend Wertz, who was a big Stephenson fan, will never have the pleasure of reading it for he died a few years ago.

The novel begins in what I originally took to be a sort of monastery devoted to the study of mathematics ("Oh great" I thought, "just what I need, a novel about religious math!") but which I soon realised was something else entirely different. The protagonist, named Erasmas lives in a monastic community, called a Concent where he studies the intellectual and philosophical history of his world (named Arbre). He has a number of good friends and together with them, he is drawn into an adventure of epic, yet entirely believable proportions. Erasmas himself tells the story in retrospect, and Stephenson has managed to make the character work well, both in his descriptiosn of self and how he regards his friends.

Oleg is reading the book at the moment so I'll be interested to hear his take on it, but for me, what really made the story work was the interaction between the protagonist and his friends. I enjoyed the book immensely and was sad when it ended. This was by far the best book of 2012 so far.


Oleg said...

I also rate it 5 (or as close to 5 as makes no difference) stars.

I like a lot about this book:

The language.
The characters.
The different of society, which is reflected in the different types of character.
The story.
Even the philosophy, which is interesting enough, though not hugely deep (well, it is for an sf (-ish) novel).
Even, tiny little details like the spacesuit designs are well researched.

Actually, there are a lot of little tiny details, that I can't fault, and no doubt I've missed most of them.

It is also the most readable of Stephenson's books so far.
It is slower going in the first half, and almost frenetic in second half.

And just as the icing on the cake, he incorporated a couple of ideas that I (and many others, but I can't talk for them) had come up with independently (and nudged into the quiet corners of roleplaying games):
Written language degenerating into signs for 'warning', 'on/off', etc. in common usage (at least for most people), with extended versions / alternatives for historians, logicians, and other specialists.
Mining ruins for 'raw' materials.
I probably shouldn't ramble on about 'Faerie'.

Captchas are getting to be a pain.

moif said...

e-mail is up and runnig again now.

I guessed you like it. Its right in your sphere of interest.