A painting of me

The Baroque Cycle

   5 April 2005, mid-afternoon

It’s a strange feeling not coming to work with one of Neal Stephenson’s books in my bag. I’ve been reading the books from The Baroque Cycle for the past few months now, a little bit each day on my ride to and from work. I had a very low opinion of the series after starting on Quicksilver. After reading The Confusion and System of the World, my opinion of the series as a whole has basically reversed. The series is really good. It’s very hard to get in to, but by the time you finish System of the World I think you’ll find yourself attached to the characters and the story.

The series is not without its faults. I’ve already expressed my annoyance at the language. Another complaint I have is the way characters appear and disappear from the story. Eliza all but disappears from the story by the time we get to System of the World, even though she is a central character in the first two books. Hooke, another important character in the book, isn’t mentioned at all during The Confusion and then by the time we get to System of the World we are informed he is dead. This happens a lot. Characters who are seemingly important sort of fade in to the background, their exit almost unnoticed till their name pops into the story once more.

The Confusion and System of the World both have an entertaining plot. The Confusion jumps back and forth between the adventures of Jack Shaftoe, and the adventures of Eliza. Eliza’s story is definitely the weaker of the two, but is not without its intrigue. The Confusion is interesting because the story takes place over so many years. The time that passes in-between chapters is usually months or years. It’s strange to read. System of the World on the other hand moves at a totally different pace. Between two chapters we may find that 10 minutes have passed, or a couple days. Because of this, the story seems a lot more frantic, and fast paced.

Stephenson is known for his lame job at endings, but in the The Baroque Cycle he has done an admirable job at concluding the books properly. Quicksilver has a strange ending, and almost no story, but in some ways it can be seen as a prologue for the other two books. The Confusion and System of the World both have plots that reach their natural conclusion. You aren’t left unsatisfied by the ending of either book.

So it was good in the end. I’m surprised—pleasantly surprised.



  1. I mentioned last time you brought up Stephenson that I had picked up Quicksilver in England and wanted to keep reading it but couldn’t (my dad’s). I stole his Cryptonomicon though and started it last week. I am about 300 pages in and I love it. I did not realize that he maintains lineages in other stories (Crypto has Shaftoes in it) so that’s nice, I like spending a lot of time with a character, though I think sometimes it makes an author lazy. I am looking forward to reading other of his novels after this one, but I’ll read something else in between. Don’t want it to be like when I read Atlas Shrugged and then The Fountainhead back to back. Spending three or four solid months with one author can be too much.

  2. I think The Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon are the only two books that feature the Waterhouses and the Shatoes. His older books do not. I liked Cryptonomicon a lot. It’s excellent; I always recomend it to my friensd. My friend Mezan was trying to get us all to read it for ages.

  3. I like that I’m finally getting some recognition for my cultural evangelism after all these years.

  4. I have to say that “System Of the World” was a bit of downer compared to “Confusion”. But atleast it was all neatly tied in, no loose ends.

    I am reading “Cryptonomicon” again. Its amazing how much you discover on a second read.

  5. I’ve read his two cyberpunk novels (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age) and The Big U (role playing, hacking and mutant rats under a university). They’re good, but like most earlier works they’re not as polished. He’s also written Zodiak, Interface (written as Stephen Bury), and In The Beginning Was The Command Line. None of them have the Shaftoes/Waterhouses/Enoch Roots.

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