“System of the World” by Neal Stephenson

New gap on TBR (To Be Read) shelf:

TBR shelf, sans Baroque Cycle

New residents of AR/IDCTR (Already Read/I Don’t Care To Read) shelf:

Baroque Trilogy on the ABR (already been read) shelf

We did it! My husband and I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s System of the World well before the end of August for my self-assigned Baroque Summer reading project. We read Quicksilver in June, The Confusion in July, and the third volume in Stephenson’s sprawling, insane, erudite and entertaining Baroque Cycle trilogy this month.

SotW continues with main characters Jack Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse, and Eliza, duchess of Qwglhm (which Stephenson says is a joke and not meant to be pronounced, but I hear in my head as the Simpson’s Chief Wiggum saying his name, but with a K sound in front of it ending with a mushy r: Kwiggulm”). And there are a host of other characters (Isaac Newton, Princess Caroline, Louis the Sun King) who are almost as entertaining as the ones Stephenson invented.

“Men half your age and double your weight have been slain on these wastes by Extremity of Cold,” said the Earl of Lostwithiel, Lord Warden of the Stannaries, and Rider of the Forest and Chase of Dartmoor, to one of his two fellow-travelers….

“I am astonished that you should call this an extremity of cold,” answered the old man. “In Boston, as you know, this would pass without remark. I am garbed for Boston.”

Stephenson is a huge geek, and the book is about (among many, many things) the rise of finance, philosophy, natural sciences, and computers. If you’ve enjoyed other Stephenson, like Snow Crash or Diamond Age, it’s likely your thing. It also reminded me, in its sprawling, inventive craziness, of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you liked any of these, and aren’t opposed to doorstoppy books, give the trilogy a look. If not, or if you don’t identify as a geek, this probably isn’t a good fit.

I had a good time reading these as a summer project. They’re so dense it was sometimes hard to keep track of the details and personae, but reading them consecutively and reading along with my husband helped a great deal. I was involved with the characters, learned things from the historic details, was eager to return to the book when I was away from it, and sad to leave it when it was done.

Geeky stats: Trilogy begun 4 June, finished 21 August 2010. Other books read in that time: 12, out of which 8 were graphic novels. Total pages (not including intro and outro material and acks): 2,618.

How long before we succumb to a re-read of Cryptonomicon, which the trilogy is kind of a prequel to? Not long, I bet, though as usual my TBR list is long.

2 Responses to ““System of the World” by Neal Stephenson”

  1. Steph Says:

    Congrats! Must feel good to have finished your summer reading project with such good results! Not sure if Stephenson would be a good fit with me as I tend to be allergic to doorstoppy books, but I’m open to giving him a try one day.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Steph, I’d def. recommend trying Snow Crash or Diamond Age first, to get your feet wet.