Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

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Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby ottifant » Mon Jun 28, 2010 6:47 pm UTC

So, here's my problem:

By accident i read about Neal Stephenson and his books. They descriptions all sound interesting, but assuming i got the bottom line right it's some heavy stuff to read, especially when you're not used to literature like that. Also the Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle seem to have some kind of connection. Do they depend on each other or is it some kind of loose connection, like "Hey, i know this character from somewhere..."?

Which one would you recommend for someone who is new to the subject/genre? Or maybe there is some other/better place to get started on the SF/Cyberpunk thing?

Thanks =)

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby clpm » Mon Jun 28, 2010 7:25 pm UTC

I've only read Cryptonomicon, Anathem and Snow Crash, so I'm not sure how much help I can be of. Cryptonomicon is a massive, long-winded, digression-loaded beast; I felt the plot was there mostly to support the interesting situations and ramblings Stephenson goes about on (though it's pretty interesting on it's own, of course). It's full of things about computers and cryptography. Snow Crash, on the other hand, is a much shorter, more direct and plot-focused book. It also has all sorts of interesting ideas, but the plot is at least at the same level as they are. Anathem is sort of in-between. It's set in another world and has a vocabulary of its own that may make it a bit harder to start, but by page 100 or so it'll feel natural enough that you won't notice it. The three books feel very different from each other, Anathem and Crypto being a bit more similar than Snow Crash. I started with Cryptonomicon and loved it to death - it's still my favorite book - but you may feel differently. In the end, I don't think it matters which one you pick first. If you like one you'll probably like the others.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:20 am UTC

Most people probably start on Neal Stephenson with either Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon. They're both very good, but Cryptonomicon is quite hefty and the multiple plot-lines can make it seem a bit dense at times.

I haven't read the Baroque Cycle, but I understand that a certain character from Cryptonomicon is present there as well, though besides that, the two are mostly separate (from what I've heard anyway)

The Diamond Age has a similar relationship to Snow Crash, but much more subtle, and is just as wonderful.

That said, his earlier work is also quite good, and is generally shorter than his later work, a bit easier to follow, I highly recommend The Big U to any college students, or anyone who has graduated college, and Zodiac is also rather good.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Arancaytar » Tue Jun 29, 2010 9:49 am UTC

It's a matter of taste, but I found Cryptonomicon better than Snow Crash, so if I had to pick again I'd start on the former like I did before.

Also, a few names do indeed crop up in Cryptonomicon and Baroque Cycle both, but the only connection will be that you recognize names from one in the other - eg. "Eliza Peak" on Kinakuta being very likely named after the Eliza from the Baroque Cycle. These references are fun to find in either direction, since the chronology of the books is quite jumbled anyway.

The Baroque Cycle itself is linear (or as linear as any of his books) so that trilogy should be read in order. I started with Cryptonomicon, then read Snow Crash, and am now done with the first two B.C. books and somewhere in the middle of System of the World; this worked out well for me.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Adacore » Tue Jun 29, 2010 1:51 pm UTC

I read Stephenson in almost-chronological order - the only exception being that I read the Baroque Cycle before Cryptonomicon, so I can aver that the references between the two work perfectly well in that direction too.

I'd suggest starting on Snow Crash, purely because it's lighter and shorter than the others, but Cryptonomicon is also a decent starting point. Personally I always try to attack new authors in chronological order, but I wouldn't personally recommend Zodiac as it's not his strongest work; I've not read The Big U. In general, there are frequently evolutions in style of writing and connections between books by the same author that aren't so apparent when you don't read them in order. Having said that, some authors do improve significantly over time, or release a weak first book or two before they hit their stride, and Stephenson falls into this group (imo).

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Minerva » Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:01 pm UTC

Start with either The Diamond Age or Snow Crash, since they're pretty good but relatively short and easy to get through by Stephenson's standards.

Read Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World in that order.

Reading Cryptonomicon immediately before reading the Baroque Cycle books is probably best, although of course chronologically Cryptonomicon is set after the Baroque Cycle. Then, after you've read the Baroque Cycle, you'll be curious enough about the connections between the plots that you will probably want to go back and re-read Cryptonomicon.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby The EGE » Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:35 pm UTC

Snow Crash
Diamond Age
Cryptonomicon
Baroque Cycle
Anathem

Of all those, Snow Crash is definitely the best. Most interesting, rather more humorous, and easier to follow the plot. Diamond Age (with some hints that it's set in the same verse as Snow Crash) is second-best. Everything else is too dense for my tastes, but YMMV.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby sendingsignal » Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:56 pm UTC

He's one of my favorite authors. I think I liked Zodiac more than most, since I don't see it mentioned as much.

I think it's safe to just read them in order of publication date. The only book of his I've never read is The Big U, or whatever it's called. Haven't ever even seen a copy.

Snow Crash is probably the most accessible (and maybe the most dated, really). The Baroque Saga as a whole is my favorite. Amazing stuff!

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby The EGE » Tue Jun 29, 2010 6:37 pm UTC

sendingsignal wrote:I think it's safe to just read them in order of publication date. The only book of his I've never read is The Big U, or whatever it's called. Haven't ever even seen a copy.

Snow Crash is probably the most accessible (and maybe the most dated, really).


Stephenson did not like The Big U one bit, and he had it taken out of publication after Snow Crash was published.

Snow Crash doesn't feel dated at all, to me. There's nothing really anachronistic about it, and certain things we deal with frequently - Google and Second Life, for two - were directly inspired by the book.
sillybear25 wrote:But it's NPH, so it's creepy in the best possible way.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby ottifant » Tue Jun 29, 2010 6:47 pm UTC

Wow, thats quite some feedback, pretty cool :-)
I've decided to start with Snow Crash, because this one is the only one that the bookstore could order, the other old ones weren't available, maybe eBay or Amazon will do the trick...
However, tomorrow the book should arrive, and anticipation will turn to joy of reading, i hope.

Thank you for your advice, and, as i'm new to the board, this warm welcome!

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby sendingsignal » Tue Jun 29, 2010 7:09 pm UTC

Some of the terminology in Snowcrash is a little dated, mainly because it's now been absorbed into the mainstream and technology we're all familiar with, but mainly I mean the writing style. I enjoy it a LOT, but it's like how 60s and 70s pulps feel a certain way - it's definitely a product of when it was written.

The Diamond Age is post-cyberpunk, or something like that, while Snowcrash was near the start of that genre, The Diamond Age kind of kills it off with the cyber punk character... well, not being included in the rest of the story right from the start.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jun 29, 2010 7:15 pm UTC

Snow Crash, Zodiak, Diamond Age, Crypto, Anathem.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Joeldi » Thu Jul 01, 2010 12:08 am UTC

Just finished Snow Crash, after having read Anathem a while ago. Both brilliant books, but Anathem kinda slows down for a while in the middle, and whereas Snow Crash almost loses the plot at the end. I look forward to reading the rest of Stephenson's catalogue.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby lu6cifer » Fri Jul 02, 2010 3:51 am UTC

I've only read Snow Crash, and I have to admit that Stephenson does an amazing job with the action scenes, which entertained me more than I expected.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Minerva » Fri Jul 30, 2010 1:31 pm UTC

The EGE wrote:
sendingsignal wrote:Stephenson did not like The Big U one bit, and he had it taken out of publication after Snow Crash was published.


That's interesting... I actually found a copy of The Big U in a bookstore and bought it last year... it wasn't printed too long ago.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby The EGE » Fri Jul 30, 2010 3:53 pm UTC

Correction to my previous statement. Google Earth, not Google.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby MiB24601 » Mon Aug 02, 2010 3:34 am UTC

Minerva wrote:That's interesting... I actually found a copy of The Big U in a bookstore and bought it last year... it wasn't printed too long ago.


The Big U was first printed in 1984. When Stephenson became a well-known author, old copies of The Big U began selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Stephenson said that the only thing worse than The Big U was people paying a lot of money to read The Big U so he allowed the book to be republished in the past few years.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Orangutanlibrarian » Tue Sep 07, 2010 3:51 pm UTC

Yet another disscution that totaly ignores Interface. It is classic Stephenson even though it was co-written with J. Frederick George. I think it is just as good as Diamond Age.

That said, Snow Crash is probably his best, but I love all of his stuff.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby luvnotwar » Thu Sep 09, 2010 6:31 am UTC

Orangutanlibrarian wrote:Yet another disscution that totaly ignores Interface. It is classic Stephenson even though it was co-written with J. Frederick George. I think it is just as good as Diamond Age.

That said, Snow Crash is probably his best, but I love all of his stuff.


You know,

you could just bring Interface into the discussion without acting all condescending towards the other posters.

Lose the air of pretension and be glad to be able to introduce people to Stephenson's lesser known work.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Fri Sep 10, 2010 7:26 pm UTC

Cryptonomicon, absolutely. I could have suggested interface, I suppose, had I heard of it, and read it. The baroque cycle is way too much to digest reading him first.

Anathem is my favorite of his, but it requires some dedication due to the vocabulary. He invents words, I mean.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:56 pm UTC

Speaking of neal stephenson, I'm trying to remember exactly the phrase used, I think in quicksilver, as a euphemism for insanity: I think he said "rich and complicated inner life", but if anyone remembers our has the exact quotation at hand, please post it.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby LoganCale » Mon Sep 13, 2010 7:47 pm UTC

Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson wrote:Snatching a few minutes’ rest in his cabin between engagements, Daniel’s mood is grave. It is the solemnity, not of a man who’s involved in a project to kill other men (they’ve been doing that all day, for Christ’s sake!), but of one who’s gambling his own life on certain outcomes. Or having it gambled for him by a Captain who shows signs of—what’s a diplomatic way to put it—having a rich and complicated inner life.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Mon Sep 13, 2010 7:51 pm UTC

LoganCale wrote:
Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson wrote:Snatching a few minutes’ rest in his cabin between engagements, Daniel’s mood is grave. It is the solemnity, not of a man who’s involved in a project to kill other men (they’ve been doing that all day, for Christ’s sake!), but of one who’s gambling his own life on certain outcomes. Or having it gambled for him by a Captain who shows signs of—what’s a diplomatic way to put it—having a rich and complicated inner life.

I do love that line. Thank you!

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Colugo » Fri Aug 05, 2011 7:26 am UTC

How about where to end? What should a possibly read after finish the Baroque Cycle, Diamond Age, Anathem and all....
I tried some China Mieville, some Gene Wolf, nothing seems to hit NS's grand idea's + intricate plot without being so pretentious.

Help!

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby The EGE » Fri Aug 05, 2011 10:11 pm UTC

William Gibson perhaps? I found Diamond Age (Stephenson) and Neuromancer (Gibson) to be similar in style, and Gibson doesn't strike me as pretentious.

In vaguely related news: The Big U is now in reprint. Which, given that Stephenson had previous squashed it, is really cool.
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Sandry » Wed Aug 10, 2011 12:51 am UTC

Definitely read Gibson if you like Stephenson.

They're similar in many ways, though I feel like Stephenson botches the endings a bit, which is not a failing of Gibson's. The one thing I can't quite get behind on Gibson is that I don't think he always develops characters as much as I would like.

If anyone has a suggestion for what to read after those two, I'd love to hear it (though I have to admit I'm not through all of NS yet... committing to the Baroque Cycle is intimidating, but I *will* do it at some point... in my goddamned copious spare time.)
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby The EGE » Wed Aug 10, 2011 2:15 am UTC

For novels, I don't find either to have the best endings. Snow Crash ends abruptly; Diamond Age is better.

Gibson's short stories are great, particularly Burning Chrome and Johnny Mnemonic.
sillybear25 wrote:But it's NPH, so it's creepy in the best possible way.

Shivahn wrote:I'm in your abstractions, burning your notions of masculinity.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby adrianhon » Thu Aug 11, 2011 10:39 am UTC

I'm not sure I'd recommend Snow Crash either, for the 'bad ending' reasons already mentioned below (I had a strong desire to fling the book out of the window after finishing it, mostly because I'd enjoyed it so much up to that point).

Baroque Trilogy is too hard to get in to for many, although it does improve over time.

Anathem is a fantastic book, but may also be off-putting for people who aren't already fans, so scratch that.

I wasn't terribly impressed by Zodiak, and I haven't read The Big U or Interfaces, so that leaves The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon.

As a whole book, I prefer Cryptonomicon - I think it's a tremendously impressive bit of writing, and very enjoyable as well. However, I think that The Diamond Age is probably easier to get into and has better SF concepts, even if the ending is a little weak.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Adacore » Thu Aug 11, 2011 11:32 pm UTC

I was far less impressed with the ending to Diamond Age than I was with the ending to Snow Crash. Also, the last time I re-read Diamond Age it felt almost like a kids book (except for the sexeh bits). A kind of simple 'I'm going to walk you through basic computer theory' book, wrapped around an admittedly pretty cool plot. I guess the idea was, in part, that the novel itself would imitate the Primer as education-disguised-as-story (hell, the subtitle pretty much outright states this).

I don't really recall having any problems with the ending to Snow Crash, but it has been a while since I read it. I guess the fact I don't fully remember it means it could've been stronger. Having looked up the ending on Wikipedia, I thought it was fine, really.

Zodiak was meh, Baroque Cycle is heavy and patchy, with the last of the 8 books being really good, and I found Anathem terribly slow in places. Cryptonomicon was a solid all-round book.

Snow Crash would probably be my 'place to start', but only because it's outrageous cyberpunk fun, where Cryptonomicon takes itself a bit more seriously. Also, if you go Snow Crash then Cryptonomicon you can lead straight into the Baroque Cycle which is a prequel, of sorts, with lots of Cryptonomicon references.

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby VectorZero » Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:00 pm UTC

Colugo wrote:How about where to end? What should a possibly read after finish the Baroque Cycle, Diamond Age, Anathem and all....
I tried some China Mieville, some Gene Wolf, nothing seems to hit NS's grand idea's + intricate plot without being so pretentious.

Help!

Cory Doctorow. Very topical, modern day/near future tech heavy action and a huge chunk of philosophizing. Plus his books are freely available on craphound.com

Or Charles Stross, though I've only read halting state and singularity sky.

New topic. REAMDE. Who's excited?
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Various Varieties » Tue Aug 16, 2011 10:59 pm UTC

I loved Cryptonomicon and zipped through its 1000-ish pages in a couple of weeks. But although Quicksilver had lots of entertaining bits, as a whole I found it a real chore to get through, and haven't had much desire to read the rest of the Baroque Cycle.

adrianhon wrote:I'm not sure I'd recommend Snow Crash either, for the 'bad ending' reasons already mentioned below (I had a strong desire to fling the book out of the window after finishing it, mostly because I'd enjoyed it so much up to that point).

I've never agreed with the criticism that Stephenson writes awful endings. Abrupt, definitely, but not book-flingingly horrible. I found the Protagonist's last actions in Snow Crash extremely satisfying and entertaining...

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:33 am UTC

VectorZero wrote:Or Charles Stross, though I've only read halting state and singularity sky.

You have yet to read my favorite of his--Atrocity Archives.

New topic. REAMDE. Who's excited?

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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby no-genius » Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:19 pm UTC

Sandry wrote:I feel like Stephenson botches the endings a bit, which is not a failing of Gibson's.

The ending of Pattern Recognition says what?
Spoiler:
the big damn heroes come out of nowhere in a fricking helicopter to save the protagonist
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Re: Neal Stephenson: Where to start?

Postby tomandlu » Thu Aug 18, 2011 1:28 pm UTC

Sandry wrote:I feel like Stephenson botches the endings a bit


Doesn't he sort of 'fess up to this at the end of Cryptonomicon? iirc the lead character is just sort of sitting on a rock while (avoiding spoilers) something fairly interesting is going on and mutters something about endings being boring... or something like that anyway...
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