Mstation Book Reviews
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Fri, 01 Apr 2005


Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver, Arrow

This has been out in hardback for a while now but the paperback version is comparitively new.

One of my favourite fiction books was Cryptonomicon by this same author. It had a wonderful blend of scholarship, yarn spinning, and geeky references. Would Quicksilver measure up?

It's certainly got a lot of praise from other reviewers but for me it was a disappointment. There is a big yarn ... heh heh, Big Yarn or Big Yawn ... sorry, couldn't resist that. Anyway, there are also lots of historical references to do with the birth of the sciences and also references to the commonplaces of the day. There is a lot of scholarship here.

In the history there is danger. Cromwell's Roundheads and their followers are the decent folk and the King Chas's and Cavaliers are vicious and overdressed and, oh dear, influenced heavily by what was considered at the time the highlight of European civilisation -- the France of Louis XIV. This sort of thing is a background attitude and I'm sure regular readers will make "heh heh" noises and head off for freedom fries.

Of course puritanism was as great a scourge as any other non-humanist ism and ole Cromwell got chucked out as he was a tyrant. He did do good things of course but the tide was flowing toward free religious (or lack of it) expression. Could the climate of questioning have existed under different conditions? Yes, it did and had done for hundreds of years.

That aside I think there are too many digressions here, historically interesting though they might be. Nine hundred pages could have been half that. It wouldn't have been as much fun to write though.

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