These “Bookmark” posts are useful for me; hopefully a few other people get something out of them along the way.
I really enjoy Neal Stephenson‘s books. Unlike Stephen King, another novelist where the length of the book increases with each new effort, I never read a Stephenson book and wonder how badly he beat the editors. Stephenson books revel in their research, the density of information jammed into the pages is part of what makes his novels work.
You can divide up the novels of Neal Stephenson into maybe three categories. Scholars and critics can tell me why I’m wrong but it makes sense enough to me.
First there’s his early efforts. I haven’t ready either of these two books: The Big U (1984) and Zodiac (1988). I’m not sure if they are worth seeking out or not. I haven’t had anyone tell me I must read them and a lot of people are aware that Stephenson is one of my favorite authors.
Second there’s the sort-of-cyber-punk era. He did come after William Gibson and Bruce Sterling who definitely have a period of work that defined cyber punk science fiction, but it felt like these two books from Stephenson had something in common with them. Both Snow Crash (1992) and The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995) are fantastic books; I haven’t reread them in a long time so I’m not sure how well they hold up but their timing at the edge of the mainstreaming of the Web and the Internet and all of its possibilities could not have been better.
Last is everything else — which is my favorite period of his books. Starting with Cryptonomicon (1999) and then moving into The Baroque Cycle trilogy: Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004), and The System of the World (2004) — you see Stephenson applying the science fiction viewpoint to the span of history in a way that really brings the material alive. The Baroque Cycle in particular gives you an approach to historical fiction that really captures the amazing rate of change and the enormity of the future in those periods of time. Science fiction from the perspective of the 17th to 18th Century.
Anathem (2008) is a shift back to more of a speculative future and includes a brillant bit of world building by Stephenson. Reamde (2011) is maybe closest to Cryptonomicon in terms of one of his earlier works but narratively is perhaps the most conventional novel Stephenson has written. Probably also the most purposely topical novel as well – although there are speculative bits in it, it is very much set in the present day and the present world.
I am reading right now his alternate fiction effort titled The Mongoliad which he is writing with others in a series of books. I have finished part one and I am in the middle of part two. I think part three just came out. I am just reading them. I just didn’t have enough time to dive into the whole website, phone app–multi everything part of it that came first. (So was that any good? I’m not sure I know anyone who participating in it as it occurred.) Still I might have a chance to experience more text plus efforts from Neal Stephenson since they are setting up an entire slightly-alternate universe to encompass The Mongoliad and likely other efforts at Foreworld dot com.