Stephenson's Quicksilver?

I haven’t read any Stephenson, but I saw a synopsis of this book and it looked fascinating. Anyone here read Quicksilver? Is it as good as it sounds like it would be?

OK, responding in this new thread now that I’ve finally read the book. But you might want to read the huge long thread below.

  • First 300 pages or so: tedious boring rehash of history of science that everyone knows already, mixed with story of a pathetic character (Daniel Waterhouse) and a bunch of made up stuff about the restoration period mixed in with actual history.

  • Second 200-300 pages or so: fun zany storyline nothing like the first 300 pages; totally bizarre and gonzo.

  • Third 200-300 pages or so: interesting more serious storyline, a lot more to do with politics and finance and intrigue. Daniel Waterhouse’s character somewhat is developed and rehabilitated now that he is 25 years older, so he is less annoying.

A real mixed bag. Worth reading, but don’t get too excited about it beforehand. I think overall it is about the same quality as Cryptonomicon, since I very much disliked the modern-day storyline in that book, so I only liked half of that book too. Inferior to both Snow Crash and Diamond Age (latter itself inferior to Snow Crash.)

BTW, Cryptonomicon, part of the same overall series as Quicksilver, takes place in WWII and in the current day, so there is no great benefit to reading it before Quicksilver. In fact, it may even frustrate you to do so, since Stephenson sets up one character as a major enigma, and then proceeds to blatantly and deliberately NOT explain it in the book which takes place 300 years previous.

  • First 300 pages or so: tedious boring rehash of history of science that everyone knows already,

Not everyone…

I am getting an odd, subtle, feeling that I would be getting more out of this book if I was more familiar with Reformation and if of course the boring tedious history of science…

Well, take my word for it, knowing in advance that Hooke was quite a guy or that Leibniz and Newton both invented the calculus independently and didn’t much care for one another doesn’t do much to illuminate the book. For that matter knowing the facts of the glorious revolution doesn’t help all that much, either, assuming you’ve at least heard of Cromwell and the Restoration.

It’s also a bit distressing that Stephenson invents all these secondary characters who are supposedly important political figures but who never actually existed, as these characters aren’t really important to the plot. For example I think his CABAL group is fictional, but they’re also unimportant except in the lame footnotes, so why did he bother?

OK, OK, it’s very obvious Quicksilver isn’t really a conventional historical novel which eschews anachronism, and stays true to history, viz. the whimsical invention of Qwglhm or whatever it’s called, and the zany adventures of the Shaftoes, but still, there is plenty of real political, economic, and scientific history mixed in there, and gratuitously inventing history that isn’t even relevant to the plot seems wrong somehow.

The TNR reviewer hates it.

Edit: fucking subscription.

Yeah, Friedell pretty much marked up the book as a C- literary effort. I question literary criticism when it involves nothing but vague hand-waving over differences in style (see: the Washington Post review of Norman Rush’s “Mating”), but, in this case, the TNR reviewer pretty much shredded Stephenson’s questionable “style” much as a third-year Creative Writing professor might red pen a mediocre student’s lazier efforts – her criticisms target bad prose, hamfisted dialogue, dubious and unresearched period language and memes, and shameless didacticism. Sounds like Stephenson, in his efforts to eschew the literary world and please his post-post-modern Slashdot fans, managed to churn out a bland alternate history comic book, minus the illustrations or style.

Speaking of Norman Rush, why do so many male authors such as Stephenson, Rush, et al write sex so badly? I’m embarrassed by the coarse pseudo-pornography they write, which does far more to reveal the author’s sexual predilections and fetishes than develop the characters participating in the act.


Male writers do sex badly? Sure, many do, if not most, but there are IMO even fewer female writers who can pull it off well, and even a smaller percentage amongst that number who even try.

Most of the time sex scenes are rather clumsy when they appear in non-pornographic fiction, especially it seems to me fiction from otherwise good writers. I bet the majority of sex scenes which are elided with the character sort of being about to go to bed with someone and then waking up later beside them are done that way not because the writer is uncomfortable with sex scenes per se, but more because the writer is aware that he or she can’t write them very well.

It just seems tough to do when you think about it. Ideally these scenes should be explicit without being pornographic, arousing without seeming exploitative or gratutitously titillating, and should convey the characters’ passions without either clinical detachment, ridicule, or shame, and without overmuch wallowing in their every quivering sensation.

Hm, it might be interesting to note good writers who can do good sex scenes. I’m having a lot of trouble thinking of any offhand, though I’m sure there are at least a fair number who could be listed. Just consider some prolific SF writers that come to mind – Philip Jose Farmer, Samuel Delany, Piers Anthony… all three have a lot of sex in their books, all three are just miserable at writing sex scenes…

Let’s see. Trying to think of some other random writers off the top of my head…

I guess Iain Banks isn’t the worst in the world, not really noteworthy in this regard, but not too too bad as good writers go.

Anne Rice? Don’t make me laugh, but I guess her writing is equally awful whether or not it takes place in bed. I looked at some of her “Anne Rocquelaire” stuff, and it’s just sad.

Any given sex scene in the Illuminatus trilogy by Shea and Wilson isn’t bad, but there is so much of it it just becomes silly after a while.

Henry Miller? Just painful, awful, and unpleasant, IMO.

Van Lustbader? Hah, lots of sex scenes, but terrible ones. There is no such verb as “to hilt” Eric, really…

Most of the other good writers I can think of either write around the necessity of having explicit sex scenes, or at best write straightforward and quick scenes that demonstrate their forthrightness but are at best easily forgotten.