Friday, February 17, 2012


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The Confusion, Neal Stephenson, William Morrow, 2004, 815 pp

I remember like it was yesterday when I first read Neal Stephenson. I learned about him from a lit blog in 2004 when I had started reading blogs but had not yet started my own. I read Snow Crash (1992) and was blown away. He opened up a whole new world of reading for me called "cyber punk" and led me to William Gibson and on from there.

I have read Stephenson's books in the order he wrote them: The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver. The only glitch is that his books are so long and take me over a week to read. I never seem to catch up. Every time a new Stephenson comes out (Reamde came out last September) I read another one, but I am still behind by three.

Cryptonomicon (1999) was his first venture into the past, with part of the action taking place in the present, being the 1990s at that point, and the remainder during World War II. The infamous Bobby Shaftoe makes his first appearance.

Then in 2003 came Quicksilver (the first volume of a trilogy, The Baroque Cycle.) These books are set in the 1600s. We meet the original Bobby Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-cocked Jack, due to an unfortunate incident involving his cock. We also meet the indomitable Eliza, Isaac Newton, Leibniz, Louis XIV, and a lesser known member of the Royal Society, Daniel Waterhouse, whose descendant is a major player in Crytonomicon.

I got to meet Neal Stephenson once, the year that Books Expo America was held in Los Angeles. I blurted out garbled gushing phrases about what a big fan I was and got an autographed copy of Anathem. I will read that one of these days. He is a tiny, slim guy with no hair on his head but a dark beard on his face. He exudes a calm intelligence and is possessed of a shy nature. Hard to believe that he can hold all that he knows in his head--proof to me that the mind is not the brain.

So The Confusion is volume two of The Baroque Cycle. In 815 pages the story moves along a mere four years. Eliza has her tale of woes and triumphs centered in the court of Louis XIV; alternating chapters follow Bobby Shaftoe and his pirate adventures from Spain to Mexico to the Middle East to India and back to England.

Though the volume is packed with action, adventure, sorrow, and history, it seemed just a tad slow compared to Stephenson's earlier books. However, it has been four years since I read Quicksilver. I do remember in each earlier book times when I felt held back by his torrents of words.

I think he is laying a strong and sturdy foundation that will support the conclusions he comes to in the final volume, The System of the World. While these books are hyper-active historical fiction, they are also a look at the foundations of the political, monetary, and scientific issues we now live and grapple with in our daily lives. Never have I had so much fun learning history.

(The Confusion as well as the other volumes in the trilogy, are available in paperback and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find these books in your nearest indie bookstore click on the cover image above.)

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