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03 April 2007 @ 05:26 pm
Neal Stephenson  
I've been reading my way through Neal Stephenson lately, and let me tell you, that takes some effort! He fills his pages with descriptions of people and their surroundings, he's been known to delve deeply into mathematical equations, and his plots are as convoluted as any I've seen. But reading him has been rewarding, because once I'd sifted through the chaff and distilled the plot, I enjoyed it a lot. At this point I've read Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon, and I'm about halfway through his Baroque Cycle (the first two books of the trilogy are Quicksilver and Confusion.) I really want to post a bit from Confusion, because it's really good, but I've concluded that it would spoil a rather good part of the story. Instead, here's a bit from The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. It's set in a future society, which is to some extent dominated by the Neo-Victorians. This is the beginning of a garden party.

     Three geodesic seeds skated over the roofs and gardens of Atlantis/Shanghai on a Friday afternoon, like the germs of some moon-size calabash. A pair of mooring masts sprouted and grew from cricket ovals at Source Victoria Park. The smallest of the airships was decorated with the royal ensign; she kept station overhead as the two large ones settled toward their berths. Their envelopes, filled with nothing, were predominantly transparent. Instead of blocking the sunlight, they yellowed and puckered it, projecting vast abstract patterns of brighter and not-as-bright that the children in their best crinolines and natty short-pants tried to catch in their arms. A brass band played. A tiny figure in a white dress stood at the rail of the airship Atlantis, waving at the children below. They all knew that this must be the birthday girl herself, Princess Charlotte, and they cheered and waved back.
     Fiona Hackworth had been wandering through the Royal Ecological Conservatory bracketed by her parents, who hoped that in this way they could keep mud and vegetable debris off her skirts. The strategy had not been completely successful, but with a quck brush, John and Gwendolyn Hackworth were able to transfer most of the dirt onto their white gloves. From there it went straight into the air. Most gentleman and ladies' gloves nowadays were constructed on infinitesimal fabricules that knew how to eject dirt; you could thrust your gloved hand into mud, and it would be white a few seconds later.
     The hierarchy of staterooms on AEther matched the status of its passengers perfectly, as these parts of the ship could be decompiled and remade between voyages. For Lord Finke-McGraw, his three children and their spouses, and Elizabeth (his first and only grandchild so far), the airship lowered a private escalator that carried them up into the suite at the very prow, with its nearly 180-degree forward view.
    Aft of the Finkle-McGraws were a dozen or so other Equity Lords, merely earl- or baron-level, mostly ushering grandchildren rather than children into the Class B suites. Then it was executives, whose gold watch chains, adangle with tiny email-boxes, phones, torches, snuffboxes, and other fetishes, curved round the dark waistcoats they wore to deemphasize their bellies. Most of their children had reached the age when they were no longer naturally endearing to anyone save their own parents; the size when their energy was more a menace than a wonder; and the level of intelligence when what would have been called innocence in a smaller child was infuriating rudeness. A honeybee cruising for nectar is pretty despite its implicit threat, but the same behavior in a hornet three times larger makes one glance around for some handy swatting material. So on the broad escalators leading to the first-class staterooms, one could see many upper arms being violently grabbed by hissing fathers with their top hats askew and teeth clenched and eyes swiveling for witnesses.
The Rev: tea-blackthe_reverand on April 4th, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)
Wow. That seems a bit... I don't want to say verbose. I'm imagining those sandwiches that are too big to fit in one's mouth to actually be eaten. But I love little phrases like "abstract patterns of brighter and not-as-bright" and words like "adangle". :)

What are the characters like?
Jonas: DTE-Claire&Peterj0nas3 on April 4th, 2007 03:45 pm (UTC)
Do you mean that book, or in general. I will say that his characters are complex enough to make it hard to sum up. Hackworth, who was introduced above, has a bit of hubris. But the young girl who's the focus of The Diamond Age is really somebody I ended up rooting for. I suggest you try Snow Crash to start. If you can hack that, you can hack anything. ;)
The Rev: hirothe_reverand on April 5th, 2007 01:09 am (UTC)
"like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest"

Heh. Nice. (Amazon has the first 25 pages and I took a peek. But I'm reading Time Traveler's Wife for now!)
Jonasj0nas3 on April 5th, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
Excellent decision. :)
Jonas: Colinj0nas3 on April 4th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)
And I must add that, yes, he loves a good vocabulary, and is not afraid to use it. ;)