Quicksilver : The Baroque Cycle, Paperback

Quicksilver : The Baroque Cycle Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


Neal Stephenson follows his international bestseller, the WWII thriller Cryptonomicon, with a novel set in the 16th and 17th centuries, in a world of war, scientific, religious and political turmoil.

With a cast of characters that includes Newton, Leibniz, Christopher Wren, Charles II, Cromwell and the young Benjamin Franklin, Stephenson again shows his extraordinary ability to get inside a place and time; as he did for the futures of his science fiction (Snowcrash,The Diamond Age) and for WWII (Cryptonomicon), here he does for the England of the Civil War and the Europe of the Wars of Religion and the Scientific Revolution.

Quicksilver is yet another tour-de-force from a writer who is simply unique.




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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

Rubbish. Very slow plot driven by turgid characters. The insight into history starts interestingly but become increasingly unreadable. I only finished it in the mistaken hope that something worthwhile would happen. I really really enjoyed Diamond Age and was vastly disappointed by this offering

Review by

This is a hefty, dense book. Thankfully for me, it's set in a period I'm interested in, and the writing is good - exciting, intriguing, bawdy, and in places laugh-out-loud funny.The length was a little detrimental - I got to the end and forgot for a second that the "cliffhanger ending" was actually at an earlier point in the tale than the start of the book was!

Review by

It is so very hard to classify this book - the first in an extremely weighty trilogy (this book alone weighs in at over 900 pages!) Is it fantasy? Is it science fiction? It is historical? It most certainly is dense, dull, delightful and dry.The book is split into three different sections. The first of these looks back on Daniel Waterhouse's early life in London and his association with the Royal Society and the pre-eminent philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers and scientists of that time, including Isaac Newton. This period of the book can be extremely difficult reading, and needs intense concentration. Even with that, I found myself struggling with the esoteric vocabulary used and the overwhelming amount of science on display. I find science and maths difficult at the best of times, and this book did nothing to ease me - often I found myself understanding only one paragraph in three and had to really persevere to get through this section. There was light relief periodically from present-day Daniel, travelling by ship back to England and being pursued by pirates. One thing I enjoyed immensely about this part of the book - science aside - was the way that Stephenson conveyed the wonder and mystery of the discoveries that were coming thick and fast, driven by certain people whose ideas have not been surpassed even now.The second part of the book dealt with Eliza and Jack Shaftoe. This section flew past in a flurry of giggles and adventure, including an amusing interlude with an ostrich and a Turkish harem. Jack is a lively character, seemingly destined to die from the French pox (syphilis), but determined to make a life for himself and generate an inheritance for his two boys. Eliza is enigmatic, alluring and tom-boyish by turns - both drawn to Jack and repelled by him. They travel together across a lot of Europe and end up in Amsterdam, where Jack leaves Eliza to make his fortune in Paris and ends up on a ship bound for deepest Africa. I loved this part of the book, and it more than made up for the dryness of the first section.The last part draws all the threads of the story together, culminating in the revolution that Waterhouse has spent his life working towards. There is intrigue, and gripping letters between Leibniz and Eliza, who, by now, is the Countess de la Zeur. James II is overthrown and Daniel suffers a spell in prison. So, all in all, a massive book with massive ideas and massive characters. It should have been unbelievable and unforgettable, but I was left feeling a little as though it were too much work. I will read the other two volumes in the trilogy for completeness, but I don't embark on them with a lightness of spirit!

Review by

Judging by the first book, <i>The Baroque Cycle</i> is well named. Not only because that of the historical period it treats, but because it itself contains the key characteristics to such an extent. It does not come to expression so much in a particularly ornate language, but in a wealth of detail which is there, I think, not so much in order to create any sort of reality effect, but for its own sake. It could be he overdoes it a little at times, but if you are writing a <i>Baroque Cycle</i> I suppose you might as well write a <i>Baroque</i> cycle.This can be exhausting. Certainly if, like me, you reach for books to check whether these historical ``facts'' are indeed facts or just facts of the fictional variety. This is the frustrating bit. Stephenson makes no secret of his novels having a fictional element, which means that it occasionally feels like reading a text book without the added bonus of being allowed to trust the information that textbook offers. The majority of the book, however, was so well researched, I was delighted. I had to force myself to stop checking up on it all after a while, and someone really could have told me that there was an appendix containing a list of <i>dramatis personæ</i> in which the fictional were distinguished from the real (or as Stephenson puts it, some are historical, others might ``produce confusion, misunderstanding, severe injury, and death if relied upon by time travelers visiting the time and space in question''). He sometimes makes use of some rather stretched devices in order to include this research, and at other times he makes too much of information that is really common knowledge, but I won't quibble too much. Stephenson gets stars aplenty for his research. I have always been vaguely insulted by authors who felt it was all right to riddle their novels with inaccuracies. It suggests, or states flat out, that they believe their readers will be too ignorant to notice the difference. Checking up on obscure facts and finding they were accurate made me very happy. The real strength of the book is craftsmanship. Not just in terms of research, but also in the variety of literary styles. I am a little annoyed that this is not done in a coherent way, but the styles fit their subject so well, I have no real issue with it. He starts off playing with time, presenting the opening of the story as a series of protracted flashbacks from an old man trapped on a ship attacked by pirates, runs off into history and frolics about (there is no other word for it) with the Royal Society for a while, before changing the style completely into a semblance of the picaresque (which, of course, also has the picaresque novel as a participant). He also uses occasional bouts of drama to good effect, and large portions of the last third of the book take the epistolary form. The book is divided into three sections. The first focuses on Daniel Waterhouse (fictional), a close friend of Isaac Newton (not so fictional) and a great and lovely cast of Royal Society members like Hooke, Wilkins, Boyle, Oldenburg and that lot in 1660s and 1670s London. The second is the picaresque, mainly focused on Jack Shaftoe, a Vagabond (also fictional). I wonder to what extent it is a coincidence that the portrayal of Daniel's youth is shown in apparently objective flashbacks, whereas Jack is allowed to tell his own story to a beautiful woman, with the truth value that entails. The third and final part is not so easily connected to <i>one</i> character, but it is closely tied to Eliza, a former harem slave (and fictional to the extent that she comes from a fictional country) picked up by Jack in part two. Leibniz, rather than Newton, dominates the latter two halves, as the question of Leibniz and Newton and the Calculus hovers in the background throughout. Historical figures like Huygens, Rossignol, Charles II, James II, William of Orange, Louis XIV and any number of others gravitate (oh dear) around these three protagonists with varying appeal, while the historical moment with its mix of experimental science, theoretical physics, alchemy and other murky activities is presented in full glory. I think he does a very good job of showing that the modern scientific theories did not spring pure and fully formed out of the head of Rationality, but are the result of a general willingness to try everything and investigate it all, while also showing off the fascination with the more spectacular elements (mercury and phosphorous in particular) -- after all, if they did not have spectacular properties, they would not look so cool, right?I will not try to pronounce on the plot as a whole (I assume the missing resolutions of major questions will be dealt with in the following two volumes), and I would generally not dwell too much on Stephenson's language (while it does occasionally take on the flavour of the period, this sometimes succeeds and sometimes does not; but on the whole it is perfectly serviceable, although not something I would go into raptures about). I really wish there weren't quite so many gratuitous sex scenes. And if someone could properly explain to me how on earth the binary/I Ching code works in Eliza's letters, I will be both more impressed with Stephenson and very grateful to whoever does the explaining. But on the whole I recommend it to anyone with patience who is willing to get lost in the details of the period, particularly those with an interest in history and/or science.

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