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Author Topic: Neal Stephenson  (Read 2210 times)
irisclara
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« on: March 06, 2007, 11:18:15 pm »

I came to this board looking for discussion of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Since no one else has started one I will. I realize this is rather out of period but any book with the "Proprietors of the Engine for Raising Water by Fire" deserves mention. Most interestingly, this series feature a precursor to the Difference Engine, Leibniz's Logic Mill.
Has anyone else read this (or Cryptonomicon which is related)?
How about Newton's Canon by Greg Keyes? It has airships.
Both are really interesting stories about the early days of science (ahh, Natural Philosophy).

Great forum folks.
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egdinger
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2007, 04:17:30 am »

I just finished the confusion about a month ago, though it'll be while before I can get to the System of the World, it's about 1000 miles away right now  Sad. I've also read cryptonomicon (I still say it has the best flashlight ever in it).

I don't seem to remember the "Proprietors of the Engine for Raising Water by Fire" is it in the 3rd book or, dear, have I forgotten it? It would certainly seem that there are steampunk elements in the work that the Natural Philosophers do, even if they aren't steam powered. Leibniz and his method for mining silver, or the way that they create phosphorus.
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arcane
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Steamcrunk. WHAT?


« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2007, 05:06:19 am »

I enjoyed the Cryptonomicon, but I couldn't get into the Baroque Cycle. I got about a third of the way through the first book, got bored, lost interest and haven't gone back yet. I supposed I'll finish it one day though.
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Honky-Tonk Dragon
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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2007, 07:54:30 am »

I just finished the confusion about a month ago, though it'll be while before I can get to the System of the World, it's about 1000 miles away right now  Sad. I've also read cryptonomicon (I still say it has the best flashlight ever in it).

I don't seem to remember the "Proprietors of the Engine for Raising Water by Fire" is it in the 3rd book or, dear, have I forgotten it? It would certainly seem that there are steampunk elements in the work that the Natural Philosophers do, even if they aren't steam powered. Leibniz and his method for mining silver, or the way that they create phosphorus.
The Proprietors are indeed in the third book.
I loved these books! They really changed how I think about economics, both micro and macro. I think a lot of folks here would find a great deal of interest in the series, as the idea of era in which a savant could concievably have an understanding of all aspects of science (ahem... Natural Philosophy) is a major theme, as well it seems, as being one of the rays which draws some moth-like to the enlightened illumination that is steampunk.
That and they really do have a punk aspect, showing the era from the gutters as well as the ivory towers.
A great and epic series.
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irisclara
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2007, 09:50:47 am »

I enjoyed the Cryptonomicon, but I couldn't get into the Baroque Cycle. I got about a third of the way through the first book, got bored, lost interest and haven't gone back yet. I supposed I'll finish it one day though.

Read the second. It's got pirates!
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irisclara
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« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2007, 10:09:39 am »

In both Cryptonomicon and The System of the World (3rd book in Baroque Cycle) Stephenson talks about using pipe organ construction ideas to make analog binary information storage. Something about stops controlling multiple valves or pipes in a rank. Anybody here know anything about pipe organs? The little research I've done sure looks like building organs is becoming a lost craft like watchmaking. I'd love to learn something like that.
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Chuzzlewit
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« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2007, 12:25:06 am »

Thank you for starting the thread, Irisclara. Big Stephenson fan here. As Honky-tonk says, a lot of folks here would love them - and everything else he has written, for that matter - in particular, perhaps, the discussions of Victorian and Confucion philosophy, and future attempts to live by those values in a novel based on nanotech, The Diamond Age.

The Baroque Cycle is just remarkable, though it's a long, long haul and challenging to take in. It could be thought of as a dramatic attempt at "the death of alchemy and the start of something else"... a something else we haven't fully worked out yet, but which encompasses and will direct the future of humanity ("...the seams and rivet-lines joining one curved plate to the next radiate from top center just like meridians of Longitude spreading from the North Pole. Below is a raging fire, and within is steam...)

I would really like to know what the secretive blighter is working on now, although I don't begrudge him a sabatical after all that... He may have given a clue when he told an interviewer that he was reading the speaches of Lincoln. If this means he is gearing up for a crack at the 19th century that is very good news. Please report back if anyone knows anything.

Regards &c


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« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2007, 12:30:01 am »

Thank you for starting the thread, Irisclara. Big Stephenson fan here. As Honky-tonk says, a lot of folks here would love them - and everything else he has written, for that matter - in particular, perhaps, the discussions of Victorian and Confucion philosophy, and future attempts to live by those values in a novel based on nanotech, The Diamond Age.

The Baroque Cycle is just remarkable, though it's a long, long haul and challenging to take in. It could be thought of as a dramatic attempt at "the death of alchemy and the start of something else"... a something else we haven't fully worked out yet, but which encompasses and will direct the future of humanity ("...the seams and rivet-lines joining one curved plate to the next radiate from top center just like meridians of Longitude spreading from the North Pole. Below is a raging fire, and within is steam...)

I would really like to know what the secretive blighter is working on now, although I don't begrudge him a sabatical after all that... He may have given a clue when he told an interviewer that he was reading the speaches of Lincoln. If this means he is gearing up for a crack at the 19th century that is very good news. Please report back if anyone knows anything.

Regards &c



I'd love to see Mr. Stephenson take on the 19th century. It seems he has been dancing around some steampunk themes for sometime. He has a real passion for the histories of both ideas and technologies (which are just ideas in a physical manifestation), it seems like our era would be a rich vein for him to mine.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2007, 11:40:03 am by Honky-Tonk Dragon » Logged
irisclara
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« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2007, 04:40:56 pm »

Chuzzlewit: I too wonder what Mr. Stephenson is up to today. Waterhouse and Shaftoe in the future perhaps? Any personal suggestions in the meantime?

Diamond Age deserves its own thread as a steampunk text. I haven't read it since it came out but I remember it prominently featured airships and a very Victorian class system.

Words fail me when I try to describe the Baroque Cycle. I am a compulsive reader so a 1000 page book doesn't put me off but three 1000 page books could easily be seen as excessive. The books came out 6 months apart and that's how I first read them. This year I bought them and read them again, then I immediately read them again. 3000 pages felt like 300. I've never been so compelled by a story. The science, the politics, the economics, Half-Cocked Jack The Vagabond King, this story has everything! Steampunks will enjoy the third book especially as it involves clockwork Infernal Devices and the early commercial development of the steam engine (The Engine for Raising Water by Fire). The first book is a little slow but there's a lot to get set up and it does have some amazing parts. Stick with it. It will be worth it. This series is about the men who founded the world of machines. Also, it has pirates.
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Aetherscapist
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« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2007, 10:32:25 am »

The Diamond Age is indeed a fantastic story that I think many Steampunkers can sympathize with.

Brief summation of the setting (no plot spoilers involved) is basically that after nanotechnology is mastered, and thus any matter can easily be manufactured, the upper class has gone back to a sort of "style over substance" ideal.  Calling themselves "Neo-Victorians" they tend to be the architects behind all the nanotechnology, which they design and build for the dirty masses, eschewing their own technology, proffering hand-made objects themselves. 

Also, there are fabulous airships built on the idea that using nanotechnology, they can build a bladder out of super-light materials, with a perfect vacuum inside.

Also, SciFi channel is currently working on making it into a miniseries, so yay!  (It's being produced by George Clooney so...maybe not so much yay but we'll see...)
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H.Drake
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« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2007, 11:10:10 pm »

I just finished reading The Baroque Cycle over the past couple weeks and am now almost through Cryptonomicon.  The first book of The Baroque Cycle can be a bit to slog through, but if you view the whole series as a single novel (as Stephenson himself apparently does), the first book can be viewed as primarily setup and character introduction.  Half Cocked Jack Shaftoe is one of my favorite characters in any novel, rivaled only by Hiro Protagonist (who has the best character name ever) of Stephenson's seminal work, Snow Crash.  Needless to say, I'm a big Stephenson fan. Tongue  His attention to detail and dry wit serve only to add to his storytelling prowess.

The Age of Unreason series, of which the book Newton's Cannon, mentioned by the OP, is a part, is another series that would be of interest to those intrigued by steampunk.  Taking place in roughly the same time period as The Baroque Cycle, though a few decades later, it has a more fantasy element in that, in the struggle between alchemy and technology, it's alchemy that gains the upper hand.  Greg Keyes also uses humor to great effect and his portrayal of Voltaire is another of my favorite novel characters.
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Chuzzlewit
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Netherlands Netherlands



« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2007, 11:40:02 pm »

Quote
Chuzzlewit: I too wonder what Mr. Stephenson is up to today. Waterhouse and Shaftoe in the future perhaps? Any personal suggestions in the meantime?


What could Waterhouse do in the 19th century? My first thought was that, in keeping with Daniel's mission in life of advocating Sir Isaac's ideas and rescuing him from the consquences of his obsessions, he could perform the same task for Mr Darwin. But Darwin was a well adjusted character - a little hyperchondria was all - and famously well provided with bulldogs.

But today I was looking at some old Carl Sagan essays, and the perfect solution presented itself. If a Waterhouse was to find him or herself in Scotland in the 1830's and 40's, he could involve himself in the upbring of a certain very bright child whose obsession with the workings of the natural world left little room for normal social relations. He was, in modern terms, a nerd, and suffered for it - not least at the hands of teachers who's enthusiasm for beating boys was entirely in keeping with the educational theories of the time. He was known as "Dafty". The story would have to show respect, of course, for his parents, who raised him well, to eventually become professor of experimental physics at Cambridge. A comic passage could make the most of his brief, embarassing interview which actually took place with Queen Victoria.
What did "Dafty" go on to achieve? Many things and hard to summarise, but he did for electricity and magnetism what Newton did for mechanics. Perhaps his highest achievement was the so-called Field Equations, which demonstrate the connection between those two forces and allow for the existence of "electro-magnetic" waves. Such waves might, it seemed, be somehow deliberately propogated through the aether, perhaps for some useful purpose... Just one such purpose was found, many years later, to bounce such waves off approaching aircraft and finding their location from the reflections, which, as Sagan says:

Quote
may have been the decisive element in the Battle of Britain and the Nazi defeat in World War Two (which I like to think of as 'Dafty', the boy who didn't fit in, reaching into the future and saving the descendents of his tormentors)...


These days, of course, Dafty is held in high esteem, and one thing about the scientific community is that they know how to pay tribute to their high achievers.

And while he was at it Waterhouse could nip across to Dunfirmline in 1848, perhaps to look up old family Nonconformist connections, and make sure that a certain impoverished weaver, William Carnegie, along with wife, and young son Andrew, made their brave trip to the new world...

As far as Shaftoe is concerned, I have no idea at all... Help me out here, Stephenson nerds  Smiley





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irisclara
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« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2007, 02:32:10 pm »

Well, since Shaftoe is a soldier/vagabond, the british colonial era provides a lot of room to wander. Think Lawrence of Arabia or Burton in Africa or Kipling's Kim. The only problem I have with this Victorian speculation is how to tie in the codes and computers.
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