USA Today


Stephenson recycles cryptic 'Quicksilver' 
By Elizabeth Wiese, USA TODAY 
Quicksilver is the first book in author Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle trilogy and a 
tangential prequel to his best-selling cult classic Cryptonomicon .

The 927-page novel contains three separate books, numerous plays, a thorough education 
in the science and history of 17th-century Europe, a short course in cryptography 
(Stephenson's literary calling card) and more interesting footnotes than found in many 
academic papers. 

Cyberpunk Stephenson is a man not afraid to follow his interests, wherever they may 
take him. He began his career writing an action novel, moved into science fiction, 
then created his own genre with Cryptonomicon in 1999.( Related item: Read an excerpt 
from Quicksilver )

Cryptonomicon included a fast-paced story of the machinations of Silicon Valley at the 
height of the boom, a most enjoyable World War II adventure, a treasure hunt and an 
excellent primer on the science of cryptography, the designing of codes used to 
scramble messages. 

More about the book 

By Neal Stephenson 
William Morrow, 927 pp., $27.95 

Quicksilver picks up the story, if going back 400 years in time can be called 

Book One examines the literal beginnings of scientific inquiry in England through the 
eyes of one Daniel Waterhouse, a fictional contemporary of the historical leading 
lights of that era. Book Two begins with Jack Shaftoe, a fictional relative of the 
equally fictional, if more folkloric, Bobby Shaftoe. Book Three covers the exploits of 
a young woman named Eliza from the curiously nonexistent European island kingdom of 
Qwghlm, whose adroitness with financial markets brings her to the French court and 
numerous transnational intrigues. Each character is, if surnames are a clue, a direct 
ancestor to the main characters in Cryptonomicon .

Along the way, the reader is either enthralled or bored silly by the numerous 
discursive digressions Stephenson gives to provide background that most readers (in 
fact, all readers who don't happen to be university professors of the history of 
science) might require. 

If the story requires a three-page digression to explain how Isaac Newton first began 
thinking about gravity, then three pages it is. And if two pages on mid-17th-century 
mining techniques or a description of the beginnings of money markets in Amsterdam is 
required, so be it, and damn the torpedoes - which I believe were discussed at length 
in Cryptonomicon .

Stephenson dotes on intricate word puzzles and re-creations of historically accurate 
literary contrivances. Quicksilver abounds with plays, genealogies and an entertaining 
series of letters - a popular literary form of the era - that both describes court 
life at Versailles and provides interested readers with a series of encrypted messages 
that will no doubt keep them happily busy for hours reverse-engineering them to 
discover the algorithms used. 

What Quicksilver lacks, sadly, is the momentum of Cryptonomicon . Though the novel is 
intriguing, there's precious little plot. It's more like real history in that lots of 
things happen; sometimes they're connected and sometimes they're not, and it's only a 
century or so later that we emphasize the connections and forget all the miscellaneous 
stuff in between. 

I doubt Quicksilver will captivate the audience that its predecessor did, but it's 
still an enjoyable read. And Stephenson, who clearly loves to pass along the fruits of 
his studies, isn't anywhere near stopping. 

Quicksilver was originally part of Cryptonomicon but it was chopped off when the first 
book got too long. Now, Quicksilver is volume one of a trilogy called The Baroque 
Cycle . Volume Two, The Confusion , is scheduled to appear in August 2004 and Volume 
Three, The System of the World , in October 2004. Don't get in line at your bookstore 
yet. In 1999, Stephenson said Quicksilver would be out in 2000. 

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: [EMAIL PROTECTED]>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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