Anyone who has read nearly any of Neal Stephenson’s works will know that he must spend countless hours hunched over books in the library. The Diamond Age, where he recreated Victorian society in a future world; The Sumerian mythology in Snow Crash; and now, the ridiculously complicated Baroque Cycle, of which The System of the World is the last of the three books.
The Baroque Cycle aspires to nothing less than a history of the modern economic system, the end of Alchemy as a respected profession, the final years of the British slave system, the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666, the invention of the calculus, and the founding of modern scientific thought; all of this through the accounts of fictional, semi-fictional, and historical personages, the sheer numbers of which will give most people a headache.
Less science fiction that historical fiction, Stephenson somehow manages to conjure up the the things that I like about his “regular” stories: great tech (for the day anyhow,) novelty of ideas, great character backgrounds, and long explanations of should-be-tedious-but-somehow-aren’t points. The construction of the Logic Mill is a particularly well thought out invention, and he even makes complicated financial transactions somehow - well - exciting. Really.
Stephenson also seems to avoid the thing that plagues most of his other works: the horrible, horrible, ending. For those who don’t know, lots of his books Just End, with so many loose ends and unexplained things, it drives some people nuts. Though the first two individual books in this series have this fault, the third wraps up most of the important things neatly. Yes, there are loose ends, but no more so than any other 2700 page books.
Loved it. Looking forward to anything new from Neal. Hopefully he’s not totally beat from hacking out these bludgeon-capable (but eminently readable!) phone books.