I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. I can’t believe it took most of a month to read it, but I’ve been juggling kids, work, house cleaning, and a few other projects, and I never seem to have time to read any more. All in all, it’s an interesting book, but it’s not at all what I was expecting. Most of his previous works were more or less science fiction, up until Cryptonomicon, which was more “geek fiction” then anything else; it’s frequently called SciFi anyway though, because no other description fits it any better. Before Quicksilver, I’d have ranked Cryptonomicon in his top three, along with Snow Crash and Zodiac (I’m probably in the minority on Zodiac, but I liked it). Some days, I like it better then Snow Crash, and other days it’s down to number 2 or 3, but it’s always up there somewhere.
Now Quicksilver has jumbled things up a bit. First, it's even less SciFi then Cryptonomicon (although there's always the Enoch problem in both books). At least it fits into an identifiable genre--it's clearly historical fiction (err, mostly--Enoch). But, it's geeky historical fiction, where technical and philosophic advancements mean at least as much as political events, but the two are starting influence each other, as science begins to emerge and the modern world starting being constructed.
I’m going to reserve final judgment on Quicksilver until I’ve had time to read the rest of the set–The Confusion is supposed to be out in April, and System of the World is due out late next year. Quicksilver is clearly just Act 1; at the end you’re aware that he’s spent a lot of time setting up events that are going to take a long time to resolve. Except, since it’s historical fiction, it’s obvious what’s going to be happening–of course Charles II died, leaving the throne to James II. Of course William of Orange took it from James. Of course it passed from William and Mary to Anne, and then onto Sophie’s offspring. Any history book (or Wikipedia) will tell you that. Somehow, though, Stephenson manages to make all of that as interesting as the gold hunt in Cryptonmicon. So, even though he managed to leave characters hanging in the most irritating places at the end of this book, I’m looking forward to the next installment in the set. Even though I already know how it’s going to turn out.