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[personal profile] dreamtouch
I just finished volume two of Neal Stephenson's trilogy The Baroque Cycle. I didn't dare start the series until my trip to Europe gave me all that time sitting on airplanes. I expected to be hooked and to a degree I am. As I expected, it is an extraordinary and enriching read, well worth my setting aside my usual aversion to long novels and especially to multi-volume long novels. It covers the development of the modern world in a highly evocative and insightful way. I recommend it for those who have not read any of his other works. This work may well be celebrated as his best, but I consider his earlier and shorter works to be better and worth your first attention. Of course the last volume may change my mind, and I'll let you know if it does.

Neal Stephenson's books Diamond Age and Snow Crash are my favorites. His rather long novel Cryptonomicon which follows them is magnificent, but not necessarily better than the two earlier books. The Baroque Cycle is longer than all three of these earlier books combined, yet in my opinion it is really no better than any one of them. But this depends on what you want out of a good book.

I think that I have a different bent on novels than most people. I am happy to have novels be entertaining, and I am sorry when I come to the end of an excellent book, but I also greatly value my time. I crave books, fiction or non-fiction, which enrich me in a way that will last indefinitely. When a shorter book accomplishes this as well as a longer book, I consider the shorter book to be a better one. If a longer book were to take me further, and give me more than the shorter work did, then that would make it even better; but longer books usually deliver no better goods, just a longer entertainment.

All of this being said, I consider Neal Stephenson to be one of the best writers currently alive and am grateful for the enrichment I have received from each one of his books. They are also all strikingly different, giving quite different gifts. He carries off mind-bogglingly ambitious projects and makes it seem easy.

Now I'm faced with a bit of a quandary. Shall I start The System of the World, which is the last volume of The Baroque Cycle, or take a short break and read Rainbows End, the latest book by my favorite author, Vernor Vinge, which has just arrived in the mail a bit sooner than I was expecting. I think I'll take a break from fiction for awhile, and pour myself into my own work, which I love even more, but in a different manner.



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