I’ve just finished Quicksilver, Book 1 of Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle. This requires clarification. I have not finished the collection which was published as Quicksilver that contains three novels (Quicksilver, The King of the Vagabonds, and Odalisque) but only the first of these three.
Thus far it would appear that The Baroque Cycle is significantly less action packed than most of Stephenson’s work, including the interminably long Anathem. This is in no way a criticism of Stephenson, from my perspective. Perhaps this is largely my opinion only because the first of Stephenson’s books I ever read was Snow Crash, which has very little to do with anything else he has written. It was originally intended to be a graphic novel and it reads like one, only with words. I’ve misplaced or loaned out my copy and will soon endeavor to replace it, probably digitally. This will further mix my collection of Stephenson- I own Crytonomicon in paperback, have only borrowed the hard cover Anathem from the library (and since returned it upon finishing) and will have the entire Baroque Cycle on Kindle shortly.
Back to the book; with Stephenson a lack of action is perfectly acceptable for the regions in which he most excels involve character and world building. Mostly world building, because his characters evolve believably largely as a consequence of this. One thing many other readers don’t much like about Stephenson is his tendency to explain things. When you finish Cryptonomicon, you will have learned a surprising amount about basic cryptography. Having finished only the first book of the Baroque Cycle, I already know far more about the Baroque period in Europe than I did before.
If textbooks were written like this we would not have nearly so much trouble with reluctant students. I have always believed that historical fiction and period fiction ought to play a larger role in the teaching of history than they do. Ah well.
Now, I have a good deal of writing and other work I must do before continuing with The Baroque Cycle, but there was one notable weakness in the work. The main character is a Puritan most of the time, but I don’t believe it. When we first meet him he’s an atheist, but most of the story takes place while he’s a Puritan, but while I can’t pin down why, I don’t buy it. He doesn’t seem to think Puritanically. Sure, he is appropriately guilty (usually) when he thinks particularly un-Puritanically, but the point remains. He seems to occupy the same middle ground as the majority of humanity.
Perhaps this says something about the point Stephenson would like to make about Puritans, but I still believe a more demonstrable change should have taken place over time. How, I don’t know. Stephenson’s plenty impressive enough as it is, I leave it up to his fantastic skills.