Sunday, September 09, 2007

183 days later

Last week, after about six months of reading, I finally finished Neal Stephenson's trilogy of books The Baroque Cycle. This consists of three rather chunky (just under 900 page each) volumes: Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World. The books are kind of a follow on from Stephenson's previous novel Crytonomicon which is a very good book itself, and highly recommended by me to be read before or after these books.

You can read the wikipedia entries for a description of the stories' main plots and characters and I can't be bothered repeating them, but very briefly it's set in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, mainly in Western Europe, and follows the lives of several people mixed up in Natural Philosophy and the politics of the time, and includes many real historical figures. From here I'll just give my opinion on the books. Firstly if you're interested in the history of how much of modern science started (like the formation of the Royal Society), of English and Western European monarchy and politics, and of modern economics, then these books are great (especially the first one Quicksilver.) All these topics are covered as integral parts of the diverse storylines and are handled excellently. I'm not sure how accurate the historical accounts are, and there's obviously a fair bit of artistic license with real historical figures characterisations, but it all appears very well researched and timelined. You feel that your learning a lot and it makes you interested in finding out much more about the period. The two main storylines of the first book, that split into several others during the later books, before converging towards the end, are both equally interesting and well written so that you generally don't get disappointed when there's a switch between the two. Stephonson is prone to giving very long descriptions of things (hence the length of the books), but for the most part this enhances your enjoyment, however in the final book The System of the World these descriptions can seem overly long.

I really enjoyed the books and would recommend them to anyone who has half a year to spare (I can be a fairly slow reader, but they're going to take a while for anyone to get through.) I'd probably say that Quicksilver was my favourite, and that I was slightly disappointed by The System of the World. Quicksilver interest entirely throughout and didn't dragged at all, but The System of the World, despite probably being the fastest paced with regards to things happening over the shortest timescale, just had moments that I felt did drag and could have been left out or got through with fewer words.

I'll be looked forward to more or Stephenson's work in the future, but I've currently got three more books to keep me occupied.