Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top 60 Novels of 2000-2009 Countdown, No. 21

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

At times raunchy, overloaded with historical detail and simply confusing, Quicksilver nonetheless would be a monumental and entertaining work in and of itself. But as part of a trilogy, it's overwhelming -- so overwhelming, in fact, that I haven't gotten to the second and third installments. Perhaps had I started with Cryptonomicon, I would have gotten more momentum (the events in the Baroque trilogy seem to relate back to the earlier work). Anyway, my father lent me Cryptonomicon, and I want to go back and read it before I read the last two, or for that matter Snow Crash (even though my daughter just read and enjoyed the latter). But Quicksilver has the excitement of discovery -- a twofold excitement, because you discover the minute details of a historical era while the characters discover new ways of relating to each other and the world -- and like several other of my favorite novels, you get to see historical characters in bizarre contexts (William of Orange as bisexual, James II as a hapless fugitive or Isaac Newton as just plain weird). There also are startling images and two terrific protagonists -- the London faux Puritan and the ex-slave entrepreneur who's great at encryption. No matter that I don't understand fully the cyphers; it's still a rich read.

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