Sunday, June 1, 2014

Stephenson Retrospective

Now that I've spent a month reading Neal Stephenson I feel like I've got some things to say. Too bad that most of those things have already been said in my blogs about his books, which are awesome and should be required reading for functional, 21st century adults.

But part of the reason that I wanted to read all of Stephenson's non-collaborative fiction in chronological (in-universe chronology, not publication chronology) is because there's a level of interconnectedness that I felt the need to explore. Stephenson doesn't have the same crazy level of worlds-almost-touching depth that Stephen King does, but there are elements that clearly cross over from one story to another, even if they're transformed in the transition.

And here's what a chart of that craziness looks like:

And here's what I mean by some of these things:

Shekondar - A name that pops up in Cryptonomicon (the name of the fake band that Chester uses to send files to Randy, as well as a nasty boss in one of their old gaming campaigns), The Big U (the name of the worm/virus/operating system that is responsible for several problems), and Reamde (the name of a character wandering the Torgai foothills after Reamde is released and who is quoted in a company newsletter that Richard Forthrast is reading). Shekondar is not even remotely the same thing in any of these three books but the motif seems to represent computerized mayhem.

The Waterhouses - Drake Waterhouse, Daniel Waterhouse,Godfrey Waterhouse, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, and Randall (Randy) Lawrence Waterhouse are the Waterhouses we get to meet, though we also get a reference to Godfrey Waterhouse IV who helps to trace the lineage from The Baroque Cycle to Cryptonomicon. They are largely math and science oriented people who get a lot done by managing to be bright and competent.

The Shaftoes - Jack, Robert, Jimmy, Danny, Bobby, Douglas MacArthur, America, Robin, and M.A. Shaftoe are your friendly neighborhood badasses. The family survives by being a little odd and a lot dangerous.

The Gotos - Gabriel, Dengo, and Ferdinand are the Goto family; they are a strange mix of saint and samurai.

Enoch Root - A monk/priest/alchemist who tries to make sure that the world doesn't eat itself whole.

The Crypt - A data haven and means of circulating digital currency that is set up by Randy Waterhouse and Doug Shaftoe with the help of Enoch Root and Goto Dengo; it eventually allows for the decentralization of government and currency seen in Snow Crash which leads to the feeds and matter-building of The Diamond Age.

YT - YT avoids becoming chiseled spam long enough to earn herself a different set of smartwheels.

Kinotypes/Mediaglyphics - moving images that replace letters as a means of static communication; not actually connected but a reasonable suggestion that Hylaean Flow may exist between cosmos.

Earth - Most of the novels take place on Earth and all accept that Earth is a planet that exists in one of the at least five known cosmos. Taking place on Earth is the only thing that Zodiac has in common with the other novels, and the Laterran Geometers are the only solid connection between Anathem and the other novels if you exclude Kinotypes.

And hey, would you like to see another crazy chart? Neal Stephenson has a type for a lot of the characters he writes - which is not to say that the individual iterations are not fun unique individuals to read, just that they're identifiable the way that you can identify "goths" or "jocks" or "geeks" in your day-to-day life. And here's what some of his main character types look like:

I think this chart makes it look less complicated and awesome than his characters really are - especially the Kick-ass ladies; Stephenson doesn't tend to include a ton of female characters in his novels (though most of his novels pass the Bechdel Test, which is pretty impressive) but the women who he does include are really, really cool. Nobody writes a strong female character without falling into strong female character tropes like Stephenson.

Oh, in case you're curious, here's what 7318 pages of genre-defining literature looks like:

It weighs in at 17 pounds.

I really enjoyed the project of going through and reading all my Stephenson but I'm glad it's over, I was ready for a break. The only reason I think that I was able to finish this project at all is because Stephenson has a relatively small body of work - can you imagine trying to do this with King or PKD? You'd go crazy. I'd like to try a similar project with Gibson at some point in the future, though I think I'll wait a while and just dabble until I'm ready to give it a go.

     - Alli

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