A Perverse Weakness

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Salon today has a long, interesting interview with Neal Stephenson, whose new novel The Confusion was published earlier this month. The conversation features plenty of quotable bits, but this is probably my favorite:

Q: You're remarkably sympathetic to the Puritans, too, which is unusual these days.

A: I have a perverse weakness for past generations that are universally reviled today. The Victorians have a real bad name, and the word "Puritan" is never used except in a highly pejorative way, despite the fact that there are very strong Victorian and Puritan threads in our society today, and despite the fact that the Victorians and Puritans built the countries that we live in. The other one, by the way, is the '50s. Someday I'll have to write a '50s novel.

The reason why people are so vituperative about those generations is not because they know anything about the history, but because they're really talking about splits within our culture today that they're worried about.

Stephenson fans will also want to read the recent Wired News interview with the author. Unless, of course, they prefer to skip directly to the book.

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  1. Stephenson’s perverse weakness (considering that he’s a writer) is his inability to write a readable novel.

  2. Nice, JDM. you’re the funniest guy at the trailer park, I guess.

    I’m reading The Confusion right now. Interesting stuff on the origin of money and banking that really make you think.

  3. I’ve always felt that Stephenson’s shortcoming was his endings — or lack there of. The books go on and on, quiet entertainingly, then stop. That said, The Confusion is certainly good so far, especially if you like history.

  4. “… Stephenson’s shortcoming was his endings”

    So don’t tease us, how does it end?

  5. I think it’s fair to accuse him of poor endings…he’s often failed there.

    His novel _The Diamond Age_ is largely based on a positive reading of the Victorians as ambitious and optimistic technologists.

  6. Awwwww Larry, you beat me to the punch with “The Diamond Age.” If memory serves he also seems to have had a soft spot for Confucian government and criminal justice as well.

    I liked it mainly for all the nanotechnology it featured.

  7. The Diamond Age is a masterpiece – Stephenson’s affection for the Victorian age (and for nanotechnology) really shows through. I’m not so sure about Cryptonomicon, though. I desperately want to like it, but I keep putting it down in favor of something else. Can anyone tell me whether this book goes anywhere after the first 100 pages or so? Now comes The Baroque Cycle, whichs seems like a continuation of Cryptonomicon to me, only with less interesting topics. Argh.

  8. Madog is right. I hate to even tell people that Cryptomonicron has a bad ending (poorly and probably hastily written, I’d guess,) as not to spoil it for whoever is fixing to read it. The rest of that book was really intense, and I think I read the 900-odd pages in a few days. Great book, dicked-up ending. oops, too late now, huh?

    Oh, and the Salon web-site makes you either register or see an advertisement for environmental wackos to get to the text. I chose option 2, unfortuately and had to write a web-site-based email to some congressman. Course, I deleted the standard text and wrote my own opinion of environmental regulations…. ha, man I crack myself up sometimes ;-}

    Dang, that last bit makes you wonder if our “representatives” take emails seriously when they all start with a standard body and such. Most of the people sending it probably have not a clue – what a scam.

  9. makes you wonder if our “representatives” take emails seriously

    I’ve been hearing for a while that such emails are a complete waste of time, that noone reads them, etc. I believe it, which is why I never send one, nor sign any petitions or anything like that–even if I believe in the cause.

  10. Actually, you’re never required to write or do anything when it comes to those Salon commercials-you just just hit the “On to Salon Premium” button- you do have to look for it though.

  11. Patrick: I think Cryptonomicon is his best novel. It also has the strongest ending I’ve seen him write (aside from the ending to Interface, which he co-wrote under the pseudonym Stephen Bury — a real aberration for Stephenson in that it’s a mostly bland book with a strong finish).

    I can usually forgive Stephenson’s weak conclusions. The exception is Snow Crash, which starts well but just peters out in the final third.

  12. Well, I’m wishin you’da told me that 30 min ago, Mr. Real ;-} Thanks for the tip for next time, though.

    And Patrick, the book does go somewhere. However, if you’re not into military history and the internet/computer stuff in that novel, I can see where it’d get boring before any action starts.

    also, you cut out “…when they all start with a standard body and such.” You’re not any kin to Maureen Down are you??? Ha, just a dumb punditry joke …

  13. you cut out … Maureen Down … a dumb … joke …

    Well, Patrick *is* my pseudonym.

  14. However, if you’re not into military history and the internet/computer stuff in that novel, I can see where it’d get boring before any action starts.

    Actually, I’m looking forward to the computer stuff. A novel featuring snippets of Perl code is definitely right up my alley. Unfortunately, the military history does bore me to tears.

  15. I rather like Stephenson’s “weak” endings as they give the stories a more realistic feel. Real life events rarely follow the pacing of narrative convention. Also, Stephenson’s stories are more like travel narratives that move across the geography of ideas and like a travel narrative, the journey is more important than the destination.

  16. And nobody seems to have mentioned that The Confusion features, among other folks, Jean Bart.

  17. Here’s another vote for the unsatisfying endings. Generally I’m the kind of person who likes reading continuing stories of characters. At least wrap the story up and leave it at something approaching ‘normalcy’. But Stephenson always seems like he’s just chopped off about 25 pages at the end of the book. I just feel a bit cheated.

  18. Does the confusion feature a Stephenson obligatory sex scene — there’s been one in every novel of his I’ve read.

  19. Well, I just read “Cryptonomicon” a few months ago, and could not put it down (literally, staying up until 4 a.m. when I had to work the next day). Easily one of the best novels I’ve read in the last decade. The ending? I felt it was true to life, and accepted it.

    –Mona–

  20. Jax,

    I wasn’t going to say anything. Jean Bart’s been extra touchy of late. I put it down to his permanently chapped ass.

  21. Hm, maybe I’ll pick up Cryptonomicon again, then; he really *does* have problems with winding up a book and it would be nice to see him succeed.

    I enjoyed his portrayal of the Victorians (“Vickies”), but I had to roll my eyes at the explanation that people’s loathing of their society was due to their being hypocrites. Well, yes, that and the appalling racism, sexism and arrogance, but who are we to argue with Neal “Himmelfarb” Stephenson?

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