the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Neal Stephenson’ Category

The Mongoliad, by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Erik Bear, Cooper Moo, E.D. deBirmingham and Joseph Brassey

published in April 2012 by 47North

where I got it: purchased new

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I’ll buy just about anything with Neal Stephenson’s name on it. Environmental thriller, or multi thousand page epic, if he writes I want to read it, and so far I’ve always been rewarded (even when that reward comes after me wanting to bash my head against the wall). So when I heard about The Mongoliad a while ago, a group project between Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and a handful of other talented authors, to say I was excited was a vast understatement. And when I brought that beautiful softly bound grey book home from the bookstore a few weeks ago? Why yes, yes there was singing and dancing. Red was a happy girl indeed.

It’s 1241 and the Crusaders still have a lot of work ahead of them.  C’nan, a scout and Binder of eastern descent, has been sent to assist a secretive order of Knights who are making their way east across northern Europe. In what will become Poland, Onghwe Khan is waiting for more supplies and troops and sets up a fighting circus in the meantime. Christians who participate in the fighting circus have the opportunity to win the freedom of all of Christendom. C’nan and the Knights come across the fighting circus and hatch a plot to rid themselves of the Mongol threat once and for all. I was most interested to learn more about C’nan’s binding skills, as it is implied early on that this is very important in the grand scheme of things.

It’s 1241 and Khagan Ogedei, son of Ghengis Khan, is slowly drinking himself to death. His brothers and sons are swarming across Asia and Europe, and Ogedei sits, trapped in a palace, besieged by courtiers and ambassadors, when all he wants out of life is the sky above him and a horse beneath him. One of those ambassadors, Gansukh, has been sent by Ogedei’s brother to help the Khagan get his drinking and his life under control. With the help of a beautiful tutor, Gansukh must learn that palace life is even more dangerous than the life of a soldier,  and that Ogedei’s problems are larger than his drinking vessel. Along with Ogedei’s flashbacks of his father, this was the more interesting plotline for me.  In fact, even in the other plot line, the Mongol characters were far more interesting than the Europeans.

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this is about two weeks worth of book hauling. and goodies in the mail from publishers who I want to give a giant hug to:

Let’s see what we got.  in an attempt to actually read the stuff I acquire, I’ve prioritized these. We’ll see how well I stick to my “rules” after a few months and another book haul. Don’t expect to see reviews instantly, I just this morning got back into town and haven’t started on any of these (just finished Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War and then picked up Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies for our read along). I’ve also got few library books not mentioned here that I need to eventually get to as well.  Le sigh, the life of a book lover!

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (May 2012) I’ve been a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson since Red Mars. His science fiction is deep, detailed (really, really detailed. Like Neal Stephenson detailed) and realistic feeling. Ok, sure, Antartica was kinda boring, but I appreciated the concept. I am really looking forward to diving into 2312. Priority – high.

The Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett – SF Noir? Perhaps some kind of mix of Dark City and Sam Spade? looks good to me! I loved Bennett’s The Troupe, so am excited to read more of his works. By the way, have you seen his recent book trailer? priority – medium

The Mongoliad book one (April 2012) by a multitude of cool people – I’m really not sure what this is. rumors were swirling around the interwebs a few years ago about some kind of subscription where beta-readers could interact with the authors about the story while they were writing it. Woah, totally meta! And Neal Stephenson’s name is on it. I therefore want to read it. Also stars this decade’s favorite historical character, Richard Francis Burton.    priority – high

vN – by Madeline Ashby (July 2012) Looks sort of like the author took Asimov’s three laws of robotics and removed them from our main character android. Also, she’s part human? and the environs are kinda Bladerunner-ish? Sign me up for some of that!!    priority – high

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Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

published Sept 2011

where I got it: library

why I read it: I suffer from Stephensonitis masochism

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It took me a while, but I got through Reamde (a play on words of the ubiquitous readme file that comes with most software), Neal Stephenson’s latest door stopper of a book.  This isn’t so much a review as it is a reaction, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So I don’t have to go thru the plot bits again, please read my first blab on Reamde, found here.  Amazon plot blurb can be found here.

A mainstream book review site (Salon? Slate?  someone like that) blurbed Reamde as being Stephenson’s most accessible book yet.  And it is.  No weird futuristic monks or cyberpunk guys with odd names, no generational flashbacks, nothing “weird” or inaccessible on that front. A globe spanning thriller that falls somewhere between a Ludlum style “pick off the bad guys one by one” and a Doctorow-esque “the Chinese gold farmers aren’t the bad guys!” ,  Reamde is surprisingly normal,  or at least normal compared to what I’ve come to expect from Stephenson.  It is in a word, it is utterly accessible.

For us Speculative Fiction fans, accessible is the double edged sword of the decade.

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About the size of the 4th Harry Potter book, but w/about 300 more pages.

Last weekend I got Neal Stephenson’s Reamde out of the library.  It’s been a busy week, so I’m only maybe 300 pages into this 1000+ page monster, but so far? I am LOVING it.   A book this long and involved deserves more than just a “review” post.

The gist of the plot so far is Richard owns a software company that runs the biggest MMORPG to hit the interwebs since WoW. His neice, Zula, does some work for his company as well. When Zula’s boyfriend does something incredibly stupid,  Zula and stupid (ex)boyfriend find themselves “guests” of the Russian mafia, and “invited” to China. And when I say guest I mean hostage and when I say invited I really mean abducted.  You see, a virus has broken out in Richard’s MMO, T’Rain.  This is a bad thing because it has compromised some sensitive info belonging to the Russians. They wanna find the hacker who started the virus and kill him.  Richard wants to find the hacker and hire him.

All that in only the first 150 pages.  I feel like I’m reading the incredible end bit of Cryptonomicon (if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about) with the breakneck pace of Zodiac.

Because this is a Stephenson, it is jam packed with detail.  And not those boring details about what color someone’s hair or clothing is, but the good kind of details, like how Richard and his buddies built the back story of T’Rain, of how his programmers are geologists who literally built the world up from planetary accretion disks, plate technonics and where volcanoes and gold and ore deposits would naturally occur on an Earth sized planets.  How they hired fantasy writers (one of Tolkien-esque quality and the other of well, not) to create their own mythologies and histories  of elves and dwarves and such.

And that’s just the beginning of the glorious infodumps.

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I wrote this review about a year ago for an online ‘zine, figured it couldn’t hurt to repost it here. I’m currently reading Stephenson’s Reamde (posts coming soon! it’s incredible so far!), so  when I eventually say “it was sorta like the pace of Zodiac”, people can know what the heck I’m talking about.  Never read Stephenson because his books are so damn long and weigh a ton? Zodiac is the perfect place to start, as it’s only a few hundred pages long.

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Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson

originally published in 1988, recently reprinted by Subterranean Press.

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Imagine if you could be a superhero. Save people’s lives, keep families safe, make sure large corporations aren’t taking advantage of the little people, do your part to help the world. Sangamon Taylor, who goes by ST, does that for a living. He isn’t a caped or masked crusader, his landlord is about to evict him, the newspapers affectionately refer to him as an ecoterrorist, and he’s no stranger to spending the night in jail. So much for saving the world. Neal Stephenson’s Zodiac is ST’s first person version of his exploits and adventures, and he can be as obnoxious and volatile as the chemicals he rails against.

ST spends his days trolling Boston Harbor looking for signs of pollution such as oily water or dead or dying animals. Pipes spitting out sludge is a dead give away too. His evenings are spent exposing the corporations responsible for the pollution, usually by cementing the pipes shut and listening for who complains. The media loves him, local law enforcement doesn’t know what to do with him, and the corporate thugs wish he would just move someplace far away. Technically ST is employed by an anti-pollution nonprofit called GEE, and it’s a life saver, as donations to GEE are what keep him fed, clothed, and in parts for his fleet of Zodiacs, the small one person inflatable crafts that get him around the harbor. Under the auspices of GEE, he’s able to hire university interns, and gain access to the university labs and chemical analysis tools.

The local repeat offender for corporate pollution is a large company called Basco, run by the wealthy Pleshy family. When Pleshy senior enters national politics, ST knows there will never be a better time to take down Basco. All he needs now is proof. But when you’re dealing with an ever changing body of water that’s seen 200 plus years of pollution and dumping, finding proof of who is responsible for what can be next to impossible.

Smart but poor, ST knows a super cheap way to see what’s happening in the harbor waters is to dissect the creatures who live there, see what’s in their stomachs and what chemicals have built up in their systems. Friends with everyone, it’s easy for ST to get a few sickly looking lobsters from the nets of the local lobster men. If the insides look like something a lobsterman would eat, all is good. But when a yellow oily pus filled lobster sends an intern crying from the lab, ST knows he’s hit contamination gold.

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Subterranean Press, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

- beautiful cover art
– you publish a lot of stuff that I really, really want to read!!
– limited editions with even more beautiful artwork at very reasonable prices
– reprints of older stuff that is impossible to find
– your newsletter is timely, and not annoying
and you blurbed me. in one of your front page articles on your site for reviews I wrote for Neal Stephenson’s Zodiac, and Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects.

this is one of those things that makes a reviewer very, very happy. You read a great book, attempt to write a really good review, and then the publisher blurbs you on their site.

Granted, I wrote these reviews for SFRevu, a well known speculative fiction e-zine, so they are credited to SFRevu and not me, but still! A publisher noticed something I wrote!

What are these articles, you ask? Behold!
Subterranean blurb

Full review for Ted Chiang’s Lifecycle of Software Objects is here.

Full review for Neal Stephenson’s Zodiac is here


This review was originally posted here in October of 2008. Only after I read this book, and most of Stephenson’s Baroque cycle, did I realize that Cryptonomicon is not only vintage standard Stephenson, but an unofficial fourth book in the Baroque Cycle.

Not quite science fiction, and nothing like what I expected, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is a mental mind screw of the highest voltage.

I read Cory Doctorow’s short story Little Brother a few weeks ago. Enthralled, I couldn’t help but read every snippet of end note and commentary at the end, in which Doctorow mentions how inspired he was by Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. Off I was to the library, to seek out what seemed to be the only copy in the county library system.

A novice in the science of crypto (that’s code breaking for you other novices), I wasn’t expecting a history lesson that sent me right to Google Maps to find all these places in the Pacific Theater of WWII (it is too bad the book didn’t have any handy maps). Documentaries on TV might only mention the German Enigma machine these days, but there was plenty of other code breaking going on during the war, much of it based on random numbers, mathematical equations, and the gamble that a hundred people in a room backwards engineering the formula wouldn’t figure it out in years. It was a pretty smart gamble, until early computers showed up, and could crunch the numbers in a matter of days.

Math buddines Alan Turing, Lawrence Waterhouse, and Rudolf von Hackleheber meet at Princeton in the 30s, and sit around talking math. At the beginning of the war, Turing heads to England, Hackleheber to Germany, and the socially inept Waterhouse gets bounced all over the place breaking enemy codes like nobodies business. The world powers are up to their eye balls in Enigma, Windtalkers, and any other way of getting secret messages across the oceans. Meanwhile, marine Bobby Shaftoe is stuck in the Philippines trying not to get shot, and hoping his Filipino girlfriend isn’t pregnant. For the first few hundred pages, Stephenson introduces a quadratic equation worth of characters. Would be a waste if they all didn’t meet up eventually in the same place at the same time, wouldn’t it. Read the rest of this entry »


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.