Neal Stephenson Takes The Long Road

Neal Stephenson writes long, very long, books. And that’s how I like them. I’ve read his Baroque Cycle as he calls his three books that begin with Quicksilver, continue with The Confusion, and wind up with The System of the World. Each of these books runs beyond 800 pages, giving the reader plenty of words for the cover price.

What I enjoy about Stephenson’s books is the integration of historical events and characters with the fictional ones. He weaves these two seamlessly, supporting them with facts, so that in the end its one giant story about the world. While not all of it is true, it could have been. I prefer this to science fiction or fantasy books, neither of which have I been able to get through. (Exception: Jules Verne) Furthermore, Stephenson is not afraid to take detours to flesh out the context of the action. Too many books I read today drop the reader in from space without a decent explanation of the setting. The writer expects the reader to know what 1950’s Dublin is all about, or what’s going on in terms of present-day European skullduggery, or how religious practices of some distant tribe create social mores. Sorry, I have quite a diversity and depth of knowledge, but it is your job, dear writer, to create the world of your story for me to read. If that takes a few more pages, please, indulge me. After all, I didn’t pay the cover price to read a magazine article.

Yes, that was criticism in the previous paragraph. Some critics have lambasted Stephenson for not editing or condensing his work. My humble opinion is that he should leave it the way it is or add more. I mentioned his work in an early post about the “brevity cult” (his term). Well, the “brevity cult” is alive and well in this era of attention deficit disorder. However, just because some people can’t stay focused doesn’t mean the rest of us should be short changed. Good characters and enthralling plots don’t bog down in long books; they engage the reader, giving him solid footing to travel along the novel’s journey.

So, Neal Stephenson takes the long road. I’m right there with him.

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Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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