[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 19 February 2005]
Whoa. Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver is one of the most engrossing novels ever published. It is huge and sprawling, jam-packed with trivia and populated with fantastic and richly–sometimes lavishly–drawn characters.
Weighing in at a well-fed 900 pages, Quicksilver is the first of three volumes in The Baroque Cycle, which is intended to be read as one novel. And yes, it takes a while to get through, but it is well worth the time investment, as it takes you deep inside the astounding changes taking place in the Baroque Era, with its rising merchant class and declining nobility, as well as the scientific breakthroughs accomplished by the likes of Newton and Leibniz (both of whom feature prominently in the book).
Perhaps most impressive, apart from the truly heroic amount of research Stephenson has performed, is how well the novel takes the reader into the thinking of the time, not shying away from the squalor and ugliness so prevalent. Also, the sheer wit and erudition Stephenson displays is awe-inspiring. You have to have quite a bit of mental horse power to carry off writing dialogue for Isaac Newton and Lous XIV, and Stephenson does so effortlessly.
On the downside, Stephenson sometimes does get a bit carried away with endless detail, and always takes the long road to get where he’s going. This mostly helps immerse the reader in the story, but sometimes obstructs the flow of the novel. Still, if you’re going to write about the Baroque era, you should probably do it in a baroque style.
Oh, and the syphilis. Who knew syphilis had so much to do with the progress of royal houses back in those days?
If you enjoyed Cryptonomicon, you will love Quicksilver. If you’re looking for a solid read, Quicksilver will not let you down. In fact, this novel is so good it made me break my iron-clad rule of No Hardcovers. There’s no way I’m waiting till July for the paperback release of The Confusion, so the hardcover is winging its way here from Amazon as I type these words.