Well, I Tried

I bought Neil Stephenson’s “Quicksilver” and tried to read it.


After taking three days to get twenty pages, it got dumped on my try-again-when-cashflow-limits-ability-to-buy-new-books pile, with regret.

I loved “Snow Crash.” Still one of my all time favorites. I quite liked “Zodiac.” Unfortunately, I think he’s jumped the shark, and in fact, I’ll go so far as to pinpoint the exact moment of shark-jumping, about two-thirds of the way through “The Diamond Age.” It’s all been downhill from there.

See, Stephenson has one great strength–his writing. His absurd, Sam-Spade-on-crack, similies doing things you didn’t think a similie could do, writing. This keeps me endlessly amused. I will put up with remarkably silly plot devices if they’re delivered with that much wit and verve.

He comes up with some neat ideas, too, but let’s face it, neat ideas in the cyberpunk genre are a dime a dozen. You just don’t write the genre unless you have some neat ideas. There are standards to maintain above and beyond the neat idea level. Generally, I’ll grant you, some of his ideas are neat enough to transcend the genre, but still, that’s not the main reason I read.

He has two great weaknesses. He cannot end a book to save his life, for one, and he has an apallingly obnoxious habit of jumping around in chronology like a time traveller with a nervous tic and a bad bladder. An editor had a sacred duty to break him of this habit when it first emerged, and they fell down on the job.

Now, I am shallow, I admit, and I am an egotist of the first water, so I can be easily appeased by a shallow plot as long as it’s elegantly decked out in clever writing that makes me feel smart. Stephenson can do that like nobody’s business.

Unfortunately, he stopped doing that. “Cryptonomicon” had some great moments, but it had a lot of non-moments, and it was a hard slog getting to the fairly unsatisfying ending. But I kept going because of the rare nuggets of brilliant Stephenson writing.

I can’t do that with Quicksilver. We’ve gone several chapters, bounced around in chronology, and had no charming verbal moments to reward me for my ability to multitask the timeline.

Alas. I wanted so much to like it. I love Baroque. I loved Stephenson. But I just can’t manage it. Someday, when I am desperate, I will try again, but for now–in the words of Websnark.com, “You had me and you lost me.”

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