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Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1    by Neal Stephenson order for
by Neal Stephenson
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Ken Lux

Perhaps you were fortunate enough to have read Neal Stephenson's marvellous work, Cryptonomicon. This tale wove through multiple 20th century timestreams. It followed a group of contemporary hackers creating an independent, secure 'data haven', and their progenitors' groundbreaking work designing and cracking code systems. The detail lavished on the author's characterizations is equalled only by his attention to the accuracy of his depiction of the evolution of code work. Since my knowledge in this area is scant at best, as a reality check I lent my copy of Cryptonomicon to a relative whose business is electronic securities. Frighteningly well versed in all things encrypted, he pronounced it a masterwork. He also won't return it says it's too deep for me.

Neal Stephenson's latest work, Quicksilver, is the first of three books in a series titled The Baroque Cycle. This massive work is an extension of Cryptonomicon in that we encounter the familiar names of Root and Waterhouse as the opus begins. But this tale opens in the early 1700's as Dr Daniel Waterhouse (founder of 'The Massachusetts Bay Colony Institute of Technologickal Arts', or as it is known today, MIT) begins a transatlantic return voyage to England. The storyline shifts back to his youth spent at Trinity College, Cambridge and this is where much of this story evolves. There are shades of Forrest Gump in this novel. As we follow young Daniel, he befriends (or aggravates) almost every conceivable person of note throughout the 18th century. Isaac Newton, the pirate Blackbeard, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (one of the originators of modern calculus), Royalty and Deviltry; everyone makes an appearance. Any event of historical significance from this time period plays at least a cameo; the Black Plague, the Great London Fire and the origins of what will evolve into all of our modern day branches of science. The tale is told with great passion, detail and humour. However ...

All of this must be said with the disclaimer 'Not For The Faint Hearted'. This is an incredibly involved book. It often dissolves into long soliloquies describing the state of a vivisected animal or the appearance of a gentleman's attire. The spoken dialog is frequently rendered in the prose of the time with whimsical twists that can be easily missed. The temptation exists (at least it did for me!) to skim ahead and skip the more convoluted turns of the labyrinth. But in doing that you will miss out on what this tale really is about the reason we're there. It is in this detail that the author makes the people, the history and the politics of each era live. Turn off the phone, lock the doors and skip the next two episodes of Friends. This worthy story necessitates some sacrifices.

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