The author of The Baroque Cycle series and works of speculative fiction offers a miscellany of stories and essays, some of classic Stephensonian length.
In a breezy, self-deprecating introduction, Stephenson (Reamde, 2011, etc.) credits (blames?) others for the idea for this collection. The pieces range from mildly hectoring essays of advice (we should move around more) to more learned pieces about the intellectual war between Newton and Leibnitz, to fluff about the differences between “geeking out” and “vegging out.” Stephenson also includes the text of a speech at Gresham College, a revealing interview with Salon and a massively long but massively interesting piece of investigative journalism for Wired, which deals with the history, technology and logistics of the submarine cable industry. The author traveled across the world—and back in time—to explain in ways surely comprehensible to most readers how all of this started, how it works, and what it costs. Although the piece is now dated a bit (as are a number of the others here), the historical significance of his work is sizeable. Readers will emerge from that labyrinthine piece with a more comprehensive understanding of how the Internet works, how information gets from here to there and back again. Stephenson also includes some fiction, including a speculative tale about e-money and a single-sentence beginning to an otherwise-unwritten crime novel set in Middle-earth. In some of the op-ed-like pieces, the author urges more reading, defends his genre against those who disparage it, wonders why we don’t understand religious zealots, and bemoans what he views as a lack of will to pursue the sort of innovation that characterized the era of space exploration. He ends with an explanation and apology for not answering emails from his fans.
A occasionally uneven but mostly engaging assortment from a talented literary mind.