The Speculative Neal Stephenson

I am not a hardcore science-fiction/fantasy reader. But there are a few authors that I follow. One is Neal Stephenson.

Sometimes he is pegged as a sci-fi writer - but he is also considered a writer of speculative fiction (a term I prefer for him), historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and post-cyberpunk.

His books include mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science.

He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine.

According to his bio, he has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company funded by Jeff Bezos that is developing a manned sub-orbital launch system.

He has a book that I read slowly, creating my own installments over the course of about six months and that have finally finished titled Anathem, which is his ninth novel.

In it, he creates his own inverted world and a new language.

There are several videos on Amazon where you can hear him introduce and read some of it.

Set on a planet called Arbe (pronounced "arb"), Anathem is a world divided into two cultures. The saecular general population seems like "us" shopping in megastores, and destroying the the environment. The others are the highly-educated avaunt who live a monastic life filled by by intellectual activity and ritual.

The avaunt view time differently from their walled-off areas that are built around giant clocks designed to last for centuries. The avaunt are separated into four groups, depending on the amount of time they are isolated from the outside world and each other - from 1 year to the Millennarians,very wise people who only emerge in years ending in 000.

Living in two worlds is something that runs through most of the books of his that I have read.

Neal Stephenson was born in 1959 in Fort Meade, Maryland. His father taught electrical engineering, his grandfather taught physics and his mother was a biochemistry researcher.

He was a self-described theater geek.
"I played the role of Mephistopheles in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and on the technical side made a full-size mechanical Kong hand that, at one point in the play, reaches through a window and drags somebody offstage."

The family moved to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from high school in 1977. He attended Boston University, first majoring in physics, then switching to geography because it allowed him more time to use the university's mainframe computer. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in geography with a minor in physics. He moved to Seattle with his wife, Ellen, who did her medical residency there.

Stephenson says Anathem was inspired by the real-life Millennium Clock, a project thought up by inventor Danny Hillis and developed by the Long Now Foundation. The clock is built to last 10,000 years. In our age of things go ever faster, the Millennium Clock would only tick once a year, chime once a century, and the cuckoo would appear once a millennium.

The first book of Stephenson's that I and many others discovered was Snow Crash, in which he postulated the Metaverse - a digital alternative virtual world. It was an idea that caught the attention of cyberpunk readers back in 1992. Computer scientists creating the early virtual worlds have used his metaverse as a kind of blueprint. called him the "poet laureate of hacker culture."

"I was sort of going for broke with Snow Crash. I had tried to write stuff that was more conventional and that would be appealing to a large audience, and it didn't work. I figured I would just go for broke, write something really weird, and not be so worried about whether it was a good career move or not."

In the book's "real" world, Hiro Protagonist just delivers pizza, but in the Metaverse, he is a warrior prince.

Snow Crash and his next four books were all on the New York Times best-seller list. I haven't read all of his books and I avoid books in a series - though I realize that series like Game of Thrones and others are very big publishing (and TV and movie) success stories. (I did read all the Harry Potter books.)

The Diamond Age is set in a near-future Shanghai and features a woman who owns an ususual nanotech book.

Cryptonomicon delves into cryptography.

And one of his multi-volume series is in the steampunk genre. Quicksilver is the the first volume of the "Baroque Cycle."

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