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May. 30th, 2007

Neal Stephenson is so uneven that I'm not sure why his books have such a following. As I've complained about before - his female characters have no reason, depth, purpose, or even basic humanity to them. Makes me wonder about the women in his life or his basic understanding of people in general. Not that his male characters are exactly complex or realistic. But he never makes them into pointless plot devices or pieces of ass who's only real purpose in the story is to make men feel inferior, deflated, happy, satisfied, or something else having to do with the egos and emotions of the male characters.

I mean - I get why geeks like his books. Even though he tramples all over the actual fundamentals (BIOS in "Snow Crash" meant Built-in Operating System for instance - something he recognizes in the acknowledgments, so that's okay)of the geekery, it's still a book all about a hacker and how this hacker literally saves the world. Of course that's going to appeal to coders. And the main hacker is a katana wielding sword slinger. Of course that's going to appeal to geeks in a basic "I want to be like that" kind of hero-worship way.

I just wish it actually had an ending that made any kind of sense. Or that the main female character was actually as much of a person as any of the male characters (even the ancillary random people in the book had more going on than she did). I know the book is goofy, tongue in cheek, silly, half comedy. But when a chick stops in the middle of an "I'm about to get killed" experience to tell the main guy that, really, all he really needs to grab the girl of his dreams is to understand HIMSELF better... I feel like I'm not the intended audience for this book and sort of feel outside of it. Like I'm reading something that's plastered with "boys only" stickers.

It was entertaining. It just could have been a lot better. And I can't tell if Neal Stephenson dislikes women (in a pat-you-on-the-head, patronizing way) or if he just doesn't really *get* them. You know that line from "As Good as it gets"? "How do you write women so well?" - "I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability." That pretty much sums up Neal Stephenson. If he also said "and make sure I mention her ass every 10 pages" it would be dead on.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 31st, 2007 01:41 am (UTC)
Lewis and Clark Days, pig shit and
I thought you loved Cryptonomicon the second time you tried it. At least, that's what i claim in my book review post. America Shaftoe isn't incredibly well developed, but i don't recall her being particularly poorly formed. Her being very macho may have something to do with that.

Stephenson really did quite well with Eliza, Princess Caroline, Sophie of Hanover, and some other female characters throughout the massive The Baroque Cycle. He took slight historical liberties with Princess Caroline to make her appear more scientifically gifted than the dilettante she was in real life, but Stephenson's depiction was truly quite good.

While i liked Snow Crash, i didn't enjoy it nearly as much his most recent books. I'm sure you're right about the female characters in the book, since i don't recall her at all. About all i really remember is the virtual reality aspect, some metaphor with "pepperoni fire" in describing the pizza delivery car, and that the villain was a Communications major at Rice (which Rice doesn't have...not that it matters, but it's what i remember).

Anyway, the reason i love Stephenson is his great storytelling ability, his command of language, and, most importantly, sense of humor. Others appreciate the science and/or historical fiction aspects of his works. Fully developed, realistic characterization isn't nearly as important to me. However, it speaks well of him that he's improved immensely over the past decade in such literary aspects.
May. 31st, 2007 01:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Lewis and Clark Days, pig shit and
I liked Cryptonomicon. I don't know if I really "loved" it. But yes, once I actually got through it, it was good. But that probably had more to do with the subject matter being really well presented (encryption is difficult to really explain well and he somehow made the whole thing gripping and not too "exclusive" feeling) in spite of sort of two dimensional "here for the plot push" characters. America Shaftoe is - like the other women in the book - pretty 2d. For instance, the main guy's fiance (who just gets a mention at the beginning) is pretty much only there to make him feel small and unfulfilled so he can globe trot without repercussions. And that's fine - some characters are going to just be fillers to propel the story. I just find that the "filler" is usually a woman.

I've only read Cryptonomicon and now Snow Crash so I'd have to read his more current things to see if he evolved out of that. His books don't really have great, evolved male characters either. It just seems glaringly thin or "standard" when it comes to women. Yes, in Snow Crash, Y.T. is a hard-talking delivery chick. But there's no *reason* for half the shit she does. It's the lack of underlying motivation in the characters that bugs me. Because some writers do that because "hey man, chicks are irrational".

He's definitely going for the funny/ entertainment angle so of course I'm not expecting deep meaningful characters. Like I said - it just sort of sticks out sometimes.
Jun. 1st, 2007 12:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Lewis and Clark Days, pig shit and
His only books since Cryptonomicon are the three in The Baroque Cycle, starting with Quicksilver. I recall it starting a bit slowly, but i ended up wishing that it was longer than 2600 pages. It a prequel of sorts to Cryptonomicon, in that it has ancestors of Waterhouse and Shaftoe as the main characters.

I'm not sure which i enjoyed more, but i think you would have a slight preference for Cryptonomicon over The Baroque Cycle simply because i suspect you'd prefer the cryptography and math geekery stuff over the birth of Natural Philosophy and 1660-1714 Historical Fiction (which admittedly has math geekery of its own, as the Newton/Leibniz concurrent invention of calculus is one of the subplots).

The Baroque Cycle is slightly less dense and moves a little slower in parts, but Stephenson's improvement in plot and character development more than make up for it. I especially appreciated his depiction of real-life historical figures. Isaac Newton, Princess Caroline (later the wife of Britain's George II), and Sophie of Hanover were fantastically rendered. As you'd expect, Stephenson did an incredible amount of research and it shows (again, more geekery).

Crpytonomicon's humor remains in tact, though perhaps in slightly less concentrated amounts.
Jun. 1st, 2007 01:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Lewis and Clark Days, pig shit and
Well I was pretty impressed by how he made Sumerian myths, the "Babel" effect, glossolalia, and the basic binary function of coding all make sense together in Snow Crash. And trust me - I'm not interested in at least two of those. heh.

Historical fiction is either *great* and really interesting, or, as the majority of it goes, really really awful. My father used to get all those "what if!" sort of treatments of world war 2 or books where the convenient wild west hero did/started something that completely didn't happen that way. Later I'm fairly certain he got the truth mixed up with the fiction.

Anyway - I'll have to look into those. I went to his site yesterday to poke around. He has maybe one of the worst websites I've ever used. For a geek, he needs to clean up his UI (pop up windows with table formatted text boxes that have scroll bars. It's pretty awful).
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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