The Big U [NOOK Book]

Overview

The New York Times Book Review called Neal Stephenson's most recent novel "electrifying" and "hilarious".  but if you want to know Stephenson was doing twenty years before he wrote the epic Cryptonomicon, it's back-to-school time. Back to The Big U, that is, a hilarious send-up of American college life starring after years our of print, The Big U is required reading for anyone interested in the early work of this singular writer.

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The Big U

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Overview

The New York Times Book Review called Neal Stephenson's most recent novel "electrifying" and "hilarious".  but if you want to know Stephenson was doing twenty years before he wrote the epic Cryptonomicon, it's back-to-school time. Back to The Big U, that is, a hilarious send-up of American college life starring after years our of print, The Big U is required reading for anyone interested in the early work of this singular writer.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061847387
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 342,518
  • File size: 566 KB

Meet the Author

Neal  Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem; the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World); Cryptonomicon; The Diamond Age; Snow Crash, which was named one of Time magazine's top one hundred all-time best English-language novels; and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Biography

In Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, human beings can immerse themselves in a computer-generated universe, and computer viruses can infect human bodies. This blurring of the boundaries between silicon and flesh seems characteristic of Stephenson, a writer whose interests in technology and engineering are inseparable from his skills as a storyteller.

Here is a novelist who talks about the "data management problem" of writing a historical novel, and who apologizes for not responding to fan mail by explaining that he has an "irremediable numerical imbalance between outgoing and incoming bandwidth."

Indeed, Stephenson seems to have a computer metaphor for almost every aspect of the writing life, even when he's not using a computer to write. He wrote the manuscript for Quicksilver in longhand, using a fountain pen. With this slower method of putting words to paper, he explained in an interview with Tech Central Station, "It's like when you're writing, there's a kind of buffer in your head where the next sentence sits while you're outputting the last one."

"Paper," Stephenson adds, is "a really good technology."

As the author of Snow Crash, Stephenson became a cult hero to cyberpunk fans and an inspiration to Silicon Valley start-ups. His Metaverse was the Internet as cutting-edge carnival, a freewheeling digital universe where a pizza-delivery driver could become a samurai warrior. "This is cyberpunk as it ought to be, and almost never is," wrote David Barrett in New Scientist.

Stephenson followed Snow Crash with The Diamond Age, which Publishers Weekly described as "simultaneously SF, fantasy and a masterful political thriller." Stephenson then broke out of the science fiction genre with Cryptonomicon, a 928-page doorstop of a book that drew comparisons to Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Cryptonomicon interweaves two cryptography-themed plots, one set in the 1990s and the other during World War II. "What cyberculture needs right now is not another science-fiction novel but its first great historical novel, and Cryptonomicon is it: an intimate genealogical portrait of the 20th century's computer geeks, great and small, and of the technosocial landscape they have more and less knowingly shaped," wrote Julian Dibbell in The Village Voice.

Hefty though it is, Cryptonomicon is a quick read compared to Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, which begins with Quicksilver and continues in two more volumes, The Confusion and The System of the World.

In Quicksilver, a historical novel set in the 17th century, Stephenson explores many of the roots of modern science, mixing meditations on calculus, chemistry and cryptography with a cast of oddball characters (and many of the real-life historical figures, including Isaac Newton, turn out to be very odd indeed).

"At first it feels like Stephenson is flaunting how much time he spent at the library, but the lure of the next wisecracking history lesson becomes the most compelling reason to keep going," wrote Slate reviewer Paul Boutin.

So how did Stephenson manage all that historical data?

"I started with a bunch of notebooks, just composition books, in which I would write notes down in chronological order as I read a particular book, or what have you," he explained in an interview on his publisher's Web site.

"Those are always there, and I can go back to them and look stuff up even when it's otherwise lost. Then, I've got timelines and timetables showing what happens when in the story. I've spent a while monkeying around with three ring binders, in which I glue pages here and there trying to figure out how to sequence things. It's a big mess. It's a big pile of stationery. Many trips to the office supply store, and many failed attempts. But in the end, as long as you can keep it in your head, that's the easiest way to manage something like this. You can move things around inside your head more easily than you can shuffle papers or cross things out on a page and rewrite them."

The three-pound processor inside the author's head, as it turns out, is a really good technology.

Good To Know

Stephenson comes from a family of scientists: His father is a professor of electrical engineering, and his mother worked in a biochemistry lab. Both his grandfathers were science professors. Stephenson himself majored in geography at Boston University, because the geography department "had the coolest computers."

Stephenson co-wrote two political thrillers, Interface and The Cobweb, under the pseudonym Stephen Bury with his uncle George Jewsbury (whose own nom de plume is J. Frederick George). "The whole idea was that 'Stephen Bury' would be a successful thriller writer and subsidize my pathetic career under the name Neal Stephenson," he told Locus magazine. "It ended up going the other way. I would guess most of the people who have bought the Stephen Bury books have done so because they know I've written them. It just goes to show there's no point in trying to plan your career."

In the Beginning... Was the Command Line, Stephenson's book-length essay on computer operating systems, complains that graphical user interfaces distort the user's understanding of computer operations. On his current Web site, Stephenson dubs the essay "badly obsolete" and notes: "For the last couple of years I have been a Mac OX user almost exclusively."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Bury (co-author pseudonym, with J. Frederick George)
    2. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 31, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Meade, Maryland
    1. Education:
      B.A., Boston University, 1981
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Go Big Red Fan was John Wesley Fenrick's, and when ventilating his System it throbbed and crept along the floor with a rhythmic chunka-chunka-chunk. Fenrick was a Business major and a senior. From the talk of my wingmates I gathered that he was smart, yet crazy, which helped. The description weird was also used, but admiringly. His roomie, Ephraim Klein of New Jersey, was in Philosophy. Worse, he was found to be smart and weird and crazy, intolerably so on all these counts and several others besides.

As for the Fan, it was old and square, with a heavy rounded de-sign suitable for the Tulsa duplex window that had been its station before John Wesley Fenrick had brought it out to the Big U with him. Running up one sky-blue side was a Go Big Red bumper sticker. When Fenrick ran his System—that is, bludgeoned the rest of the wing with a record or tape—he used the Fan to blow air over the back of the component rack to prevent the electronics from melting down. Fenrick was tall and spindly, with a turkey-like head and neck, and all of us in the east corridor of the south wing of the seventh floor of E Tower knew him for three things: his seventies rock-'n'-roll souvenir collection, his trove of preposterous electrical appliances, and his laugh—a screaming hysterical cackle that would ricochet down the long shiny cinderblock corridor whenever some-thing grotesque flashed across the 45-inch screen of his Video System or he did something especially humiliating to Ephraim Klein.

Klein was a subdued, intellectual type. He reacted to his victories with a contented smirk, and this quietness gavesome residents of E07S East the impression that Fenrick, a roomie-buster with many a notch on his keychain, had already cornered the young sage.

In fact, Klein beat Fenrick at a rate of perhaps sixty percent, or whenever he could reduce the conflict to a rational discussion. He felt that he should be capable of better against a power-punker Business major, but he was not taking into account the animal shrewdness that enabled Fenrick to land lucrative oil-company internships to pay for the modernization of his System.

Inveterate and cynical audio nuts, common at the Big U, would walk into their room and freeze solid, such was Fenrick's System, its skyscraping rack of obscure black slabs with no lights, knobs or switches, the 600-watt Black Hole Hyperspace Energy Nexus Field Amp that sat alone like the Kaaba, the shielded coaxial cables thrown out across the room to the six speaker stacks that made it look like an enormous sonic slime mold in spawn. Klein himself knew a few things about stereos, having a system that could repro-duce Bach about as well as the American Megaversity Chamber Orchestra, and it galled him.

To begin with there was the music. That was bad enough, but Klein had associated with musical Mau Maus since junior high, and could inure himself to it in the same way that he kept himself from jumping up and shouting back at television commercials. It was the Go Big Red Fan that really got to him. "Okay, okay, let's just accept as a given that your music is worth playing. Now, even assuming that, why spend six thousand dollars on a perfect system with no extraneous noises in it, and then, then, cool it with a noisy fan that couldn't fetch six bucks at a fire sale?" Still, Fenrick would ignore him. "I mean, you amaze me sometimes. You can't think at all, can you? I mean, you're not even a sentient being, if you look at it strictly."

When Klein said something like this (I heard the above one night when going down to the bathroom), Fenrick would look up at him from his Business textbook, peering over the wall of bright, stolen record-store displays he had erected along the room's center-line; because his glasses had slipped down his long thin nose, he would wrinkle it, forcing the lenses toward the desired altitude, in-voluntarily baring his canine teeth in the process and causing the stiff spiky hair atop his head to shift around as though inhabited by a band of panicked rats.

"You don't understand real meaning," he'd say. "You don't have a monopsony on meaning. I don't get meaning from books. My meaning means what it means to me." He would say this, or some-thing equally twisted, and watch Klein for a reaction. After he had done it a few times, though, Klein figured out that his roomie was merely trying to get him all bent out of shape—to freak his brain, as it were—and so he would drop it, denying Fenrick the chance to shriek his vicious laugh and tell the wing that he had scored again.

Klein was also annoyed by the fact that Fenrick, smoking loads of parsley-spiked dope while playing his bad music, would forget to keep an eye on the Go Big Red Fan. Klein, sitting with his back to the stereo, wads of foam packed in his ears, would abruptly feel the Fan chunk into the back of his chair, and as he spazzed out in hysterical surprise it would sit there maliciously grinding away and transmitting chunka-chunka-chunks into his pelvis like muffled laughs.

If it was not clear which of them had air rights, they would wage sonic wars.

They both got out of class at 3:30. Each would spend twenty minutes dashing through the labyrinthine ways of the Monoplex, pounding fruitlessly on elevator buttons and bounding up steps three at a time, palpitating at the thought of having to listen to his roommate's music until at least midnight. Often as not, one would explode from the elevator on E07S, veer around to the corridor, and with disgust feel the other's tunes pulsing victoriously through the floor.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2012

    GREAT fun!

    Fantastic "first" book! Lots of laughs, reminds me A LOT of the sh*t that went on in the on-campus dorms in the 70's & 80's. A good read, although a bit choppy at times. Definitely worth it.

    ~Munchkin~

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2012

    Catch-22 + infinite jest

    Fun read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2001

    Hilarious

    This is NOT Cryptonomicon or Snow Crash... this is something distinct from Stephenson's hi-tech thrillers. This is a hilarious satire on college life, and as different as this novel is, it's definitely Neal. I enjoyed this almost as much as Cryptonomicon, and much more than Snow Crash.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2001

    Definitely worth the wait for a re-issue

    The Big U easily stands with Stephenson's other works, and is a must-have for any fan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2000

    Worth the wait -- a really fun book.

    After years of going at auction for $600, Stephenson's first novel is finally back in print. Now, make no mistake -- it *is* his first book, and as such, has some rough edges. This is why it's taken so long to be republished -- Stephenson didn't want people thinking it a new book and then saying 'Ugh, his writing has lapsed 20 years'. I'm actually surprised the front cover doesn't make a big deal of this. (At least it's not as embarrassing as the first edition cover.) Anyway, taken for what it is, this is a wonderful book, and in true Stephenson form. Just when you think you're getting a handle on the universe the book presents, you're suddenly dropped down to a whole new level of weirdness. It's great fun.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2000

    Woohoo

    Finally, I get to read The Big U by Neal Stephenson. This is a rerelease of his first novel, and very hard to find, until now of course since it will be rereleased. Can't wait to read it!

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