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Some Remarks

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Overview

One of the most talented and creative authors working today, Neal Stephenson is renowned for his exceptional novels—works colossal in vision and mind-boggling in complexity. Exploring and blending a diversity of topics, including technology, economics, history, science, pop culture, and philosophy, his books are the products of a keen and adventurous intellect. Not surprisingly, Stephenson is regularly asked to contribute articles, lectures, and essays to numerous outlets, from major newspapers and cutting-edge ...

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Some Remarks

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Overview

One of the most talented and creative authors working today, Neal Stephenson is renowned for his exceptional novels—works colossal in vision and mind-boggling in complexity. Exploring and blending a diversity of topics, including technology, economics, history, science, pop culture, and philosophy, his books are the products of a keen and adventurous intellect. Not surprisingly, Stephenson is regularly asked to contribute articles, lectures, and essays to numerous outlets, from major newspapers and cutting-edge magazines to college symposia. This remarkable collection brings together previously published short writings, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as a new essay (and an extremely short story) created specifically for this volume.

Stephenson ponders a wealth of subjects, from movies and politics to David Foster Wallace and the Midwestern American College Town; video games to classics-based sci-fi; how geekdom has become cool and how science fiction has become mainstream (whether people admit it or not); the future of publishing and the origins of his novels. Playful and provocative, Some Remarks displays Stephenson's opinions and ideas on:

  • The Internet, our dwindling national attention span, and the cultural importance of books and bookishness
  • Waco, religion, and the cluelessness of secular society
  • Metaphysics and the battle between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
  • The laying of the longest wire on Earth—and why it matters to you
  • Technology, freedom, commerce, and the Chinese
  • How Star Wars and 300 mirror who we are today and what that spells for our future
  • Modern Jedi knights, a.k.a. scientists and technologists, and why they are admired and feared by both the left and the right

By turns amusing and profound, critical and celebratory, yet always entertaining, Some Remarks offers a fascinating look into the prismatic mind of this extraordinary writer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This meandering collection of short works by speculative/science fiction writer Stephenson (Reamde) compiles his published nonfiction and short stories from 1993 to the present, and includes two new pieces: “Arsebestos,” a pertinent and enjoyable essay about the dangers of sitting, and “Under-Constable Proudfoot,” a bemusing one-sentence opener to an unfinished work of fiction. The collection covers a diversity of topics and genres, ranging from long-form journalism about the wiring of transcontinental submarine cables and a foreword written for David Foster Wallace’s Everything And More to interviews with Salon and Slashdot and an essay on the ignorance of secularists in response to the 1993 Branch Davidian massacre in Waco. Selected shorter works such as “Locked In” and “Innovation Starvation,” which perform the unthinkable task of insightfully critiquing modern energy policy in general terms, provide concise and thoughtful arguments. Many pieces, however, are frustrating in their flimsy claims, such as his argument for the getting more respect from the literary world for science fiction. However, the collection’s range and the author’s lively voice keep it entertaining—despite the cumbersome selection “Mother Earth, Mother Board” —and Stephenson fans will surely find much to enjoy. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Liz Darhansoff Agency. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
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.
Library Journal
Surprise! Not another juicy work of speculative fiction from best-selling award winner Stephenson but a collection of essays he has contributed to magazines, symposia, websites, and blogs. It will be interesting to see the expansive Stephenson work in a smaller format. With a 75,000-copy first printing; cool.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062024435
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/7/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 985,735
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.15 (d)

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:

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Arsebestos (2012) 4

Slashdot Interview (2004) 16

Metaphysics in the Royal Society 1715-2010 (2010) 38

It's All Geek to Me (2007) 58

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out (2006) 62

Gresham College Lecture (2008) 67

Spew (1994) 84

In the Kingdom of Mao Bell (selected excerpts) (1994) 103

Under-Constable Proudfoot (2012) 119

Mother Earth, Mother Board (1996) 120

The Salon Interview (2004) 238

Blind Secularism (1993) 264

Time Magazine Article about Anathem (2012) 268

Everything and More Foreword (2003) 271

The Great Simoleon Caper (1995) 287

Locked In (2011) 304

Innovation Starvation (2011) 313

Why I Am a Bad Correspondent (1998) 321

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 27, 2012

    A treat for Stephenson fans!

    This is a collection of short writings that Neal Stehpenson has produced over the years. Included in the collection are some short pieces of fiction (Underconstable Proudfoot is a treasure not to be missed!), but I particularly enjoyed the essays, on topics as varied as Leibniz, growing up in a MACT (Midwestern American College Town), and the wonders of the treadmill desk. Reproduced here are also pretty extensive interviews from Slashdot and Salon, and the transcript of a lecture delivered at Gresham College. All in all, an excellent smorgasbord from one of my favorite authors.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2014

    Eh, y'know.

    Good, not great. Somewhat of a letdown after In the Beginning... Was the Command Line, a much more focused collection of essays on computer science and computer philosophy.
    Highlights of this collection include: the Slashdot interview (where he recounts his epic battle with the Immortal William Gibson), Metaphysics in the Royal Society (Newton and Leibniz finding a place for their own religion in scientific inquiry), Under-Constable Proudfoot (you've heard half the joke already), and Locked In ("Your communications satellite has to be the size, shape, and weight of a hydrogen bomb.").
    As a whole it is, while fascinating enough, very inconsistent. It is undoubtedly due to the essays spanning two decades of a career, but also that the content itself is in isolation, lacking adequate context (Mother Earth, Mother Board needs half of its pagecount to become interesting). Reading the weaker chapters is like hanging over a precipice. Or they are flat out incomprehensible.
    Where I'd recommend In the Beginning... to anybody, this one is probably more suited for cemented Stephenson fans.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2013

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    Posted November 26, 2014

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