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What I’m reading, and more

December 19th, 2004

I’ve been reading a lot of different things lately, and might write a few reviews over the Christmas break. I just finished
“Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

a sort of historical fantasy set amid the great scientific discoveries and political turmoil of the late 17th century.

It’s great fun, with a great evocation of the period and plenty of sly digs at the modern reader (I liked the Duke of Monmouth as the Dan Quayle of the 1685 campaign). At the same time, I can’t help feeling I’ve completely missed the point here. As I said, the style is that of fantasy, but the novel seems to be entirely historically accurate apart from the fact that the members of the Cabal have been replaced by new characters with the same acronym, some of whom play a minor role in the story, and that one of the key characters comes from the island of Qwghlm[1], apparently a British possession[2].

I don’t know exactly what gives here: maybe a reader can point me in the right direction. A lot of readers had much the same reaction to “Jonathan Strange which I loved.

There’s a whole Metaweb (a type of wiki apparently) about all this, which may be worth exploring.

In a completely different department, I’ve been watching the Slim Dusty memorial concert which my wife taped. Although he’s normally pigeonholed as country, a lot of his songs (particularly the early ones) appeal to folkies like me. In the free assocation department, I notice that another crossover performer, Ted Egan, is now Administrator of the Northern Territory Well done!

Moving on to sporting news, karate training has finished for the year, with the traditional 1000-punch workout. Very cathartic! If you’re in Brisbane, and want to study karate in traditional style, with a genuine master of the art, Seiyushin is for you. Also, we went last night to see the Bullets go down by one point against the Sydney Kings. It’s a great night out, taking the ferry down the river to Southbank for dinner, going on to the game and home again by ferry, but it would have been perfect if only one more shot had rolled in instead of rimming out.

fn1. Given my Manx heritage, the idea that Qwghlm is the Isle of Man seems appealing. Certainly the name has a certain resonance, though its disemvowellment makes it hard to interpret.

fn2. I don’t claim to be an expert on 17th century history, so there may be some other things I’ve missed.

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  1. derrida derider
    December 19th, 2004 at 17:10 | #1

    All I can say is I hope Ted Egan can administer better than he can sing.

  2. December 19th, 2004 at 17:43 | #2

    Ted Egan would have to go a long way to top Austin Asche, whom I’ve met a few times.

  3. Tom Davies
    December 20th, 2004 at 08:37 | #3

    If you haven’t read Cryptonomicon, try it. It has a similar flavour to Quicksilver et. al. but on a smaller scale.

  4. Fyodor
    December 20th, 2004 at 08:40 | #4

    JQ,

    Re: Quicksilver, you’re in for a wild ride. There’s a good deal more swash being buckled in the sequel (The Confusion). The third book (The System of the World) I found less exciting.

    From the sounds of it, you haven’t read Cryptonomicon, to which the Baroque Cycle is a prequel. Many of the characters in Quicksilver are ancestors of characters you’ll encounter in Crypto, which I rank as one of the best novels of the last decade.

    Also, the Baroque Cycle has a couple of threads running through it that parallel issues that Stephenson raised in Crypto. I’d encourage you to read Crypto before reviewing Quicksilver.

  5. Warbo
    December 20th, 2004 at 10:27 | #5

    Weird. You don’t hear a lot about the Isle of Man in Australia. Yet this time last week I was in Glen Innes (“Celtic country”) and noticed the Manx flag flying (along with others) on one of the public buildings in town. A day or so later I passed a car that had a bumper sticker advertising the Manx Cat Appreciation Society of Australia, or something along those lines. Now John reveals his Manx heritage.

    Synchronicity, anyone?

  6. Tony D
    December 20th, 2004 at 10:36 | #6

    The isle of Qwghlm appears in Cryptonomicon as an ilse Waterhouse is based on for a while.

    I think I’ll join the chorus and say that you need to read Cryptonomicon. Certainly one of his best.

    I found reading Quicksilver was easier if I had Google open as well ;-)

  7. Ian Amos
    December 20th, 2004 at 12:22 | #7

    Hi John,

    As a lover of the history of finance and banking, I found Eliza, Duschess of Qwghlm’s explanation of Bills of Exchange (using most of the guests and staff) in a French chateau better and clearer than any I have ever heard in finance texts or journals!

    This quartet’s message for me is about two things – the birth of modern central banking and trade finance and the eternal question “What’s so special about Gold?” Neal Stephenson hints at a few things, but best you have a look youself.

    Please also consider his other works: Snow Crash, Zodiac, Cobweb, and the prescient Interface (nom de plume – Stephen Bury).

  8. kez majkut
    December 30th, 2004 at 20:21 | #8

    I don’t read many novels, but i can’t get enough of Stephenson. I loved Cryptonomicon and highly recommend it, but only after you’ve finished the Baroque Cycle – it would be criminal to judge the work based only on the first book – which sets the scene for the next two. Fantastic in conception and execution; even if my partner thinks only a male geek would enjoy the writing.

    Qwghlm is probably just a Stephenson invention, imho.

    I’m not familiar with Cobweb, i’ve never seen it mentioned as a Stephenson novel, but i’ve read all his other books. I enjoyed Interface, but Snow Crash is more of a conventional Cyberpunk story. No-one has yet mentioned ‘The Diamond Age’, which like his other novels is full of interesting ideas, science, technology and adventure.

    Apparently Cryptonomicon is the first of a planned trilogy also. I’m not sure its true, but my fingers are crossed.

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