Friday, July 28, 2006

Dispatch From Ad Hoc Book Club

by Tom Bozzo

"...I myself might not be opposed to Slavery, had I not myself been a slave in Barbary! To most English people, it seems perfectly reasonable. The slavers put out the story that it is not so very cruel, and that the slaves are happy. Most in Christendom are willing to believe these lies, absurd as they are to you and me. People belive Slavery is not so bad, because they have no personal experience of it — it takes place in Africa and America, out of sight and out of mind to the English, who love sugar in their tea and care not how 'twas made."
— from The System of the World by Neal Stephenson

Applications to current events are left as an exercise to the reader.
Shall we exchange "sugar" for "gasoline", perhaps? Or maybe just "energy" in general?

I've been working my way through the trilogy (very slowly). The more time Daniel Waterhouse spends "on stage," the better. The Jack/Eliza sections are much weaker.
Or perhaps 3rd world clothing factories?

I too have been slogging through, and I am still on Quicksilver.

Stephanson makes his readers work to get the gems. Occasionally, you run across a sentence where you have to stop and marvel. But then you have to read about 8 pages of explanation that seems pointless. And still later? You have to refer back to those 8 pages to figure out something.

Maddening, but worth it.
My trip through the trilogy also has been very slow. I had put SotW down for more than a year after getting bogged down in the early going. I want to clear out the Really Thick Novels from the queue (this, and Jonathan Strange) before the new Pynchon is published.

I'm inclined to agree with Mrs. C. on the brainiacs-vs-ruffians mix, though (mild spoiler alert) I found the account of Jack's trans-Pacific sail in Confusion highly absorbing. You could say much the same about Cryptonomicon, where the latter-day Shaftoes are vehicles for these WWII tales whose connection to the main themes is that Stephenson has these tales of the South Pacific in mind and needs a vehicle to cram them into the book.
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