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Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In his quarter-century (by my count) career of professional writing, Neal Stephenson has learned to show off less as his ideas grew stronger, to waste less time as his books grew longer, to write simpler as his plots grew more complex. He knows pearls of wisdom show best against black velvet, rather than, say, set off by Roman sparklers.

If you doubt this, read this book. Here Stephenson includes some great and some less than great essays, which can be sorted by their publication dates. The clarity of expression and complexity of thought of the 21st century Stephenson plainly exceed that of his younger self. Comparing 2010's "Metaphysics in the Royal Society" or 2008's "Gresham College Lecture" to 1994's "Spew" or "In the Kingdom of Mao Bell" is like comparing the full moon to fireworks: the latter are flashy but not very illuminating; the former is what it is.

The fulcrum, the turning point when it all changed, is Stephenson's indispensable "Mother Earth, Mother Board." The first full flowering of Stephenson's mature style, it appeared in "Wired" one year after "The Diamond Age" and three years before "Cryptonomicon." I always felt that it deserved to have been published as its own book. Now it forms the heart of this one, supplemented by pieces that teach as much about writing as about the technologies and subcultures they explore.

By the way, the subject matter of the essays is always important and fascinating, and Stephenson's take is invariably invaluable. He is not just a techno-geek: his social engagement and historical perspective make his work not just commentary but prescription. To read this book is to be educated, entertained, and chastened, reminding one of the Puritans Stephenson both admires and in many ways resembles.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I didn't realize when I bought this book that in addition to the dozen plus essays, there are several short stories. I don't think of short stories as Neal Stephenson territory, so I was pleased to get them. They turn out to be pretty good stories, too, quite enjoyable and for once not overly long.

The heart of this collection, though, is the essays, which range from a couple of pages long to over a hundred pages, novella-length in its own right. Stephenson covers many subjects here, from introducing other writer's works to metaphysics at the Royal Society, to describing the laying of trans-oceanic telecommunications cable to discussing the state of science fiction today. As one would expect from Stephenson, he writes intelligently and with humor about all these subjects and many more. I never would have thought that an essay on laying telecom cable would be interesting, but I was sucked into this article and read it in a single sitting, over a hundred pages of it.

I really liked the fact that these pieces covered such a broad range of subjects and were of such varied lengths. I didn't know Stephenson could write anything under 300 pages long, so the shorter pieces were a pleasant surprise. Sometimes I wished he would expound more on the shorter bits, such as his discussion of "Anathem", and the interviews with Slashdot and Salon were also pretty interesting and easily could have been longer.

Overall, this is a thoughtful collection that should please and reward you with chuckles and the occasional, "Huh, I didn't know that." I was particularly interested in Stephenson's take on the state of science fiction today, which he brings up in several of these pieces. I wanted to hear him talk more about his own books, though, which doesn't much occur herein, and I could have used a couple more short stories. This book is a strong work that doesn't disappoint, and it should give you a dozen hours of reading enjoyment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2012
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
It's fascinating to read Neal Stephanson's nonfiction. Having read a good deal of his fiction--and enjoyed the complete worlds that he creates--it's a treat to read his take on the "real" world. Elements of humor, wisdom learned along the way, and even some of his political and social views become evident in this work. Readers who enjoy his fictional works may be surprised by this side of the author but won't be disappointed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Without a doubt, Neal Stephenson may be the most pensive, most expansive, writer of my generation, and these are traits he shows abundantly in his recent essay collection, "Some Remarks", that also include several terse short stories he has written over the years. Stephenson's writing is expansive in the sense that it covers many topics at once, which is why, for example, his "Baroque Cycle" trilogy is a compelling fictional exploration of the emerging science and personal rivalry of Leibniz and Newton during this period, as well as a most memorable action-adventure yarn whose main protagonists are the ancestors of those in his earlier post-cyberpunk novel "Cryptonomicon". In "Some Remarks" his essay on the construction of FLAG (Fiber Optic Link Around the Globe) "Mother Earth, Mother Board" compares and contrasts its construction with the successful laying of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable in the 1860s, but is also discusses the life of William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, especially with regards to his design of the first successful undersea cable, as well as series of travel guide vignettes aimed at the "hacker tourist". His early cyberpunk short story "Spew" anticipates much of the same literary style Stephenson would use in "Cryptonomicon" and the "Baroque Cycle". Other writings discuss the relevance of the films "300" and "Star Wars" to contemporary culture, the still uneasy relationship between science fiction and fantasy with mainstream literary fiction, why scientists are distrusted by those in the far Left and the far Right, and discussing the life and literary career of David Foster Wallace. "Some Remarks" may be the finest collection of short writing by a notable contemporary writer writing in English that I have read in years, not only recently. For those who are long-time admirers of his writing as well as those who are unfamiliar with it, "Some Remarks" should be viewed as essential reading, simply as a guide to a most memorable polymath, one Neal Stephenson.
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Format: Hardcover
What would your reaction be if you have seen Riemann zeta function on page 10 of a novel? Mine was along the lines of "we've got some interesting sci-fi author here, let's go on!". Or something close to that, as far as I can remember my first encounter with Neal Stepheson more than twelve years ago that started with Cryptonomicon and continued with titles such as Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra Book) and Anathem.

Stephenson never failed to satisfy and he has always delivered more than I expected as a curious reader. His latest book, "Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing", a compilation of his short, and some not so short, essays and stories, is full of little surprises and a lot of depth. For the reader, it is quite a remarkable experience to see how Stephenson's style has developed throughout the years, the author of Anathem has notable differences compared to the author Cryptonomicon.

As with any other Stephenson book, it is not easy to recommend this book to many people because even among Stephenson fans, I believe there are some differences: some like his more action packed techno thrillers, whereas some find the juicy stuff in his books where he does not refrain to step into the darker and heavier areas of metaphysics and quantum mechanics. Luckily, this compilation of essays and short stories has enough diversity to satisfy any kind of Stephenson fan. As for the `outsiders', I would suggest the very short essay titled "Time Magazine Article About Anathem". In less than 4 pages, Stephenson accomplishes his feat by portraying the very core idea of one of his major works by using a striking analogy and then very gently forcing the reader to think about the consequences of some disturbing trends.

If you consider yourself a nerd, a geek, or someone with insatiable curiosity towards technology, modern world and how it came to be, philosophy, Newton, Leibniz, history, pop culture and why some writers who think the only way to exist is to have a source of income by lecturing at the universities cannot understand other writers who sell enough books to make a decent living, then I bet a bottle of champagne that you'll have a lot of good time reading this book.
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Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I first became a fan of Neal Stephenson's writing when I discovered his brilliant fiction: "Cryptonomicon," "Reamde" and his Baroque Cycle novels. I was delighted to learn that he had pulled together a collection of previous published essays and other non-fiction pieces in "Some Remarks."

Mr. Stephenson is the rare writer who combines deep technical domain knowledge with a literary style that is both erudite and refreshing. Understanding and enjoying his level of communication takes a bit of work, but it is well worth it - like savoring a delicious steak that requires some savory chewing. In this far-ranging collection, the author tackles The Internet, Metaphysics and the battle between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, scientists as modern Jedi knights, a deconstruction of the movies Star Wars and 300 - and a whole lot more.

I always get to the last page of a Stephenson book, and then jump on Amazon to order something else by him to read.
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on April 4, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Stephenson, as most who have read his novels would agree, is a person who can take a boring subject, research it to death, then write about it in a snappy, funny and informative way that makes it engaging and entertaining.

Unfortunately, much of this collection of essays covers his earlier work (1992 to 1994) which comes across as dated and frankly not that good. If you are interested in his development as a writer, than this may be interesting stuff for you to mine.

The other potion of the book is composed of interviews. These I enjoyed, especially in that it revealed his approach to writing and some information about some of his books that I have yet to read.

Although there are some gems hidden in this book, I found myself skimming and I feel like a lot of this should have been posts on a blog and not sold as a hardcover.
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on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
After reading REAMDE, I lent it to someone who then sent me the URL of a Stephenson panel interview on YouTube. In the interview, Stephenson's description of the success and appeal of the Tom Clancy novel seems to fit this book as well: an entertaining way to learn. The short stories and essays in this book exposed me to some things I never knew from specific domains (i.e. the Leibniz/Newton feud). The essays also seem coherent, since he'll mention a topic in one story then expand on it in another. The structure of this book also feels like the James Burke TV series Connections - Burke could make even the most mundane topics such as a sewer system seem like an exciting part of history. Excellent book and great author.
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on June 12, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Buy this for the answer to the question "Who would win in a fight between Neal Stephenson and William Gibson?" As funny as it is erudite, it's well worth reading if you're a fan of Neal! You never know when reading a collection of essays like this if you're going to get a good read, or just the scrapings from the laserjet. I'm happy to say this is just as fun, informative, and thought-provoking as anything else Mr. Stephenson has written.
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on September 25, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I'm about 2/3 of the way through this, and I've found it to be an enjoyable read. I think for fans of Neal Stephenson, this is more quality content. It's not the large arcing epic that I've come to love Neal for, but a fun read nonetheless.
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