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The Big U Paperback – February 6, 2001
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About the Author
Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
More About the Author
Born in Fort Meade, Maryland (home of the NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum) Stephenson came from a family comprising engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, while her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University. He first specialized in physics, then switched to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.
Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic "The Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
Top Customer Reviews
I guess any Neal Stephenson fan is going to read this book anyway, since he wrote it, and any book he wrote is going to have some degree of wit and imagination to it, so let me just warn all of you Stephenson fans: don't expect much. Really. It's messy, the structure is lousy, the narrator is unnecessary, etc etc. The story's been done many, many times over (read Fool on the Hill by Ruff, Moo by Jane Smiley, or even Tam Lin by Pamela Dean or White Noise by Don Delillo, for more entertaining/insightful looks at college life). So basically your only draw is to see how Stephenson's developed along the way, and your answer will be: a lot. The good points? It's not completely without merit: the Go Big Red Fan Thing Whatever it is sequence is funny the first time, several characters are likeable, and a few bits of obscure knowledge seep through. The style is already well on the way to the Snow Crash / Cryptonomicon casual-smartass-genius tone (I discount The Diamond Age, which is a bit different though equally good) which makes most of it at least mildly entertaining even when the plot is wandering. Still, one can see how this book went out of print - if it wasn't Stephenson, it wouldn't be back.
If you're not hard-core Stephenson fans already, I would recommend reading any of his other books first. This book barely hints at what the writer is capable of.
The Big U is a hilarious, manic satire on life at a big public university in the United States. Stephenson has great riffs about the nonsensical nature of a large administration, the bizarre varieties of people who wouldn't be able to survive outside of academia, and the architectural ugliness of recently constructed university buildings. Although it's funny, The Big U is conspicuously a first novel: the dialog often fails to ring true, the tone changes unpredictably, and the use of the first person was almost certainly a mistake: most of the book is in third person and the narrator is never developed into a real character.
Stephenson's novels feature physically unimpressive male protagonists who are nevertheless intelligent, resourceful, and competent at a wide range of technical activities, especially computer programming. These protagonists are often interested in female characters who are their intellectual equals but are also physically attractive. These two classes of characters combined with detailed, tactical action sequences and at least one lavish multi-page description of heavy weaponry epitomize Stephenson's novels. In other words, he writes books for nerds.
The Big U is a fun book. I believe that it tanked when it came out in 1984 not so much because of its flaws but because it was ahead of its time: Microsoft and the Internet had not yet entered the public consciousness and books for nerds were just not yet socially acceptable.
It's recognizably Stephenson, but in an early, immature form. It's the story of a year in the American Megaversity, the eponymous Big U, an improbably large educational institute with a distinctly diabolical feel. In the Big U's four towers live and work its 40,000 students; it is so vast that it is a world unto itself, with its own government, police force and culture, including multiple feuding tribes. Its huge sewer system is the location for live-action roleplaying campaigns lasting days. Its inhabitants seldom leave the building, and in their incarceration, they go a little crazy.
The narrator, Bud, is a freshly-minted associate professor who has the misfortune to be "faculty-in-residence": he lives with the students in E07S. Thus he is privileged to witness the joys of life as a student in the Big U. These include the battle between the Systems of John Wesley Fenrick and Ephraim Klein, who share a room and an obsession with hifi, but regrettably not musical tastes; the oratory of Dexter Fresser, whose part in the Stalinist Underground Battalion is only slightly hampered by the vast amounts of drugs he takes; the multiple factions of the Terrorist alliance, such as the Droogs, the Blue Light Specials, the Flame Squad Brotherhood and the Plex Branch of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army (Unofficial).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Neal developing his craft. Get it for completeness and inside jokes...Published 6 months ago by William Yousef Fadel
When you start reading NS with The Baroque Cycle you start with the best and that gives you taste for more
I am not surprised that this book is a reprint. Read more
I picked up The Big U while I was organizing my library, and I decided to see if I still liked it ten years [at least] since the last time I had read it. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Benjamin Espen
Very interesting book. Had to read it for English. Lots of crazy things happen.Published 15 months ago by Brandon Lo
Having read this in the second half of my university career, this book resonated deeply with me.
The absurdity, the unthinking mass of students, the uncaring professors, all... Read more
It was difficult to believe that this was written by the same genius who wrote...well, every other book Neal Stephenson has written. Read morePublished 24 months ago by Demimonde Mesila Thraam
I loved this book. I've read most of Stephenson's books and am a huge fan. The Big U took me places I had no idea I would go. Read morePublished on January 5, 2014 by Lynn B. Schornick
Only Stephenson could create such a unique college campus, characters and plot lines. This early work of his is engaging and witty.Published on July 18, 2013 by Valerie Carlisle
This diamond in the rough has been well-covered in other
reviews. Just a few more comments I'd like to add... Read more