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The Big U Paperback – February 6, 2001

3.7 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Satire is Stephenson's major."--"Los Angeles Times Book Review"A satiric, apocalyptic look at life . . . one is reminded of "Catch 22 . . . the author has beguiled us with a series of inventive episodes and stories, told in a witty, unusually clear and continuously fresh style. This is a most impressive debut."--"Publisher's Weekly"An entertaining and sometimes murderous satire on campus life."--"New York Times Book Review

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.

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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380816032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380816033
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A wise man once told me not to write a book right out of college, that I should go out unto the world and get some experience first. Neal Stephenson did not hear from this wise man.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Picture university life gone wrong: the students and faculty do whatever they want, the computer randomly munches files, giant rats live in the sewers, and the sub-basement holds nuclear waste. In the second half of the book the student population degenerates into bicamerality (as Snow Crash readers know, Stephenson has a thing about Julian Jaynes) and a small-scale war breaks out on campus.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Neal Stephenson has gathered legions of fans with his sassy, streetwise SF sagas such as /Snow Crash/ and /The Diamond Age/, but he didn't start there: his first two books were satirical contemporary novels. /Zodiac/, subtitled "the eco-thriller", received some acclaim and modest commercial success, but his début, /The Big U/, sank almost without trace and copies now change hands for startlingly large amounts of money.
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).
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