Saturday, March 05, 2005

science and fiction

Some books just stand out - a recent example is Neal Stephenson's "The Baroque Cycle", a voluminous trilogy comprising "Quicksilver", "Confusion" and "The System of the World".

The books are a prequel to the "Cryptonomicon", a great book, and the probable start of a trilogy, except recent events make the continuation somewhat awkward...

These books are masterpieces - the background is the historical conflict between Newton and Leibnitz over the invention of the calculus, and the setting is Cambridge, London, Paris, with occasional sidetracking for round the world trips, pirates, and a quaint little place upriver from Boston.

A friend of mine, who read them at my recommendation, wondered how they could be best sellers. when, in his opinion, you need a PhD in physics from Caltech or MIT to read them. He has a point, there is some backstory where that helps for perspective, but the story itself just flows, gets better each volume, and, unusually for Stephenson, has an ending.

Most recommended, they won't teach anyone science, although they cover much of science. They are just a very good read.

Also a "must read" for anyone using a computer is Stephenson's classic essay: In the Beginning was the Command Line...".

Next "must read" discussion. V. Vinge - "True Names" and other stories, followed by Ted Chiang, Charlie Stross and David Brin. Later.


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