Thursday, November 01, 2012

Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

If I'd read this closer to Gibson's Distrust That Particular Flavor (see my post last month), I'd have combined them into one post, since they're very much the same kind of thing: complete (or nearly so) collections of the occasional nonfiction by major writers who started off solidly in the SF camp but have since drifted in somewhat different directions, but remained solidly in favor of SF and regularly define what they do as SF. (And my personal relationship to the two writers is also very similar: I last read Stephenson with Cryptonomicon, since I fell out of the habit with his massive historical trilogy and was out of the SF field professionally when he came back to it.)

In Some Remarks, Stephenson, non-fictionally, is as we've always suspected: geeky in the most interesting ways, deeply private and protective of that privacy, quirky and particular about his working and living arrangements as only a very successful novelist can be, and intellectually fascinated by a series of shiny new ideas in the way of so many other SF writers. Stephenson, though, could get funding from magazines like Wired to chase those shiny ideas, resulting in pieces like the epic "Mother Earth, Mother Board," a nearly-novel-length tracing of the state of subsea telecommunications cables as of 1996.

Most of the pieces in Some Remarks bear the hallmark of one geeky obsession or other -- Stephenson, for example, is one of the very many SFnally-oriented men of his generation who are still struggling with the fact that they all didn't get to go to space -- though all also bear Stephenson's very particular obsessive focus on specific minutia.

Stephenson fans will be most interested to know that Some Remarks contains two of his very few short stories -- "Spew" and "The Great Simoleon Caper" -- as well as the first sentence of another story that will never be continued. That's not a lot of short fiction, but Stephenson isn't, temperamentally, a short fiction writer at all; he only has another story or two existent at all.

Some Remarks could not be other than a random collection of now mostly-superseded thoughts -- when SF writers are invited to perform journalism, there's always an element of "tell us what THE FUTURE will be like," and that dates very quickly -- but Stephenson's thoughts are the product of deep cogitation and a very particular angle of attack, which makes them worth revisiting even a decade or two later.

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