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author: Neal Stephenson

name: Steev

average rating: 3.94

book published: 2011

rating: 5

read at: 2017/05/13

date added: 2017/05/13

shelves: fun, own-it, novels

I have mixed feelings about this book. It gets 5 stars because it's fastest I've ever read 1000 pages of anything, and general craft and technique of the writing is excellent, gripping, and thought-provoking. However, there are certain problems I have with it.

First, the book is sooo long pretty much because it's insanely packed with a variety of ephemera, mostly minute details about certain types of guns, but also all sorts of other trivia on such topics as private jet travel, geology, and more details about firearms. It's a testament to Stephenson's writing skill that somehow wading through all this stuff is still interesting and fast reading.

Second, from a feminist standpoint the story has some problems. It's not as bad as some science fiction predecessors of the author, such as Heinlein, but here's the thing: although there are some very strong and inspiring female characters in the novel, they fail a sort of corollary of the Bechdel Test that I've just invented: are there any major female characters that are still single by the end of the book? No. Every one of them miraculously (along with all the other coincidences/miracles the book is packed with) gets partnered up with a dude, with said partnering getting explicitly set up and targeted toward at least a couple hundred pages prior. But this happy romance trend does not also benefit all main male characters. It's as if Stephenson thinks a woman can't have an intense adventure without shacking up with some guy to complete her.

Which brings me to a third, and more general, problem with many of the characters in the book, or rather, how the omniscient POV of the book handles the inner thoughts of the many characters that the reader gets to "eavesdrop" on. The issue is that every main character is basically the same person. They all basically think the same way, other than a little unique personality frosting slathered over the top, but always in this super over-rational, perfectly aware and calculating way, and yet with a variety of 'involuntary thoughts' that always get caught and questioned and analyzed (e.g. "she was surprised she was thinking of that at a time like now", etc). Does Stephenson really think every human is so gifted with such a meticulous, self-aware, chess-player's brain for all life situations?

Anyway. I guess the book is really just a potboiler, but I have had in my head ever since "Snowcrash" this idea that Stephenson does more than potboilers. Maybe I just notice it more now.