Lately it seems that Neal Stephenson, my favorite author for about the last five years due to his early works like Zodiac and Snow Crash, has contracted a severe case of Stephen King disease. In short, his books are just too damn long and have too much pointless exposition. Which brings us nicely a case in point and the subject of this review: Quicksilver.
I don't want to bash the book, or call it a bad book. It's not lacking in intelligence or wit, and certainly not in historical research. What it is lacking, just like King's later books, is an editor who isn't afraid to cut out all the filler. Stuff that doesn't particularly contribute to the story. This stuff, no matter how well written, is filler. And this book is (pardon the phrasing) stuffed with it. I take no points away from Stepenson here. To judge by his characters, the man must have a genius level IQ. And, as I said, there is no shortage of historical research or authenticity. But if I wanted to know about the court customs of mid-17th century France, I would pick up a history book. For my pleasure reading, I mostly want to be entertained. For that you certainly may call me unsophisticated, or even unintelligent if you like. Never the less, measured with the ruler of being interesting and entertaining to read, this book doesn't come anywhere near justifying its 916 page length.
I think I saw a comment in JWZ's LJ, when he asked about this book, that authors basically cannot make a living writing short books any more. So if they want to be able to write and also pay their bills, they have to churn out these unbelievably tiresome, boring, thousand page opuses - and several sequels to boot. I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is I can't blame Stephenson for doing what he has to do. After all, if he writes too many pages and his editors are afraid to cut them, who is really harmed? (Expect perhaps a few additional trees...)
In any event, I don't recommend this book. And based on the strength (or lack thereof) of Cryptonomicon and also this cinder block, I don't think I'm going to bother to even flip through the two coming novels in this series. (Whose covers are shown inside the back of the dust jacket.) If you want to read good Stephenson, get yourself a copies of Snow Crash and Zodiac. Read Diamond Age if you must, and Big U if you don't mind incoherency. Interface is also a fun book he wrote under a psuedonym. But stick with his early works. His latest stuff is far too much filler, far too little plot.