Very Thick Books

Everybody—by which I mean everybody who spends too long online—seems to be a Neal Stephenson fan these days. I can’t claim priority: I tried him out only after Snow Crash topped a best-of poll on rec.books.sf in the ’90s. Even then it took me a couple of years to get around to reading what was, after all, a very thick book. I’d given up my very-thick-book habit in the mid-’80s after being burned by volumes two and three of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (the First Chronicles and The Wounded Land were great—how can you not like a fantasy series where the bad guy is called Lord Foul?—but by White Gold Wielder I reckoned the Land had become the Land of Suck). After that I found it more satisfying to read shorter works of 200-300 pages, which ruled out most fantasy and science fiction for a while.

But a spell of illness in 1996 gave me a chance to read all 450 pages of Snow Crash, and its vivid depiction of cyberculture appealed to my feverish frame of mind. (How can you not like a book where the good guy is called Hiro Protagonist?) It probably boosted my fascination with the Web more than a notch, too. A couple of years later came The Diamond Age, an even thicker book; and later I caught up on his slimmer early works The Big U and Zodiac. (I haven’t read his Stephen Bury collaborations yet—583 and 432 pp respectively.)

Then in 2000 came the very thickest of his very thick books. I bought Cryptonomicon in Kingsford-Smith airport on the way out of the country, figuring I would read it in Madagascar. Ha! Read that, then? What was I thinking? Four months later, having carried it all the way around the world, I passed it over to Jane, who read it in Thailand. I remember staring at its cover for hours as we rode the overnight train from Surat Thani to Petchaburi, unable to sleep because our third-class seats weren’t much more than benches, unable to put my feet down because some guy was stretched out on newspapers underneath us, and getting glared at by another guy because showing the soles of your feet is offensive to Buddhists (but what was I meant to do? Stand on the seat to keep them hidden? Rest them on the sleeping guy’s stomach? Fold them in half?).

I finally read Cryptonomicon in Melbourne, as recorded here at the time. It was very long—910 pages—and very good. So good that I eagerly awaited its promised prequel, which Stephenson said would be set in Baroque times.

Well, it’s here. Apparently it starts slowly but, according to at least one newspaper reviewer, is even better than Cryptonomicon by the end. Now that I’ve read the other, oohhh, three dozen two-to-three-hundred-page books I’ve had my eye on this year, I’m determined to tackle it as my winter reading. Now that I’ve got all three very thick volumes, that is.

The Baroque Cycle

Two thousand, six hundred and thirty-four pages. Stephenson, you bastard.

P.S. Don’t even mention The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I hope his arms drop off.

Here’s what people said about this entry.

Oh god, Thomas Covenant. That brings back unpleasant memories of my time as a fantasy/sci-fi-readin' youth (hardly read any at all any more).

You're right of course... the second chronicles sucked ass. The first were clever and different and interesting, but the second... yeesh. Didn't help that it was basically the same story again, with a few slightly different characters. I remember enjoying Donaldson's other series, Mordant's Need, too, but then when I went back to re-read it a few years back I threw it aside in a fit of pique because it's really not that good.

Still, at least he's not as bad as David Eddings. The Belgariad and The Malloreon were EXACTLY THE SAME. Each character from one series had an almost exact parallel in the other, the plots were exceedingly similar, and even the dialogue kept inducing weird fits of deja vu. What a ripoff.

And the worst bit was, there were 5 of them.

Added by Paul on a Tuesday in November.

I’m afraid to think how I’d react to the Covenant books if I re-read them now, but at 15 they seemed original. I liked The Wounded Land for the way it turned the Land upside down, but once he went away from it in The One Tree lost interest completely. Actually left WGW half-read for about four years before forcing myself to finish it. Almost as disappointing as the all-time most disappointing follow-up to a fantasy/SF classic: Dune Messiah.

My brother read the Belgameloriad, but I avoided those. Somehow I knew that that way lay the path of endless fantasy series, wending their way through endless tomes of fantastic lore and mystery, endlessly.

We’ll all be runed, said Hanrahan:

Added by Rory on a Tuesday in November.

And how did I not notice this before?


Added by Rory on a Tuesday in November.

I'm 600 pages through Quicksilver right now and it's absolutely fantastic! I put off reading it for a long time because of some negative reviews and my speed-reading girlfriend saying it was a waste of time. I'm loving it!

I found your site whilst searching for Underground Lovers info.

Added by therapy on a Tuesday in November.