What Neal Stephenson work should I read next?
May 5, 2009 6:54 PM   Subscribe

I read and very much enjoyed The Diamond Age. What work(s) by Neal Stephenson should I read next?

I recently purchased a remaindered copy of Cryptonomicon. Should I read that, or is there some other work (or set of works) by NS that I should get to next?

I doubt I'll read everything he's written, so I'd like to optimize what I do read.
posted by alms to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Snow Crash. It was all downhill from there IMO.
posted by mrt at 6:55 PM on May 5, 2009

Snow Crash is his best. I liked Anathem as well.
posted by cjets at 6:56 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Snow Crash is the best. I enjoyed Cryptonomicon greatly. Haven't tried Anathem yet.
posted by Paragon at 7:04 PM on May 5, 2009

Snowcrash is the most similar to Diamond Age thematically. It was my favourite book for a long time. There will be some hate for it, but the baroque cycle is pretty spectacular if you have any interest in history and door stop size books.
I would suggest reading in publication order, although the first two books by date (Big U and Zodiac) are pretty much deprecated by Stephenson himself, I believe.
posted by bystander at 7:11 PM on May 5, 2009

I've read and enjoyed all of them. The Diamond Age doesn't have any near neighbors in his work, in my opinion: it's focused, serious, and concerns a (relatively) distant future. Snow Crash is a good bet, but I don't think it matches The Diamond Age as a novel of ideas.

A different choice might be Anathem, which (compared to The Diamond Age) is unwieldy and occasionally silly, but carries a similar payload of bigthink.
posted by grobstein at 7:13 PM on May 5, 2009

Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver, in that order. If you are still enjoying his work, move on to the rest of the Baroque Cycle and then to Anathem.
posted by sophist at 7:14 PM on May 5, 2009

There is also a vague thread running through Cryptonomicon and the baroque cycle, and another between Snowcrash and the Diamond age. Not enough to be disruptive if you read them out of order, but you get an A-ha moment if you read them in order of publication. Anathem is good, but I would only recommend it to fans.
posted by bystander at 7:14 PM on May 5, 2009

Don't be such haters, I honestly felt that that they all got better in publication order. Anathem does seem to lack some of the humor of the other books.

So I suggest reading that copy of Cryptonomicon you got then moving on to the Baroque cycle. They are all good.
posted by sourwookie at 7:19 PM on May 5, 2009

I first read Cryptonomicon when I was 18 and have gotten hooked on Stephenson since then. Of all his works, I still found Cryptonomicon to be the best -- so do finish that first.

2nd best would be Anathem I think. The Baroque cycle are too dry for me.
posted by joewandy at 7:33 PM on May 5, 2009

I would argue that the Baroque Cycle is the only one to steer clear of (until you want to spend the time to read all three together...).

Anathem was just dandy in terms of approachability, but Snow Crash, at the beginning at least, feels like a comic book and is simply wonderful.
posted by adamwolf at 7:35 PM on May 5, 2009

Nthing starting with Snow Crash. The first chapter of that book is one of the most wonderfully weird, adrenaline-filled bits of writing I've ever encountered. Then do Cryptonomicon, which is one of my favorite books ever: the chapters "Girl" and "Organ" are, bar none, the best things he's ever written. Then the Baroque Cycle, although that's harder to get into than his other ones, IMO.

The key to Stephenson is to embrace the tangents. I've recommended Cryptonomicon to dozens of people, and few of them ever make it through it; they all cite its sheer size and unfocused nature. But if you can deal with Stephenson ranting on for pages at a time about random topics that have, at best, a peripheral connection to the plot... you're money. Because the tangents are often at least as entertaining as the plot.
posted by captainawesome at 7:45 PM on May 5, 2009

I loved Diamond age, though I remember finding it was a little bit longer to get pulled into than I normally feel. Next I went for Cryptonomicon... I was excited to get started and took it on a sort of road trip, 145 eventual hours in bus... and I kept pushing and pushing through but I never got to the point where it really pulled me in. My trip ended and I still wasn't done. I liked it, but I just never hit that moment. Seeing so many recommendations for it though, I'm tempted to start over again for a second shot. ALthough, if you were along the same lines as me perhaps another one might be a different case.
posted by nzydarkxj at 8:06 PM on May 5, 2009

Thinking a little outside the box here but I have not seen anyone mention this.
Its not fiction but it sure is enjoyable, if a little outdated.
posted by archaic at 8:25 PM on May 5, 2009

The first 2/3rd of any Neal Stevenson book is entertaining, then it turns into incomprehensible garbage - so read the first 2/3rds of any Neal Stephenson book is hugely entertaining.

The first 2/3rds of Cryptonomicon is worth a read.

if you like good sci fi I can heartily recommend Iain Banks Sci Fi- they read like the best action movie you've ever seen.
posted by mattoxic at 9:09 PM on May 5, 2009

Seems out of left field based on current answers, but I would suggest Interface just because it's enjoyable but also more accessible than some of his other books (which I loved as well, particularly the whole Baroque Cycle).
posted by mikel at 9:18 PM on May 5, 2009

It really depends on what you liked about Diamond Age.

If you were into the adventure-y stuff with the tunnels and the drummers and the collapse-of-society stuff at the end, go for Snow Crash next, then Zodiac as an apertif, and then start digging into Bruce Sterling instead; he'll be right there to your left on the shelf.

If it was the engineering details about nanotechnology and postmodern victorian society at the beginning, read Cryptonomicon and maybe a few of the side trips buried here and there in the Baroque cycle.
posted by ook at 9:27 PM on May 5, 2009

The writing in Interface was not up to Stephenson's usual standards. Not a terrible book by any means, but not in the same league as his other works.
posted by sophist at 9:35 PM on May 5, 2009

I actually liked Interface quite a bit, but I read it before people generally knew it was a Neal Stephenson novel - he published it under a pseudonym. (Hell, at the time, I doubt I even knew who Neal Stephenson was.) Anyhow, I don't think it bears much in common with Diamond Age - it's more of a political thriller. If anything, it's like an updated Manchurian Candidate.
posted by DavidNYC at 9:53 PM on May 5, 2009

Another vote for Snow Crash (side of Zodiac) then Cryptonomicon. I enjoyed both the Baroque Cycle and Anathem but didn't laugh as hard when I laughed.
posted by pointilist at 10:23 PM on May 5, 2009

The Cobweb (also by "Stephen Bury") is IMHO a better read.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:26 PM on May 5, 2009

By all means, read Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, but I wouldn't recommend Quicksilver. I was eager to read it after falling in love with Cryptonomicon, and have now failed thrice to get past the first 100 pages. Skip skip skip Quicksilver. I failed so utterly to be interested in Quicksilver, that I can't even give a recommendation on the rest of the Baroque cycle (and I'm a History major).
posted by moreandmoreso at 10:44 PM on May 5, 2009

I read Snow Crash first and liked it, but I enjoyed The Diamond Age much more. Cryptonomicon is probably my favorite, but I've had a hard time getting through Quicksilver. I always get about 200 pages in and then start reading something else.
posted by fishmasta at 11:04 PM on May 5, 2009

I'll go with the crowd: given that you liked Diamond Age, Snow Crash is probably the closest. I'd then suggest Cryptonomicon, to see if you like the sprawling historical epic side of his writing. If you do, then try the Baroque Cycle. You might also like Anathem.

Me personally, I'm with mattoxic: I like the first 2/3rds of each of his books, and become incredibly frustrated with how they end. I'd include Diamond Age in that, as well as Anathem and (to a lesser extent) Snow Crash.

The ones that did have satisfying endings, for me, were Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle - if I was giving you my personal recommendations, that's where I'd point you. Baroque Cycle is tough and hard going, but it's worth it IMO.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:20 AM on May 6, 2009

Snow Crash. It was all downhill from there IMO.

You're out of your mind.

The The Baroque Cycle trilogy is an entirely different, and much more mature kind of book then stuff like snowcrash, but I thought it was much more fun to read. It's absolutely fascinating the way Stephenson mixes "adventure" with the philosophy around the creation of modern science. I didn't think Anathem was as good as The Baroque Cycle but it had it's moments.

I think The Diamond Age kind of foreshadows The Baroque Cycle in a lot of ways, much more so then snowcrash does.
posted by delmoi at 1:51 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I should clarify that I did really enjoy reading Anathem, but, I just didn't think it made it too the same level as The Baroque Cycle.
posted by delmoi at 1:52 AM on May 6, 2009

I'd just read Cryptonomicon since you have it already; it's a fine book if you enjoy his writing. The order really doesn't matter.
posted by cj_ at 2:36 AM on May 6, 2009

Personally, I'd recommend simply skipping Cryptonomicon, and moving straight to Quicksilver. If you can hang with Quicksilver, then dive into the rest of the cycle. Cryptonomicon was one of those books (at least for me) that you stick with and then, when you get to the end, you keep looking for more pages to read because the ending so disappointing it couldn't possibly be the real ending. YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:52 AM on May 6, 2009

Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, in either order.

Then, if you like Cryptonomicon, read Anathem. (personally, I recommend you make liberal use of the glossary, without guilt.)

Cryptonomicon's probably my favorite of what he's written---certainly the funniest.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:26 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

So I think we've reached a consensus: All of them are better than the others, and most of them are worse.

So just read them all (I'd do Baroque Cycle last because it is very very long) but other than that keep in mind that if you aren't as enthused with whatever comes next opinions diverge widely about which of his books are best so you might as well right another.

[my ordinal scale: Early work <>Anathem < Diamond Age]
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:36 AM on May 6, 2009

Dang it that was supposed to be:

[my ordinal scale: Early work (less than) Baroque (less than) Snowcrash (less than) Crypto (less than) Anathem (less than) Diamond Age]
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:37 AM on May 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all these great thoughts. After reading through them, it sounds like my best bet for getting a genuine Neal Stephenson experience would be to read Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon simultaneously, reading a page of one followed by a page of the other, back to the first, etc. However, since I have Cryptonomicon sitting on my night stand, I'll probably just start with that.

posted by alms at 6:49 AM on May 6, 2009

I think Anathem is.. informed by The Baroque Cycle. The Baroque Cycle is mainly about how our world moved from Alchemy to Science, wrapped in a story of political intrigue and world spanning piracy.

Anathem takes place on an alien world which closely parallels the development of society on earth, but has one major difference: What if the dark ages had resulted in sequestered scientists and a religious secular society, rather than the sequestering of monks we had here.

That said, I think you could completely enjoy Anathem while skipping The Baroque Cycle, but having read both, I find it very interesting to see how the research background of Baroque Cycle influenced Anathem.

Also, in Anathem, Stephenson answers a lot of critics who say he can't end a story.

(Interface gets no respect. Wubba Wubba Wubba)
posted by jrishel at 7:18 AM on May 6, 2009

My favorites in order of enjoyment:

Snow Crash
The Diamond Age
Baroque Cycle (in which Stephenson fires his editor)
posted by lyam at 7:23 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and his collaborations, The Cobweb and Interface. Avoid The Big U. (I haven't read the Baroque Cycle or Anathem, yet, myself.)
posted by Zed at 8:30 AM on May 6, 2009

Cryptonomicon is one of my favorite books, period. My wife would say the same. Our dogs are named after characters from Cryptonomicon. If you are the right kind of geeky, you will love it. That is a significant "if", of course.
posted by madmethods at 9:16 AM on May 6, 2009

I personally found Snow Crash kind of cheesy. Cryptonomicon is awesome, although the ending isn't wonderful. If you like Cryptonomicon, try Quicksilver, it's a good book with similar themes and the drastically different setting makes it refreshing.

I'm very nearly finished with the Baroque Cycle, but at this point I mostly want to know how it ends, rather than particularly enjoying the book. You don't need to read the whole thing, Quicksilver is worthwhile on its own.

Spinning off mattoxic's comment, if you like Cryptonomicon, Iain Banks' non-SF books frequently reference codes and technology, and are slightly less epic than NS.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:37 AM on May 6, 2009

Wubba wubba wubba indeed.

Personally, I wasn't overly enthused by either the Diamond Age or by the Baroque Cycle - not bad books by any means, but not the best he's written. Zodiac isn't bad, Snow Crash is good, Cryptonomicon was fantastic. For the two that he's written with GRS, Interface was good, Cobweb was better. I haven't gotten around to Anathem yet.

All in my humble opinion, of course.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 5:00 PM on May 6, 2009

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