What is Neal Stephenson working on?
November 26, 2005 2:12 PM   Subscribe

What is Neal Stephenson working on?

In past interviews, Neal Stephenson mentioned that "Cryptonomicon" originally had past, present, and future storylines, but that the future storylines were left out and would eventually become their own books. Does anyone know if that's what he's working on right now?
posted by beautifulstuff to Media & Arts (28 answers total)
The Baroque Cycle is the past storyline. Some have speculated that The Diamond Age is the future storyline.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:32 PM on November 26, 2005

I'd be really disappointed if The Diamond Age was the future storyline. Almost as disappointed as I was with The Baroque Cycle.

Has Neal jumped the shark? *ducks a flying tomato*
posted by ryanhealy at 2:40 PM on November 26, 2005

Considering that his old website was mostly a highly entertaining treatise on why he won't be answering emails, conducting interviews or generally letting people know he's still alive while he's writing, I expect we won't hear any word on what his next project is going to be until his publisher does.

If The Diamond Age truly was the future storyline, then so was Snow Crash, as the two books are part of the same universe. For Stephenson to have had the Cryptonomicon universe in his head for so long without revealing his hand (note that he only mentioned the possibility of connected storylines when Cryptonomicon itself was released) seems unlikely. There's also this Locus interview which implies he was working on a future storyline for Cryptonomicon that was a) unfinished and b) started around or after the time he'd written Cryptonomicon.

To be honest, I'd be surprised if the guy wasn't taking a vacation.
posted by chrominance at 3:32 PM on November 26, 2005

I honestly can't see The Diamond Age as being the future storyline, given that it makes absolutely no reference to events or characters that were in the Baroque Cycle or Cryptonomicon (and of course, that it was written before Crypto).

I've been keeping a close eye on Stephenson, since he's one of my favourite writers, and as far as I know, there is no news of what he's currently working on. Maybe it's the 'future storyline', which would finish off the 'trilogy' but I have this weird feeling that Stephenson doesn't seem to be too interested in future SF right now. Who knows. Maybe I should ask someone who knows him.
posted by adrianhon at 3:32 PM on November 26, 2005

More searching turned up a Guardian interview from last year, including this question:

Online: Do you have any idea of what your next novel will be about? Have you started it? Will it be connected to The Baroque Cycle in the same way that there are links between those novels and Cryptonomicon?

NS: No, no, and no. I have not settled on what my next project will be. Some day I might write more in the vein of Baroque Cycle/Cryptonomicon, but at the moment I need to get away from these characters and these themes and—to paraphrase Monty Python—do something completely different for some years.

posted by chrominance at 3:46 PM on November 26, 2005

Weerie. I was about to post this exact same question tomorrow. Thanks for giving me a free week, beautifulstuff.

Has Neal jumped the shark?

Are you kidding?
Zodiac was good, though not quite as good as Snow Crash, which in turn was not quite as good as Diamond age, which in turn was not as good as Cryptonomicon, which was not as good as The Baroque Cycle. This man just gets more amazing (and demanding of reader focus, which is why I suspect Baroque is not as loved as Snow Crash) with each work. I literally crave his stuff, giving everything he has done at least 3-4 reads. I haven't touched the Bury stuff, as I am afraid of disappointment.

So I anxiously await news of what is next. Regardless of the subject matter, he makes it thrilling. He could happily pull me through three 1,000 page volumes about stamp collecting.

And when the day comes he has something to release, rest assured I will be waiting in front of the Barnes And Noble at midnight, snacking on the flesh of Harry Potter fans who happen to stumble in my way.
posted by sourwookie at 3:47 PM on November 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sourwookie: You're literally the first person I've encountered to suggest that The Baroque Cycle was better than Cryptonomicon. You're also the first to sugggest The Diamond Age was better than Snow Crash.

Just sayin'.
posted by ryanhealy at 4:02 PM on November 26, 2005

I hope, quite sincerely, that Stephenson is stepping back from his most recent work and asking himself how he could do better. IMHO, the trend in the quality of his writing has been down, not up. If he could learn to create living, believable characters, he could become an awesome writer. As matters stand, he's in peril of going the way of Michael Crichton.
posted by SPrintF at 4:31 PM on November 26, 2005

I haven't touched the Bury stuff, as I am afraid of disappointment.

Smart move. Skip "The Big U" too.

Sourwookie: You're literally the first person I've encountered to suggest that The Baroque Cycle was better than Cryptonomicon.

Or I.
I could imagine someone enjoying the Diamond Age play with different 19th century literary styles (Austen, Dickens, Stoker) that has no counterpart in Snow Crash.

If he could learn to create living, believable characters,

You misspelled "to write endings."
-- a big fan
posted by Aknaton at 4:53 PM on November 26, 2005

I hadn't heard that Snow Crash and the Diamond Age are in the same universe, and I suspect that that's not the way the books were meant to be interpreted.

And while I love Cryptonomicon, I think the notion that the Baroque Cycle is superior is at least defensible. It takes much more effort from the reader, but the unanticipated connections that you discover make it just as rewarding, IMHO. To point out the obvious analogy, its rather like the difference between the Hobbit and LOTR.
posted by gsteff at 5:50 PM on November 26, 2005

If he could learn to create living, believable characters

With The Baroque Cycle he fairly well did. 3,000 pages and 30 years spent these people gave a greater insight into the workings of his characters than we ever received in earlier works (with the possible exception of Sangamon Taylor). We learned that Daniel Waterhouse's motives were shaped by his self perception of cowardice, that Jack Shaftoe was torn between sticking with the long plan WRT Eliza vs. his need for flair and attention.

I won't quibble with you on his weak endings (but I don't read him expecting closure) but nowhere is there a character to be found in Snow Crash anywhere as deep or as believable as the players in The Baroque Cycle.

I think most people have issues with The Baroque Cycle because they want/expect the fast, low challenge read offered in Snow Crash Sure The Baroque Cycle is a lot more work, but, like, totally worth it.
posted by sourwookie at 6:02 PM on November 26, 2005

The Diamond Age is amazing simply for some of the nano inventions (and their consequences) that he describes in the first part of the book. The concept of the 'Toner Wars' being an interesting example.

Although, without spoiling anything, The Diamond Age is pretty much the epitome of how Stephenson seems to disentegrate when ending a story. After being impressed with the beginning of the story, I recommended it to a friend before I finished reading it.

I was suitably embarressed when I read the ending myself.
posted by jsonic at 6:25 PM on November 26, 2005

I would also like to concur that I (and just about all my techie work/book circle friends) liked the Baroque Cycle more than Crypto.

I thought the Baroque Cycle was more challenging while I literally had trouble reading the hacker/linux timeline in Crypto (however, the WWII timeline is probably his best writing)
posted by PissOnYourParade at 6:37 PM on November 26, 2005

sourwookie - I'm a big Stephenson fan, and though I disagree with your ranking of the oeuvre, I read "The Cobweb" and loved it without knowing who the author really was. It was only after a recent reread that I thought, "Hmm, I think I'll google this Bury fellow to see what else he's written." You can imagine my surprise.

It is very different from his other stuff, but I really enjoyed almost every page of it, something I cannot say of any of his other work (except "Snow Crash").
posted by Rock Steady at 7:09 PM on November 26, 2005

I hadn't heard that Snow Crash and the Diamond Age are in the same universe, and I suspect that that's not the way the books were meant to be interpreted.

From the wikipedia entry on The Diamond Age:
The Diamond Age is most likely set in the same universe as Snow Crash, many years later, based on the assumption that Y.T., a major character in Snow Crash, reappears as the aged Miss Matheson, who drops oblique references to her past as a hard-edged skateboarder. In a book signing at the Harvard Coop bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 8, 2003, Stephenson affirmed the connection.

More bases for this assumption include:

* Stephenson's short story "The Great Simoleon Caper" which refers to both the Metaverse seen in Snow Crash and the First Distributed Republic seen in The Diamond Age. (speaking of short stories, another one which fits in the Diamond Age milieu and even shares a character is "Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast")

* references to Franchise-Operated Quasi-National Entities (FOQNEs) in both novels
posted by beautifulstuff at 7:15 PM on November 26, 2005

I hadn't heard that Snow Crash and the Diamond Age are in the same universe, and I suspect that that's not the way the books were meant to be interpreted.

The world of SC fits well with the period of chaos that preceded the Protocol-stabilized world of TDA, and franchulates like Wossname's Greater Hong Kong are obvious proto-phyles. Also, one of Nell's instructors in the Vicky school mentions having been a rather wild thrasher in her youth... that is, she's Y.T.

God, I am such a dork.

I liked Cobweb a lot, but not so much Interface (it was too Michael Crichton-ey)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:24 PM on November 26, 2005

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:25 PM on November 26, 2005

The thread has long since left the original question in the dust, so in that spirit: b1tr0t's Metaweb link to The Diamond Age also has the exact quote beuatifulstuff linked to (so not exactly corroboration, but presumably Stephenson fans would have a better idea than just the Wikipedians and would edit accordingly).

Also, count me as someone who enjoyed The Diamond Age more than Snow Crash. Sure, the ending is abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying, but y'all did remember we're talking about Neal Stephenson, right? It's no worse than any of his other books. I think that because I read it at a certain age, The Diamond Age has become for me what Blade Runner is for a lot of other people: a stunningly detailed, vivid and absorbing vision of the future. Snow Crash, while still great, is too close to the world of today (and perhaps too prescient) to have that same element of the fantastic to it.
posted by chrominance at 8:13 PM on November 26, 2005

*team sourwookie*
posted by jennyb at 8:17 PM on November 26, 2005

If he could learn to create living, believable characters

You misspelled "to write endings."

I believe these two problems are related. Stephenson's novels do not end; they stop. There is no emotional arc in his works, so there's no climax or closure. This is why I hope he'll focus on developing his ability to create characters with real emotional depth and inner life. If he can do that, he can become a genuinely good writer.
posted by SPrintF at 9:59 PM on November 26, 2005

Also, to truly derail this thread, if you are interested in past/present/dystopian future tenuously connected stories, I highly recommend Cloud Atlas. It is my new all-time favourite.

The corpocracy future was utterly believable and horrifying.
posted by Dag Maggot at 2:19 AM on November 27, 2005

cloud atlas is indeed good, but (and i'm trying to phrase this in as neutral a way as possible) people who really think that stephenson is an excellent writer presumably look for different things in a novel from those that read david mitchell. i, at least, can't see how people can think both are good.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:26 AM on November 27, 2005

I too think Stephenson has improved with every work (having read everything except for the Bury novels and the Big U).
posted by sohcahtoa at 6:45 AM on November 27, 2005

sourwookie, I was talking to SprintF.

For the record, considering that Stephenson has been my favorite writer since I first read Snow Crash 9 years ago, I think that the Diamond Age was better than Snow Crash because of the sheer immensity of the scope of it (for being such a short novel), and the only Stephenson book I think ended too abruptly was Zodiac. The ending of The Diamond Age totally blew me away (with awesomeness).
posted by baphomet at 10:17 AM on November 27, 2005

I really enjoyed The Big U. It's obviously a first novel, and Stephenson was very influenced by the ideas of the The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (warning: embedded flash sound) but for all it's flaws I found a lot to like. Overall I preferred it to Zodiac in many ways. I haven't reread The Baroque Cycle yet, but I think that it's probably better than Cryptonomicom.

The stuff I remember from Stephenson's novels are always the ideas and scenes as rather the plots and characters.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 2:42 PM on November 27, 2005

Mr. Cooke,

I enjoyed Snow Crash, and Diamond Age immensely, and I also enjoyed Cloud Atlas. Admittedly, Mitchell's work could be classified as more "literary" but that's not what I look for in a book. For sheer entertainment value, I would put the 3 books above on equal footing.

I have a diminished opinion of Mr. Stephenson's subsequent novels. I found them over-weight, poor in character development and rambling.
posted by Dag Maggot at 6:26 PM on November 27, 2005

also team sourwookie...not to take anything away from any of my other favorites (crypto, diamond, and snow crash are all in there), but the baroque cycle was an epic, and a masterpiece.

posted by poppo at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2005

Well I chose to believe that Stephenson doesn't finish novels for the same reason people don't "finish" ideas. And that's simply because ideas don't finish.

After having read "Snow Crash", "Diamond Age", "Cryptonomicon" and "Quicksilver", it seems that Stephenson becomes increasingly more obtuse and detailed as he goes. Is it the sign of a writer on the brink of fatal disfocus? I don't care. The books all seem to attempt the same thing: to cover a huge amount of seemingly non-related material in a way which makes you feel (if not understand) that they are indeed related. I think that makes him a rationalist post-modernist expressionist. And frankly I don't care if tomorrow he tells us it was all bollox, it was still worth the ride.

To answer the original question: "team sourwookie"

Oh, and there's all the space stuff he's not doing, of course.
posted by ajp at 5:00 PM on November 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

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