The Baroque Cycle 

by Neal Stephenson

I got Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World for Christmas, and just finished them. I've been a Stephenson fan since reading Snow Crash, and really enjoyed these too.

Each book is over 800 pages, and there's a lot there: action, courtly intrigue, natural philosophy, history, sea battles, etc. Much is quite funny, as are many of the lavish descriptions.

Stephenson's usually lumped into the Science Fiction category. This might loosely be as well, since it's an alternate history (though more by taking a few liberties with actual history than playing "what-if"). Or historical fiction. Stephenson certainly works in all sorts of events, beginning with the London Fire. And major characters include Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

He's also tied this series to Cryptonomicon, with many of the characters in this series being ancestors of those in Cryptonomicon.

Not ony was I enormously entertained, but I found myself educated as well. Not so much by some of the exposition, but by the portrayal of how people reacted to things. For example, I'd always thought it was kind of weird that a German became King of England. It makes a lot more sense now.

A useful resource is the wikis of annotations for Quicksilver, Confusion, and System of the World. The one for Quicksilver in particular has comments by Neal Stephenson explaining which characters (and locations) are fictional and which are real (some of the real ones are stranger than fiction). 

Posted: Sat - March 12, 2005 at 11:50 AM