In an epic story that ranges between 1655 and 1713, and from Massachusetts Bay Colony and London to the silver mines of Saxony and the wars against the Turks in what eventually become Austria and Hungary, Stephenson chronicles the thoughts and adventures of characters from the lowliest Thames River scum to the kings of England and France, their courts, and the distant relations who plot against them. Daniel Waterhouse is a mediocre scientific mind, friend and classmate of Newton at Cambridge in the 1660s, and through Dan we meet many of the other celebrated British scientists of the time -- when alchemy is giving way to the Scientific Revolution, but the two are still hard to tell apart. Jack Shaftoe, a Thames River "mudlark" and his brother Bob seek their fortunes as mercenaries on the continent, and Jack eventually hooks up with Eliza, a whip-smart and erotically inventive gal enslaved up north and raised in a Turkish harem. Eliza makes her way back up the map, becoming acquainted with Dr. Leibniz, nobles of the French court of Louis XIV, and William of Orange, plotter to the English throne. London burns, the plague returns, Protestants and Catholics war against and torture one another in various times and places, pagans hold their ceremonies in the mountains of Eastern Europe, and many other surprising things (as well as familiar Stephenson themes such as cryptography) pass across these sprawling 916 pages -- the first part of a projected trilogy called "The Baroque Cycle." Historic figures who appear in cameo range from young Ben Franklin to Samuel Pepys. Dense and complicated, mostly readable save for some slow sections, this 2003 extravaganza may prove too much for fans of Stephenson's past sci-fi (I know at least one person who began to reread it as soon as he finished), and too playful and cockeyed for readers of more traditional historic fiction. On the other hand, it just might hook both.
This report prepared by David Loftus
Morrow, Sep 2003, 27.95
Princess Caroline commands Enoch Root to go to Boston to persuade computational systems developer Daniel Waterhouse to come to Europe. The royal wants Daniel to mediate a geometrically growing mathematical squabble. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz claim the invention of calculus. The two geniuses are locked in a feud that could destroy the enlightened foundations of empirical data as the basis to support scientific claims. Daniel, a friend of both scientists, sails to Europe as he muses over the scientific revolution that took root in the previous century.
Urchin Jack Shaftoe treks across Europe doing odd jobs like pretending to be a Musketeer until he meets Eliza in Austria. She is an English woman who escaped a Turkish harem that was her home as a teen. She wants vengeance on the merchant who sold her into slavery and feels Jack can help her achieve her objective. Ultimately she works her way up from the former muddy street rascal to English and French royalty.
QUICKSILVER is a delightful complex telling of the birth and impact of the scientific revolution. The story line recreates some of the greats like Newton, Leibniz, and Hooke as they interact with key fictional figures. The novel contains three “books” that focus on the Age of Reason so that the audience feels they are traveling with Daniel, Jack, and Eliza. Neal Stephenson makes the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century seem vividly alive at a critical junction in when reason and technology changed the world as few eras did before or since.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner