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Someone described this as “Neal Stephenson writing as Stephen Bury.”  Which, while funny, seemed unnecessarily cruel.  This long run of a book has a plot gimme – a point where the author pleads, “please, just gimme this one complete bullshit suspension of disbelief if not sentience and I’ll make it worth your while, honest to god” – right in the middle of it that was to me SO blatant and desperate that I instead could not think of a fate cruel enough for him. By the end, it’s mostly forgiven, as the book is revealed as an antic take on the Clancy/Brown ‘airport thriller’ structure.  Long old joke to tell, but the punchline lands. Just.

(declaration of interest: The Baroque Cycle is one of my favourite books of the century so far, and I yearn for the year when I’ll have enough free time to read it all over again. After 3000 pages, I was genuinely sad when I realised I was reaching the end of the story.)

(I finally finished this book on the 31st, but screw it: I’m calling it my first finished book of 2012.  And am trying to keep a better count, this year.)

It’s not the man’s best book, and the prose in some sections feels tired. Stephenson’s place in my admiration makes me question my own reading, and wonder if he was going for the plain, character-free propulsion of a Clancy. But in others it leaps and soars, and makes me want to revisit the finely hewn prose of ANATHEM, which has gone unfinished in my house because I bought the hardback and it’s so stupidly fucking heavy that it’s actually kind of uncomfortable to handle for long periods.  I wanted a book and got a literary kettle bell.  In the final analysis, there’s enough jumping and swooping to make it an entertaining trip.

Published in stuff2012