Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Confusion

I read Quicksilver over a year and a half ago, and I was terribly disappointed. Cryptonomicon still remains in my mind as one of the best adventure stories I have read, so my expectations were very, very high. However, where Cryptonomicon was funny, exhilarating, and geeky, Quicksilver only managed to set up some characters and explain science that is anything but obscure. I actually put off reading The Confusion by Neal Stephenson because I feared I would only be further disappointed. Again, I couldn't have been more wrong.

While The Confusion does not in anyway reach the level of Cryptonomicon, it does go in the right direction. I'm not a huge fan of the characters, Jack and Eliza, that it focuses on, so it did take me a bit of time to ease into the book. Stephenson did a fine job of making me appreciate the "tough guys" in the story even though I would have rather been reading about happenings in the Royal Society. Perhaps, that is actually what helped The Confusion. The Royal Society and its science may be just a bit too far on the common knowledge side. The book still manages to cram in obscure facts, which the first was somewhat lacking.

That's not to say the book does not have some glaring issues. Pacing is one of them. Some complained that Cryptonomicon was poorly paced, but I found that it had reached an almost perfect balance when it came to how long one character was focused on. So, it's not Stephenson's typical style that bothers me. The problem here is he missed the mark when deciding how much time each situation deserved. Ultimately, towards the end it all felt rushed where the rest felt milked for all it was worth. Of course, Stephenson seems to like letting the reader fill in more gaps toward the end than anywhere else. Even Cryptonomicon felt the effect.

Past the pacing, the book shines with an intricate plot. Stephenson is back to a massive gold hunt, much like Cryptonomicon. I love the idea of searching for the legendary gold of Solomon, especially in a setting that is less focused on esoteric religions. It seems every time a subject regarding ancient artifacts is addressed in literature there has to be some cult involved or even the occult. Stephenson simply plays off the thinking of the time. When society began moving toward the mentality that everything must be proved through experimentation, it was only logical that religion be given the same test, so a search for an essence of God in biblical artifacts is not so much of a stretch.

Now, I fear I have compared The Confusion to Cryptonomicon too much, but that is simply because Cryptonomicon is what turned me on to Stephenson. I want to relive just how much I loved reading that book. I fear I may remember the book being better than it is, but The Confusion erases most of that doubt from my mind. I can truly see the potential here for so much, so I will definitely finish up The Baroque Cycle eventually, especially with the promise of our two heroes battling each other. What could possibly be better?


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