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Neal Stephenson

Library: Neal Stephenson

1959 -
«Snow Crash»[Abstract] 908.47Kb 66911 hits

Neal Town Stephenson (b. October 31, 1959 in Fort Meade, Maryland) is known primarily as a science fiction writer in the postcyberpunk genre with a penchant for diverting into explorations of mathematics, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and works part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system.

Born in Fort Meade, Maryland — home of the National Security Agency — Stephenson comes from a family composed of engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University, first specialising in physics, then, when he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe, he switched to geography. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography with a minor in Physics. His first novel, The Big U, was published in 1984. The Big U was never popular, and for a while, was out of print. It has only recently been republished. Since 1984 he has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.

After The Big U, Stephenson published the eco-thriller Zodiac before rising to prominence in the early 1990s with the novel Snow Crash (1992), which fuses memetics, computer viruses, and other high-tech themes with Sumerian mythology. Averaging one novel every four years, he has written several subsequent novels:

Though it can be argued that neither Cryptonomicon nor The Baroque Cycle constitute works of science fiction, Stephenson himself insists on describing these books as SF and booksellers have tended to classify them as such.

With the 2003 publication of Quicksilver, Stephenson debuted The Metaweb, a wiki (using the same software as Wikipedia) annotating the ideas and historical period explored in the novel.

Stephenson, at least in his earlier novels, deals heavily in pop culture-laden metaphors and imagery, and in quick, hip dialogue, as well as in extended narrative monologues. The tone of his books generally is more irreverent and less self-serious than in previous cyberpunk novels, notably those of William Gibson. His novels are also notable in that they are usually written in the present tense.

Stephenson's books tend to have elaborate, inventive plots drawing on numerous technological and sociological ideas at the same time. This distinguishes him from other mainstream science fiction authors who tend to focus on a few technological or social changes in isolation from others. This penchant for complexity and detail suggests a baroque writer. His book The Diamond Age features "neo-Victorian" characters and employs Victorian-era literary conceits. In keeping with the baroque style, Stephenson's books have become longer as he has gained recognition. (Cryptonomicon is nearly a thousand pages long and contains various digressions, including a lengthy erotic story about antique furniture and stockings.)

Characteristic aspects of his books are the "breakdown in events", an acceleration in plot development, typically about three quarters into the novel, accompanied by a marked increase in violence and general confusion among the characters (and often readers); and abrupt endings without strong conclusions or denouement, which sometimes leave the reader hanging. While many readers consider this an annoyance, there is a contingent that admires the author's ability to tie up loose ends and transact a great deal of novelistic business within the space of 20 or 30 pages. This pattern holds for all of the Stephenson-penned books except perhaps Quicksilver. However, on the evidence of The Confusion (2004), that rule may still hold if one considers The Baroque Cycle as a single work.

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