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This series must be contemplated as a unified whole. This review is for the entire BAROQUE CYCLE.
Sorry Neal, I was wrong. For me Neal Stephenson was a bit of an acquired taste. My first Stephenson exposure was with SNOWCRASH, a zany over-the-top Sci-Fi farce with quirky characters, tight plotting and fascinating ideas—try an ancient software virus in the human brain. My next Neal Stephenson encounter was THE DIAMOND AGE and this was for years my last. It was not until revisiting SNOWCRASH now as an audiobook (narrated by the superb Jonathan Davis) that I realized that anyone able to reach such dizzying fictional heights once deserves more than one strike. It was after this that I listened to ANATHEM; strike two. But there was one more title that had received acclaim that I first had to tackle before relegating Stephenson to one-hit-wonder status: CRYPTONOMICON. This was a home run; different from SNOWCRASH in almost every way but still wonderful, and really long. From this I learned three things: (1) Stephenson was not easy to pigeon-hole; and (2) He could handle fictional works in the long form; and (3) If you are not preoccupied with plot advancement, the rabbit trails can be quite scenic. So, once I learned that many of the characters in CRYPTONOMICON had ancestors in THE BAROQUE CYCLE, I determined to tackle the whole lot back-to-back, as if it were one giant novel. QUICKSILVER is the first audio installment of THE BAROQUE CYCLE, which is here divided into seven installments. In print form it is broken into eight books published in three hefty volumes.
I could tell from the comments of other listeners that this huge tome is not for everyone. If you require fast tight plotting, this may not be for you. If you enjoy witty repartee between vagabonds, kings, courtiers and thieves then this may be the mother lode. I liken Neal Stephenson to Gene Wolfe; another writer who can keep my interest just by the brilliance of his prose. It was in the middle of ODALISQUE, book three in the cycle, that I realized I didn’t much care that the plot was just creeping along, and that side trips to follow the numerous cast of characters kept taking me away from the one I liked best. I was enjoying the show and didn’t want it to end. This is truly not seven different novels, but one huge novel tied together by recurring characters and one vast and very satisfying story arc.
This accomplishment by Neal Stevenson is just the thing that the term magnum opus was coined for. Mr. Stevenson demonstrates his ability to manage a vast narrative alternate history and retains his focus over two-thousand six-hundred eighty-eight hardcover pages, through one-hundred fourteen hours of audiobook narration; yet the feel and texture and pacing is consistent throughout the entire work. Amazing. If you decide to tackle this tome you will be rewarded. It may cause you to rethink the whole audiobook medium.
I really enjoyed Stephenson’s insights into the politics of the scientific community, revolving around Isaac Newton. The fusing of Natural Philosophy (science), Alchemy, commodity-based monetary theory, rags-to-riches character transformations, and court intrigue make for a fascinating experience. Listening to this series is like taking a time-travel vacation to the eighteenth century. The shabby, muddy, miasmic grunge of the period’s living conditions sometimes remind me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Jabberwocky, with associated punch-lines. This is a very different world from the one we live in but I began to think I might understand it a little better and found that, in some ways, it might not be so bad.
If you are at all interested in free-market economics, and commodity-based monetary theory then one of the long-term story arcs will be of intense interest to you. Stevenson explores the impact of the foundation of the central Bank of England upon the flow of gold. And his deft insertion of an Alchemical component into the mix creates an enjoyable element of mystery. This is the storyline that required one-hundred hours to tell.
This is a Science Fiction work because the alternate-history angle with Alchemy infecting the realm of science will appeal to the SF fan. If you were provided with a plot outline or given some character sketches you may think this an historical novel, and it could be read from that perspective. But Science Fiction readers don’t as a rule read historical novels, but they will read this, therefore, whatever qualities it possesses, justify the SF label.
—PERSISTENT THEMES OF THE BAROQUE CYCLE—
Predestination versus Free-Will is on everyone’s mind
The debate between Protestantism versus Catholicism had a huge political impact
Geocentrism versus Heliocentrism is the only thing everyone can agree upon
Commodity-based Monetary theory makes the world work
Court Intrigue and witty conversations provide joy in every circumstance
Meritocracy rags-to-riches stories abound
People can endure much if they have hope
Vagabond underworld versus Persons of Quality show we have much in common
Alchemy counterpoised with Natural Philosophy revel the nature of science
Encryption and secret writing have long been employed
True love makes life worth living
Courtly liaisons show the shallowness of the ruling class to whom society is entrusted
Simon Prebble does yeoman’s work on this production. To my ear he nailed every single pronunciation of every word in the course of over one-hundred hours of narration—no mean feat. His character voicings are subtle but immediately recognizable. His talent allows him to even give convincing alternate pronunciations of words to the different characters that are appropriate to their individual personalities. The more foppish English characters habitually emphasize different syllables than the lower class characters. Despite the deep quality of his voice Simon Prebble handles both male and female character voices convincingly. His voice has a limited range but I was constantly amazed at how he could make subtle alterations in inflection, diction and pacing to effectively distinguish the various characters in a conversation. Simon Prebble achieves the desirable state of occupying the place in your head usually reserved for your own internal sub-vocalizations when you are reading a print book to yourself. This is a high achievement indeed and makes this a soothing book experience.
Narrated by Simon Prebble (Main text)
Kevin Pariseau (Chapter epigraphs)
Neal Stephenson (Introduction)
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Stephenson does it yet again! I appreciate how this series captured my interest with the first book and each subsequent book adds a new layer of intrigue. I've learned more about 17th Century Europe from Neal Stephenson than in four years of High School, and thoroughly enjoyed it in the process! I can't wait to tackle the final book.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
In this part of Stephenson's epic we continue our tour of historic London, visiting places as diverse as Parliament, Newgate Prison, Bedlam and the Bank of England; while a complex plot of mystery and intrigue unfolds. A sort of Conan Doyle meets Alexander Dumas.
I've taken to going on long walks in Richmond Park with my audio player. This way I can listen for hours on end without any loss of concentration. A really long novel, full of local colour and historical detail, with a complex and exciting plot, is what I require for this. Forget HD 3D movies on TV- this is the true immersive experience because the spoken novel engages the imagination on another level entirely.
For six months now I have been suspended between two worlds and at times I feel unsure as to where I am- I have to remind myself that the year is 2010 and not 1714, and that this is a work of fiction and not history. Now I am unsure- was the long anticipated meeting of Newton and Leibniz cut short by the passage of a harpoon thrown at Peter the Great, Tzar of Russia, in a tavern in Hockley?
Is the Bank of England build on the site of a Roman temple dedicted to Mithras?
And is there really a secret passage from the cellars of the Bank to the Church of St Stephen Walbrook?
And did Daniel Waterhouse build the logic machine (aka computer) with the help of whores in Newgate Prison, and to drive it, finance the first steam engine?
And on the streets of London, was a civil war narrowly averted with the help of Jack's gold?
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Currency again? Why?
The Baroque Cycle is excellent from start to finish but this particular book is my favourite because of the way so many characters and plot strands are brought together. Don't worry if you haven't listened to all the other books in the series - you can start with this one and enjoy it as the stand-alone masterpiece it is.
What did you like best about this story?
The interaction between fictional character of Daniel Waterhouse and real characters like Sir Isaac Newton make this story feel well-grounded in the period. The detailed descriptions of London life are intriguing too, especially as many of the places referenced are still present in the London of today.
What about the narrators’s performance did you like?
The narrator clearly separates the many characters with excellent voicing that helps make this complex story easy to follow. It's the best narration of all the many books I've listened to on Audible.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Whilst taking a long series of flights I came close to listening to this book in a single sitting.