Monthly Archives: June 2013

Review of Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

Posted on

Cyberpunk fans of Stephenson’s technophile fiction know that it ranges from historical (Cryptognomicon, Quicksilver) to futuristic (Anathem, Snow Crash, Reamde). Probably only his fans will want to browse this assortment of (mostly) real-time essays – Some Remarks. Yet his blisteringly intelligent and often humorous discussion of our world’s current interconnectedness has much to interest readers of current science. I particularly recommend the (very long) article about the challenges of laying the globe-circling deep-sea cable called FLAG (from its financing and geography to practicalities such as how you can tell where the cable is broken and how you then control the slack after splicing it together) that still carries much of the data we download every day. Another in-depth article, about using a computer while walking slowly on a treadmill, is echoed in a recent New Yorker piece (The Walking Alive) – like much of William Gibson’s work, Stephenson’s insights into our future eventually reach the mainstream. Perhaps stand-up desks for all of us who spend too long in front of a screen will soon turn us into much lither touch typists. There are also some personal interviews, short stories, analyses of previous books, and the occasional political diatribe disguised as a film review (of ‘300’). Pick and mix, geek or not, enjoy. See also http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v488/n7410/full/488155a.html

Review of Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Posted on


Stephenson can slice and dice with the best of those busily rewriting our history, and sometimes our future, with the help of technology. But this is a pretty straight present-day thriller. The eponymous virus is disguised as a readme file that extorts virtual treasure from the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called T’Rain. Its stratigraphy mirrors that of the real world in complexity, thanks to a crew of differently skilled programmers, enabling players to ‘mine’ commodities exchangeable for real-world currency, aka Bitcoin. A fascinating sequence is set within T’Rain as its creator attempts to track his niece’s abductors through their online presence. However, the (extremely long) tale swiftly veers away from T’Rain to more familiar (though still thrilling) spy and terrorist terrain, leaving us wishing William Gibson would write another novel instead. For a more down-to-earth discussion of our world’s interconnectedness, browse Stephenson’s collection of essays, Some Remarks, particularly the one about laying deep-sea cable.