Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Baroque Cycle

The Baroque Cycle

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Wikipedia entry for the Baroque Cycle.

I'm within about 150 to 200 pages of finishing the 3rd volume of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. The first volume is entitled Quicksilver, the second is The Confusion, and the third is The System of the World.

The Baroque Cycle is a delightful work of historical fiction. It is set in the Baroque period, from roughly 1680 to 1720. The Enlightenment is taking place. Newton, Liebnitz, Hooke, Gresham, the Sun King, Peter the Great, The Royal Society, the Siege of Vienna, Pirates, the Barbary Corsairs, Turkish harems,the South Sea Bubble, witch hangings, early steam engines, and dozens of others all pass through the stage at one time or another.

The storytelling and craftsmanship of the author is first rate. The dialog is good, and the characters are whole. He knows how to tell a story that compels you to keep reading and turning those pages. You could tell that this was a labor of love because there is so much historical detail introduced in the storytelling. You can't help but learn a lot not only of the Baroque period, but about our modern world as well by reading it.

One of the main characters, Jack Shaftoe, is one Zhuang Zi would have liked. From a wiki dedicated to the Baroque Cycle: "Shit happens, challenges arise, we deal with what follows as best as we are able. But, how do we get to lead a life like this? This is NOT ordinary, despite how ordinary it indeed is, mabe it is just not normal, for most of us who have our heads buried up our nether regions most of our lives.
In Jack's life, we don't simply see difficult situations occurring, we see IMPOSSIBLE situations occurring, entire chains of events that stretch credulity.
What's worse is that Jack recognizes and grasps each opportunity that arises with precise timing, incredible cunning, yet an open heart, no trace of self-pity or self- importance. He seems to be exactly what you see, a simple person in a relatively simple life, and yet..."

One of the other main characters is Eliza, who was kidnapped from a beach of her native land as a child, and sold into a Turkish harem; who escaped, and having an astute acumen for business sets about finding her place and thrive in the no holds barred sort of capitalism that renewed Europe from it's epicenter in the Dutch Republic.

The third is Dr. Daniel Waterhouse. A Dissenter who witnessed Charles I's beheading (his father was an important member of Cromwell's movement), Newton's friend and roomate at Oxford, and one of the first members of the Royal Society. In his old age, it is around Dr. Waterhouse that the threads of this epic story are spun.

When I'm finally finished, I'll let the books sit for a while, then I'm looking forward to reading them again. There is so much in them that it would take many readings to squeeze them dry.

This is terrific reading. If you like historical fiction, please do yourself a favor and pick them up.

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