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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

The Year I Spent Reading Neal Stephenson (and a few other books)

It started innocently enough. I saw that Jasper Fforde had a new to me book out and I bought it immediately. Turned out that Shades of Grey wasn’t a Thursday Next book, but it was a delightful romp through a dystopian future where class is based on degrees of color blindness and assessed at age 16.

The friend who had introduced me to Fforde in the first place suggested that if I’d enjoyed the dystopian future of Shades of Gray, I might enjoy Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is a prolific writer of cyberpunk and dystopian novels. I then settled in for a year spent in parallel universes and not so distant futures.

I started with Cryptonomicon, then Snow Crash and Diamond Age. Later in the year I read Anathem and I just finished with REAMDE. In the middle, I took breaks for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Daemon and FreedomTM by Danny Suarez, and the Engineer Trilogy by K.J. Parker.

(There were also a few non-fiction books thrown in there and a thousand pages of academic reading for school).

Here are a few sweeping recommendations from my year of science fiction, cyber punk, dystopian futures, parallel universe histories and stuff.

Always read Jasper Fforde’s books. He paints delicious worlds with unique rules and vivid colors, even when the book is about color blindness.

Neal Stephenson has a few tropes he’ll always go back to. There will be totally random sex in the book that has little to do with the storyline, but it’s always there. There will be a scene that features near suffocation and you’ll wonder what happened to him as a kid. There will be a few parallel story lines that eventually intersect in ways that I never see coming, but I like to be surprised instead of figuring out the mystery before the final chapter. And the Sys Admin or hacker will always be the hero.

Ready Player One was the most fun book I read this year. The author turned a night of 80s trivia into a fun romp of a book, dipping in and out of movies, music and video games. Yes, it takes place in a massive multiplayer online game in the not so distant (very depressing) future, but it is fun.

Danny Suarez’s books are very violent, but worth the read for the vision of society he presents in book two. The friend who recommended these two (along with all the Stephenson) warned me that there would be some things that I wouldn’t like (murder and rape), and he was right, but he was also right that in the end it was worthwhile.

The Engineer Trilogy was a slog for me, but since I’d already bought the whole trilogy in paperback, I finished it. It takes place in a world’s Medieval/Byzantine era where countries are based on trade (engineers, shepherds, farmers, mining) and an engineer is excommunicated from his homeland. The three books cover the wars he starts to get back home, but it seems to be written in real time. Instead of a quick summary of war preparations, it includes incredibly detailed chapters on engineering, sieges, army training and fencing. I found it tedious, but still finished all three books in less than a month, so at some level I enjoyed the books.

There’s a part of me that thinks the future of marketing is hidden in a science fiction or cyber punk book, so I combined this reading diet with grad school. I’m about to start my second quarter at DePaul in the Digital Communications and Media Arts program. So far I haven’t been able to take a class on cyber punk fiction, but maybe in the next few years I’ll be able to.

What should I read next?

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