Neal Stephenson

By: Peggy Nelson
October 31, 2009


No one writes edge-of-your-seat, action-packed, cinematic cliffhangers better than NEAL STEPHENSON (born 1959), and that’s just the talking-heads parts of his novels of ideas. He mashes up solid theoretical discourse (physics, cryptography, philosophy, semiotics) with old-school “adventure tales for boys,” leavened by a comic sensibility. If Stephenson’s encyclopedic enthusiasms can be said to converge, it’s in virtual reality, which he finds everywhere: the past, the future, the interwebs, environmentalism, theater, ebooks, quantum physics, corporate espionage — and, especially, the money. Ignoring the alleged limitations of genre, his science fictions have reached out to enmesh even the books themselves: 1992’s best-selling Snow Crash became a how-to manual for the 3D web, as tech-boom era developers set to work creating Stephenson’s “Metaverse.” He’s also set fashion trends: cyberpunk (Snow Crash), steampunk (The Diamond Age), even an ambitious attempt at nanotech monastery minimalism (Anathem). Sackcloth may be a hard sell, but our smart fabric future is imminent, as makers from Hussein Chalayan to The North Face will attest. Accessories included: who dared shave after Cryptonomicon’s rehabilitation of the beard?


READ MORE about the Original Generation X.

READ MORE about science fiction on

Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday. Click here for more HiLo Hero shout-outs.