Best 2003 Adventures (9)
February 6, 2021
One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 2003 adventure novels.
Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle historical adventure Quicksilver.
The 900-page Quicksilver is the first volume in the author’s late Baroque historical fiction series; imagine John Jakes’ Kent Family Chronicles if Jakes had been obsessed with the history of mathematics and cryptography. One of our many characters here is the natural philosopher Daniel Waterhouse, whose descendant Lawrence Waterhouse plays a key role in Stephenson’s 1999 adventure Cryptonomicon; another is Jack Shaftoe, “King of the Vagabonds,” whose descendant Bobby Shaftoe is also a protagonist of Cryptonomicon. Another central character here is Eliza, a European slave in a Turkish harem who escapes to France — where she becomes a French countess, investor, and spy for William of Orange. In what amount to three separate novels, which are narrated through letters, theatrical staging, and via other means, we get a crash course in the politics, economics and culture of early Enlightenment-era England, France, and the United Provinces. Leibniz’s theory of binary mathematics (without which we wouldn’t have developed computers), networks and codes, philosophy, court intrigue, wars, plagues — it’s all here, in a richly complex tall tale.
Fun facts: Reissued in 2006 as three paperbacks: Quicksilver, The King of the Vagabonds, and Odalisque. Followed by The Confusion and The System of the World (both published in 2004). Quicksilver won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
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