Neal Stephenson at Google Talk 📺

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page is a commentary after watching scifi novelist Neal Stephenson giving a talk at Google, and his books.

Neal Stephenson 2008-09-16 theater
Neal Stephenson . [image source]

Was chatting on freenode's irc #rcirc channel out of boredom. I asked out in the open for suggestions on some sci-fi movies to watch. Sabetts (Shawn Betts, author of [ Ratpoison ] [ ] and [ Stumpwm ] [ ]) mentioned that [ Neal Stephenson ] [ ] has a google talk.

Neal Stephenson talk at Google on .

I watched the entire 58 min of it. In the beginning 5 or 10 min, you see this boring guy, humorless, self-absorbed, absent-minded nerd, going on monotonously. The entire talk is a emotionless monotone, somewhat demeaning and self-abasing too, entirely devoid of any high points, energy, constantly letting out a subdued sigh. Can't find a single gleam of a smile on his face thru the entire talk.

I've of course heard of him, first time in 1998 thru a colleague (Jon Frisby), who named his coding projects after his books. Neal is this sci-fi novel writer, famous for titles like Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, etc, some kinda celebrity god among tech geekers. I watched to see what he have say, after all he's giving a talk at Google.

It turns out, i find him to be extremely intelligent. When he got asked about what he thinks of Wikipedia (~20:30 to 27:00), my ears perked up. I'm a Wikipedia expert, as far as what it is, the quality of it, its relation to the tech geekers, and to humanity at large, so his answers will be a high point for me to make a judgment of him. And then behold, what quality in observation he has, brought out in such a un-spectacular mannerism. Though, it is disappointing when asked about Second Life (~13:40), for which his answer was that he basically never tried it so doesn't know much to comment, despite the fact that he partially founded such a metaverse idea and in fact supported its development by creating a wiki during ~2005. (in fact, my name and my article on trolling (On Ignoring Trolls) was mentioned on that wiki while it existed. ( went defunct few years back and today it's some unrelated company's site.))

Here are some of Neal's popular books. Quotes are from Wikipedia. His novels won many awards.

[ Snow Crash ] [ ] (1992) Buy at amazon. «fuses memetics, computer viruses, and other high-tech themes with Sumerian mythology, along with an analysis of the differences between ideologies such as libertarianism, laissez-faire capitalism, and communism.»

[ The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer ] [ ] (1995) Buy at amazon. «deals with a future with extensive nanotechnology and dynabooks.»

[ Cryptonomicon ] [ ] (1999) Buy at amazon. «A novel concerned with concepts ranging from computing and Alan Turing's research into codebreaking and cryptography during the Second World War at Bletchley Park, to a modern attempt to set up a data haven.»

[ The Baroque Cycle (novel) ] [ ] «A series of historical novels and is in some respects a prequel to Cryptonomicon. It was originally published in three volumes but has subsequently been republished as eight separate books.»

1. [ Quicksilver ] [ ] (2003) (containing the novels Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds, Odalisque) Buy at amazon

2. [ The Confusion ] [ ] (2004) Buy at amazon (containing the novels Bonanza, Juncto)

3. [ The System of the World (novel) ] [ ] (2004) Buy at amazon (containing the novels Solomon's Gold, Currency, System of the World).

[ Anathem ] [ ] (2008) Buy at amazon «A work of speculative fiction set in an Earth-like world. Major themes include the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the philosophical debate between Platonic realism and formalism.».

Spent 6 hours yesterday reading about Neal and his works. Wikipedia articles about his novels, his personal home page, grabbed some samples of his work from pirate networks (sorry, i live $2 a day for food. Will buy his book(s) if i actually read them.)

In particular, spend some 4 hours reading the Wikipedia page about The Diamong Age. Buy at amazon

His novels are dense, and i'm into reading dense info. Reading the novel itself would take a long time, so so far i've just read Wikipedia about them, and that takes several hours, to understand all the terms, new concepts, etc.

For example, i learned the terms, words, new concepts, or learned more, about:

Of course, many of his themes i'm already familiar to intimately familiar, such as cyperpunk, metaverse, nanotech, viruses, Newton, Leibniz, confucianism.