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.