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Sunday, July 02, 2006

I'm reading, and loving, King of the Vagabonds, which is dubbed "The Baroque Cycle #2." For those of you who haven't read any of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, it is an entertaining picaresque set all over Europe in 1683 or so, a time when Amsterdam is the wonder of the world, quicksilver is the key to mining silver, and the Thirty Years War is raging (or has raged) all over Europe torching villages. Stephenson is a science fiction writer, so he makes science fiction of it -- that is, he is as interested in the science as he is in the fiction. For some reason I find throway lines about "the cheap fabric just now coming out of Calico, in India" thrilling, as I do the knowledge that Amsterdam is where they dammed the Amstel River.

I am a font of useless knowledge.

The plot, for what it's worth, is an oddly diffident love story about a rogue who calls himself Half Cocked Jack for unfortunate clinical reasons having to do with a failed attempt to cure the pox, and a British girl he's rescued from the Turks, who has an eye for high finance, the smelting of silver, and obscure Hindoo sexual techniques.

For those of you who have read it: this book seems to be a repackaging of the middle part of the first hardcover book. Since I never got through Quicksilver, which lacked the love story and the Hindoo sexual techniques, I never got to King of the Vagabonds. Could someone kindly explain which of the paperbacks belong to which of the hardcovers, so I don't have to buy all of them or worse, go to a bookstore?


This is odd. These editions aren't mentioned on Stephenson's website. It looks like Harper Collins have republished the three folios: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World, as eight separate novels, which is basically how Stephenson says he always conceived of them.

Whether this is a genius marketing idea or greedy ploy, I wouldn't dare say.

Quicksilver, originally the first volume in the cycle, has been split into Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds and Odalisque.

The Confusion is now The Confusion Part One and Part Two.

The System of the World has become Solomon's Gold, Currency, and (presumably) The System of the World.

Three into eight. Only the books extracted from the original Quicksilver have been published so far. All of them, in my opinion, are blinding.

By Blogger Lee, at 5:11 PM  

Thanks for explaining, Lee.

Me, I'm grateful for a smaller chunk of paper. Quicksilver is "another damned thick square book," and hard to get into. And I wouldn't have picked up King of the V if I hadn't thought it was part of a new trilogy.

It should, though, make clear somewhere on the cover that if you've bought Quicksilver, the hardover, you should not buy K of the V. Unless, like me, you are in an airport and you don't happen to have Quicksilver along ... Actually I'm not sure they'd let you take Quicksilver on a plane.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:22 PM  

Looks like Audible has just recently started offering an audiobook version following the same "8 novels" scheme, which got me slightly confused, thinking prodigal Stephenson had added 5 more volumes almost overnight :-)

By Blogger Armin, at 2:09 PM  

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