New World

As much as I loved Cryptonomicon, it was probably inevitable that I’d start in on the Baroque Cycle. I feel like I should be paying a lot more attention to Stephenson’s concepts and his plot, but his prose just slays me. I can’t imagine anyone else seeing a hanging this way:

The rope clutches a disk of blue New England sky. The Puritans gaze at it and, to all appearances, think. Enoch the Red reins in his borrowed horse as it nears the edge of the crowd, and sees that the executioner’s purpose is not to let them inspect his knotwork, but to give them all a narrow—and, to a Puritan, tantalizing—glimpse of the portal through which they all must past one day.

In an odd way, he reminds me of Hilary Mantel. Where Mantel’s all fragments of prose, sharp, strange images, Stephenson tends towards run-on sentences, infinite outward expansion. But they both do lists in the same way, conjuring worlds into existence with arcane nouns and adjectives. For Stephenson, it’s alchemists’ experiments or the stores of a cellar that turns into a solid block of gold in the great fire. For Mantel (in Wolf Hall at least), it’s merchant’s stores and catalogues of estates. They’re both beautiful.