Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 18:28 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
Why Left Hand of Darkness?
at 16:32 on 05-04-2014, Michal
I dunno, my opinion on Anathem is that if you've already read A Canticle for Liebowitz and The Left Hand of Darkness then you've already read the good parts of Anathem. The rest see-saws between ludicrous and boring.

The Barqoue Cycle contains one of the worst sex scenes I've ever read, so it might be worth looking at just for that...
at 15:39 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
I think I actually read The Diamond Age of his stuff first. I don't remember how accessible it is though...Anathem has got some fascinating bits, but it also has some terribly boring, indulgent stuff and lacks the verve of Cryptonomicon or Snow Crash. I'd start with one of those, I think.

Actually, now I want to go read Reamde. Somehow I'm suddenly in the mood for Stephenson. Life, eh?
at 11:16 on 05-04-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
I've been meaning to read Stephenson for ages, since he seems to be sort of influential and apparently a good writer as well. At least the Wire article where he wrote about the cables being installed around the world was interesting. What would be a good book to start with? Anathema has interested me somewhat, as I've understood that there is some stuff about the whole nominalis vs. universalism stuff there, Cryptonomicon is about WWII and cryptography, both of these subjects having a baseline interestingness about them. With some wackiness handling anonymous banking? Well, he sems to have a knack of picking interesting subjects, is what I mean. Any recommendations? I do like the Baroque as well...
at 08:42 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
I think it's less actual politics/economic with Stephenson (though I guess he's got his moments in Cryptonomicon,) and particularly what with the sub-Stephensonian sort of stuff, cool hackers contemptuous of the vacuity of muggles, etc, etc (because say what you will, Stephenson is very good, even if just in a technical sense, and he does know the politics, economics and history through and through) and more a social/cultural vibe I find it hard to define but I know it when I see it. Men being men doing meaningful man things out on the prairie, with lots of guns. Something like that. It has fuck all to do with international monetary policy or fe unding for thfunctions of the state, but it sets my libertarianism, 20 degrees to starboard, vibe off anyway.
at 05:13 on 05-04-2014, James D
I honestly don't know how Snow Crash could possibly be read as endorsing libertarianism - all the privatized institutions it mentions, from justice systems to law enforcement to correctional facilities to religious denominations - are given ludicrous brand names that are reminiscent of fast food franchises. The world of Snow Crash is one in which everything runs on the McDonald's model. It's definitely not held up as something to be desired.

Also, it mentions a number of different "enclaves", essentially gated communities-cum-city states, which include a redneck confederate/South African version which enforces apartheid - and the novel absolutely doesn't defend that. There's not even the faintest whiff of the libertarian "racism = bad, but it's private institutions' right to be racist if they want to be" apologetics.
at 01:05 on 05-04-2014, Arthur B
I think it is viable to read Snow Crash as satirising libertarianism rather than endorsing it, though the borderline is admittedly thin.

I think the sense of superiority over "ordinary" lives is common to geekdom in general, though there's an alarming overlap between geekdom and libertarianism.
at 18:43 on 04-04-2014, Tamara
@Robinson - I don't think Snow Crash is that Libertarian. There's something cartoony and swashbuckling about the setting and it gets more than a bit of mockery. On the other hand there's a sort of cultural-libertarian vibe to Cryptonomicon and Anathem that I found more insidious. These incredibly patronizing and heavy handed episodes of just sneering at, you know, ordinary life which I associate - perhaps unfairly - with libertarianism.

(I am, of course, convinced that I'm utterly fascinating :-), but I suspect I just look that way because of a bit of a culture gap - we have compulsary military service here, and it's always possible to spin a couple of funny stories out of that.)
at 11:15 on 04-04-2014, Arthur B
Indiegogo proves that it's Kickstarter's shadier, less ethical cousin. Then again, most people knew that already from the way that Indiegogo lets creators set up fundraisers where they get the money pledged even if the target isn't hit (which just sounds like a recipe for utter disaster to me).
at 00:36 on 04-04-2014, Robinson L
Arthur: That plot point made much more sense when William Burroughs used it in the Nova Trilogy.

Huh, then I guess I ought to check that out sometime, because I actually found the religion/language/virus stuff cool and mind-bending when I read the book. What got me most were the abrupt ending, and the long and (for all that I could figure out) pointless world-building tangents.

That was several years ago, though, and I was not at a point where I could really recognize much less evaluate the extreme libertarian setting.

@Tamara: the more I learn about you, the more fascinating your life sounds. (I mean, I've been in similar social milieus in educational settings - but not in a military setting.)
at 00:24 on 04-04-2014, James D
Yeah I more or less agree with the general consensus that the earlier parts are cooler; it seems to me like stephenson did the whole "mind hacking" bit because he felt the concept tied in well with hackers and hacking being central to cyberpunk. I thought the concept itself was interesting, but it seems like Stephenson did a whole bunch of research on it and felt he really, REALLY needed to justify the "mind hacking" in the book as scientific in origin, rather than have it come across as magic. So, he infodumps rather shamelessly. Still, I think it fits with the whole wacky, cartoonish universe he created; he just should have been content to hand-wave the pseudo-science and explain it as just a more effective form of brainwashing. The plot and pacing in general were pretty rickety.

I don't remember the sex being that bad - there's only one that I can remember and it's like two paragraphs long at the most. What did bug me was Hiro's ex-girlfriend being built up through his memories of her, hints dropped that she's doing something really really important, and then she just shows up right near the end and does like one thing and then that's it. The plot seemed to imply that she'd be delivering some sort of epic revelation, but no, I guess not.

All that aside, I still enjoyed the other parts of the book a hell of a lot. Absolutely style over substance, but that's cyberpunk for you.
at 22:50 on 03-04-2014, Arthur B
By the way, was anyone able to decipher that bit about religion,languages, and viruses all being the same thing? The book lost me there.

That plot point made much more sense when William Burroughs used it in the Nova Trilogy.

Which is pretty damning as far as Stephenson is concerned.
at 22:15 on 03-04-2014, Bookwyrm
I attempted to read Snow Crash a while ago but I lost interest about half way through. I think it was around the point where Hiro and the computer had that long, long conversation about the connection between Mesopotamian religion and the computer virus. For a sizable chunk of the story Hiro is essentially standing around, doing nothing but relaying a ton of exposition. By the way, was anyone able to decipher that bit about religion,languages, and viruses all being the same thing? The book lost me there.
at 16:49 on 03-04-2014, Tamara
Oh man! I had managed to completely forget about the language-brain-hacking stuff and the awful...can you call them sex scenes?
at 11:27 on 03-04-2014, Arthur B
I found the microstates thing fun in Snow Crash and the earlier parts of the book were a neat exercise in taking cyberpunk trends and seeing what happens if you extrapolate forward from them to an absurd extent. But the second half is a huge mess, the sub-Origin of Consciousness In the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind conspiracy theory is risible, the bit where the protagonist has a long and boring infodumpy conversation about said theory online whilst he's in the middle of sneaking through the villain's Sea Org offshore city is even sillier, and the less said about stuff like the dentata the better.
at 10:31 on 03-04-2014, Tamara
I loved Snow Crash when I was a teen, but I'm worried the suck-fairy has been at it. Every Stephenson book i've read since has been a little more Libertarianism-is-cool and Geeks-are-better-than-those-boring-ordinary-people, and I don't want to find that in Snow Crash. :-(

(The Libertarian Police Department did crack me up because I served in an infantry company consisting almost entirely of various brands of Marxists, Socialists, Anarchists and a few gently mocked Social-Democrat-Liberal types...and I did once agitate for a strike in a military kitchen when we were in boot camp.)
at 09:35 on 03-04-2014, James D
Hah that was pretty good. Funny to read the comments as well, featuring a bunch of libertarians trying their hardest not to sound butthurt.

Did you ever read Snow Crash? Its setting is basically a libertarian "paradise" taken to a ludicrous extreme, complete with competing private police organizations and private prisons that are franchised out like (and sometimes in) fast food joints.
at 02:02 on 03-04-2014, Arthur B
Speaking of the free market, I hope it gives us a TV show of Libertarian Police Department.
at 22:11 on 02-04-2014, Arthur B
is actually a good thing because it's an example of the free market correcting itself.
at 21:55 on 02-04-2014, Melanie
...I found the endgame(?) and I'm not sure if my favorite part is the bitcoin that someone just left in the kiosk (apparently because they withdrew it and then decided they didn't want it), or the
at 21:15 on 02-04-2014, Arthur B
This is hilarious.

My favourite part: "Their reasoning is that an exchange that shuts down without warning is bad. Since that's what tacoX did that means it was a bad exchange. Since tacoX is now closed, it means that the free market got rid of a bad business. This means the free market works and that's good for bitcoin."
at 19:56 on 02-04-2014, Melanie
I just realized that probably looked sarcastic. It wasn't, though. This is hilarious.
at 19:54 on 02-04-2014, Melanie
but it has something to do with encryption. That means it's secure

Brilliant indeed!