Stephenson Reveals System of the World
by Ari Armstrong, October 13, 2004
Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, published in 1999, integrates the ideas of free-market money and cryptology. On October 5, Stephenson dropped by the Boulder Bookstore to unveil the final book of the trilogy that follows. Stephenson read from The System of the World, the conclusion of the Baroque Cycle that was introduced last year, then answered questions from the audience.
Stephenson said he has no plans for a new book, which is a "welcome change" from his last decade of intense labor on the related books. He said before the text of Crypto was frozen, he made a few alterations to accommodate the Cycle. While the stories are not directly related, some of the characters are.
Why an historical novel? Stephenson said he started looking at Newton's work at a mint and also Leibniz's work with the logic that became computer science. Stephenson saw the opportunity to push deeper into history the themes of money and hacking. Luckily, Newton and Leibniz "hated each other," helping to provide a "very promising era" for a novel.
Stephenson said he conducted a lot of preliminary research "just to get my head into this era." In addition to learning about the people, locations, and ideas of the period, Stephenson absorbed the "particular way of using English that I adore."
Stephenson refused to discuss the mysterious character of Enoch Root. The most he would say is "you've seen this type of character in other books." Also, "there are some hints dropped toward the end of System of the World." He got the audience chuckling by noting the work it takes to get there -- the entire cycle approaches 3,000 pages.
And, no, there are "no hidden coded messages" in any of the books. Rumors of such in Crypto arose only from typos, Stephenson said. But who needs hidden codes when Stephenson has laid out some of the greatest intellectual clashes of the ages?