Book Review: Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writings by Neal Stephenson

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

In which Neal Stephenson all but apologizes for compiling this book.

Neal Stephenson begins “Some Remarks…” with some remarks, appropriately enough.  He talks about how people coaxed him into putting this book together and selling it.  “It’s that time in an author’s life when he releases a compilation of all his crappy early works,” they told him.  To his credit, he does talk about how crappy he thinks a lot of his early works are.  How could it not be?  Rare is the writer that springs fully formed from the head of Zeus with the tools to write a good story.  This book is the least crappy of his crappy early works.

Some of the book is dedicated to interviews he had done with magazines.  And that’s all fine and good, it’s interesting to read about Neal’s (can I call you Neal?) thought process while writing, but I’m not sure why it would be compiled into a book.

A paltry portion of the book is dedicated to a few of his short stories.  The few that are there are decent stories and certainly where I got the most enjoyment.  Short stories, I’d imagine, are anathema to Neal’s modus operandi.  He excels at the Grand Explanation.  Short stories are usually shorter than his Grand Explanations.  There haven’t been many short stories released by Neal Stephenson, but I know darn well that he has a bunch sitting in a closet, locked in a safe, covered in cement, and thrown into the ocean where no one can find them.  Poor closet.  And poor us.  It would have made for a better book if he compiled all that bottom of the ocean dwelling material instead of this compilation.

The majority of the book is dedicated to articles Neal had written for various magazines.  There is some decent, if outdated, stuff here.  The largest, by far, of which is “Mother Earth, Mother Board” which you can still read on Wired’s website.  It talks about laying down the largest internet cable of 1996.  It’s interesting from a historical perspective, but it doesn’t seem to have a cohesive core to me.  Which is a shame, because it’s large enough to contain some iconic Grand Explanations, but they kind of fall flat.  I think his whole point in writing it was to coin the term “hacker tourist”.

Superfans of Neal Stephenson will probably want to read this book, but if they were true superfans, they will likely have read most of the material in it already.  Everyone else can easily skip it and not miss anything.