Neal Stephenson (b. October 31, 1959 in Fort Meade, Maryland) is known primarily as a science fiction writer in the postcyberpunk genre with a predisposition to divert into explorations of mathematics, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and works part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned suborbital launch system .
Although he wrote earlier novels such as the eco-thriller Zodiac, he came to fame in the early 1990s with the novel Snow Crash (1992) which fuses memetics, computer viruses, and other high-tech themes with Sumerian mythology. Averaging one novel every four years, he has written several subsequent novels: The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (1995) which deals with a future with extensive nanotechnology; Cryptonomicon (1999), a novel concerned with computing and codebreaking from the Second World War codebreakers to a modern attempt to set up a data haven; and The Baroque Cycle, a three volume work consisting of Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004) and The System of the World (2004), making a very long historical novel cycle that is in some respects a prequel to Cryptonomicon.
With the 2003 publication of Quicksilver, Stephenson debuted The Metaweb, a wiki (using the same software as Wikipedia) annotating the ideas and historical period explored in the novel.
Stephenson, at least in his earlier novels, deals heavily in pop culture-laden metaphors and imagery and in quick, hip dialogue, as well as in extended narrative monologues. The tone of his books generally is more irreverent and less self-serious than in previous cyberpunk novels, notably those of William Gibson. His novels are also notable in that they are usually written in the present tense.
Stephenson's books tend to have elaborate, inventive plots drawing on numerous technological and sociological ideas at the same time. This distinguishes him from other mainstream science fiction authors who tend to focus on a few technological or social changes in isolation from others. This penchant for complexity and detail suggests a baroque writer. His book The Diamond Age features "neo-Victorian" characters and employs Victorian-era literary conceits. In keeping with the baroque style, Stephenson's books have gotten longer as he has gained recognition. (Cryptonomicon is nearly a thousand pages long and contains various digressions, including a lengthy erotic story about antique furniture and stockings).
A characteristic aspect of his books is the "breakdown in events", an acceleration in plot development, typically about three quarters into the novel, accompanied by a marked increase in violence and general confusion among the characters (and often the readers), and abrupt endings without strong conclusions, which sometimes leave the reader hanging. This pattern holds for all of the Stephenson-penned books except perhaps Quicksilver. Although, on the evidence of The Confusion that rule may still hold if one considers The Baroque Cycle as a single work.
"The science fiction approach doesn't mean it's always about the future; it's an awareness that this is different." - Neal Stephenson
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04