Stephenson is the cyberpunk or possibly post-cyberpunk author of The Big U, Zodiac, Snow Crash, and The Diamond Age, as well as a handful of short stories and, with his uncle, a couple of mediocre thrillers under the name Stephen Bury. While ubercyberpunk William Gibson's prose is heavy, lugubrious, and Chandler-esque, Stephenson takes his cue from zippier (and better) writers like Thomas Pynchon and Mark Leyner. Also unlike Gibson, Stephenson is a coder and actually understands computers.

He's also written assorted short stories (The Great Simoleon Caper and Spew and non-fiction articles (Mother Earth Mother Board and In the Kingdom of Mao Bell), and recently gave an interesting speech at the CFP conference about the privacy threat from companies and private organization being larger than any 'Big Brother' government threat. From seeing him at a book reading, a Debian user who groans jokingly at the mention of Slashdot. Is currently working on the sequel to Cryptonomicon, as the book couldn't take any more plot lines. Roughly quoting him, "Once the manuscript gets about as deep as it is long the book binding machines stop working." One plot line involves suicidal personality chips grown by evolutionary software techniques and is set in the near future, and the other one is anyone's guess. He signed my penguin!

Neal Town Stephenson was born on October 31, 1959 in Fort Meade, Maryland. His novel Snow Crash is considered to be the most important "cyberpunk" novel since Gibson's Neuromancer and has been widely admired for his keen and hauntingly familiar vision of the future. Stephenson is something of a rarity amongst science fiction authors because he possesses both literary talent and technical proficiency. While Gibson wrote his first two novels on an a mechanical typewriter, Stephenson changed his major at Boston Univerity from physics to geography because "they were using the coolest computers." Stephenson also has the distinction of having a scientific heritage; hard sciences go back two generations on both sides of his family.

Stephenson's writing can be characterized as much more rapid and visceral than that of his peers. Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon are both written in the present tense, creating a sense of urgency in the plot that is often ignored in science fiction in favor of lengthy passages dedicated to whimsical ramblings about technology. Every bit of technology in his future has a specific purpose and a distinctly commercial feel. There are no monolithic, culture changing gadgets in Stephenson's books; capitalism still reigns over the evolutionary process of technological development. His most conceptually ponderous work, The Diamond Age, manages to make the weighty concept of nanotechnology seem fluid and familiar by presenting it through the eyes of a young, plain girl. Stephenson never makes the mistake of floundering on the metaphysics of technology.

There's no question about it: Stephenson is a deft author. Snow Crash is an impressive work; it distills the essence of American culture and tweaks it just enough to classify it as futuristic. His descriptions of consumer culture, (sub)urban living and freewheeling adventures through modern life are kinetic. His writing is faster than television and more cinematic than film, allowing him to tap into a kind of imagination that most readers haven't experienced since early childhood. So many science fiction "classics" are filled with heavy-handed, often byzantine prose. Stephenson's pace gives his work momentum, which will keep the reader hooked through his voluminous novels.

But there is one problem with Stephenson's proclivity for speed: he can't seem to conclude his novels in any sort of satisfying way. This may be the price to be paid for relying on velocity to keep the reader's attention. The plot simply never seems to wind down. In the case of Snow Crash, it in fact slams into the last chapter at full speed leaving the reader with a serious case of literary whiplash. In Cryptonomicon, on the other hand, his style becomes tiresome toward the end of the nearly thousand page book.

Neal Stephenson represents a new breed of science fiction authors. Although the term cyberpunk is vaunted in literary circles as either the only interesting thing to come out of the classicaly stale genre of science fiction or a dead fad with a residual cult following, authors like Stephenson prove that cyberpunk was just a temporary descriptor for a new wave in popular literature. By synthesizing burgeoning technology with a cosmopolitan world view and insolent, youtful edge, Stephenson creates fiction that is as much a rollercoaster ride as it is a window into tomorrow's world.

 

Bibliography (major works only), current as of 2012:

Sources
Cryptonomicon Official Website: http://www.cryptonomicon.com/
A most excellent Slashdot interview (2004): http://slashdot.org/story/04/10/20/1518217/neal-stephenson-responds-with-wit-and-humor

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