What should I ask Neal Stephenson?

For a forthcoming Conversations with Tyler, no associated public event.  Your counsel and extreme wisdom are appreciated as always.

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Why does he write such crap? Seveneves, anyone? Made absolutely no sense.

First 750 pages were actually quite good I thought

Agreed. It was 2 books. While I had issues with the disaster premise and how it evolved the first book of how humanity responded was good. The 2nd book I had trouble with. Some interesting elements but way below my expectations of him. I honestly wonder if it was written entirely to justify his title.

"I honestly wonder if it was written entirely to justify his title."

+7, that's exactly what it felt like. The operations and actions made very little sense.

If you know the moon is falling, you get out of the way. You don't hang around and try and dodge giant chunks of the moon. The billionaire had no problem getting a ship out to capture a comet and bring it back. The same amount of energy could have taken the mass of the comet out of Earth orbit.

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It has a lot of major flaws in concept and execution - most notably, Stephenson's great writing flaw of putting up huge walls of expository text. Moira's near-future genetic lab, and the robots, required far more suspension of disbelief than I was willing to give.

That said, I liked a lot of the characters in both parts. And the second part of the book was pretty interesting to me, although it still suffers from the great walls 'o text problem.

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No, the whole book was a contrived Deus Ex Machina to arrive at the foregone conclusion. I actually thought the latter part was better because the narrative wasn't as forced.

In air as thick as the clouds with a tear soft as wolf fur, I flipped out the eponymous 311, Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah. The water condensed on the windshield and small screams gathered and travailed and toiled. The headwinds stuck against my hair, my head like a branch, bobbing slightly, and I wondered what the winds were to the leaves, the branches, the tree. Such obstinance and periodicity, and for the leaves, the more movable of the bunch, there was high risk. There was goodbye. There were shadows. There were verbs being drawn. Or was it rather familiarity, learned from sunlight. Maybe it was the shared enthusiasm one (a human) has for throwing a rock.

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that was good but (a) you meant to say "small sounds that resembled screams" not "small screams" ---- remember you are discussing reality, not some pomo loser version of a bad shroom trip (well at least one would hope): and (b) - "remember this" no human instinctively shares an enthusiasm for another human throwing a rock, our first thought is "who whom", to think otherwise is to follow the basic Chestertonian fallacy (the fat man who did not like long walks and who thought it was funny to say he would rather rob a bank than work at it - we understood his "angry I am smarter than the capitalists" humor but we were not amused, none of us, even those of us who are willing to be amused at the least example of true, good-hearted humor - Chesterton missed out that day on that scale)

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why do I bother

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also, the reader wants to know how you see yourself.
Are you a wannabe James Bond, as you drive along?
or, much better, a hero of a novel like "War in Heaven", or "The Place of the Lion", driving down an English lane, in a motor-car without a roof, ready to do battle with the Platonic forces of sort of great power?

I mean I am a good reader but I was not sure which scenario you were describing.

Look you can make it across the uncanny zone someday but only if you have humility

God loves the humble not because they are humble but because they have a large place in their heart for gratitude, whether or not gratitude is warranted.

I mean, as far as I know, it (gratitude) always is warranted towards God, but people who have reason to disagree can still be humble and full of love and power to do good, even if they are not sure that God deserves their gratitude

You too probably have seen a lot of ethical questions that did not seem to have an easy answer.

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Re; seveneves, I rather enjoyed it, but I probably switched lots of my brain off reading it. Coldly, the most signature parts are pretty transparently:

a) Neal Stephenson uses genetic engineering and a complex and contrived plot to try and implement Star Trek type aliens (e.g. human but disciplined warrior race Klingons, logical and intelligence Vulcans, heroic Earthmen and so on).

b) Neal Stephenson satirizes recent sci-fi that rejects human heroism for technophilia and Neal Stephenson satirizes social media culture and 'populism' as he sees it (all that stuff about the Swarm vs the ISS, continued through "Red Vs Blue").

Like most of Stephenson's sci-fi in grand mode (far future epic, secondary world) and post his er... post-cyberpunk phase (the world of Snow Crash, Diamond Age), it's a reasonably intelligent and fun ride, but seems ultimately after the fact feels a bit hollow unless you wholeheartedly buy into the actual politics of his "Why doesn't this crass, ill-disciplined popular culture tidy its room and get off my lawn?" gripes, writ large upon a huge sci-fi canvas.

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DId he intend to set Diamond Age and Snow Crash in the same world, separated by some time? And does he have any new thoughts on his ideas about ethno-national, multi-location states (generic migration in Snow Crash, phyles in The Diamond Age), in the context decades of increasing globalization since he wrote those books?

+1

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Great question. I also want to know his thoughts on the revolt against (Facebook-supported) Summit Learning in Kansas in light of what he wrote in Primer about AI and education of the proles.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/21/technology/silicon-valley-kansas-schools.html

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Great question. I have one other: is the Turing Machine description at the end of Diamond Age just a "I am putting this in to tell the comouter programmers I know what I am talking about" or was he seriously proposing that one might learn programming by starting at the absolute ground level?

I am a whole entire ocean.

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What are Neal Stephenson's favorite emacs extensions + customizations?

Does he use a "literate" configuration?

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- What's his work routine? How does he maintain focus, productivity, output, etc?

- What does he see as the key differences between SpaceX and Blue Origin, and which company will create the larger business over time?

- What trends few people are talking about will impact our future over the next decade or two the most?

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When he finds a young person that seems to be interested in libertarianism, and he wants to kindle those instinct giving her a book of fiction, assuming he doesn’t not want to make the poor lady next three months miserable with Atlas shrugged, what book he sends her?

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Does his vision of AI from Diamond Age has come true? If not, what is missing? His "smart book" idea has always stuck with me and I wonder if he thinks our phones kind of match what he had in mind back then

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Does he stand by his theory in "Snow Crash" that the United States will only be left with two world-class industries: pizza delivery and software development?

The three m’s, music, movies and microcode was the quoted industries

Yes - you're right. Plus high-speed pizza delivery.

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Please help us all by speculating a better ending of the Game of Thrones...

A Neal Stephenson ending would be two more seasons of administrative minutia as Kings Landing and The Wall are rebuilt.

More seriously, do ask him about his approach / difficulty to ending a story. As someone who very much enjoys all of his books, it is noticeable that his approach to endings is non-traditional.

I like where this question is going. I would ask him his opinion of readers who insist on having endings that wrap up the story. GoT was story story story, and then boom, a show of a totally different character once the race to the finish started. Stephenson books are story story story, and then they take their sweet time to end, even after what seems like story's climax.

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Why is there no movie/tv adaptation of the baroque cycle?

Great question.

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Ask him about a couple of interrelated themes:

He seems to be into promoting Puritan Pride as an overlooked ethnic pride movement, and the same for Northern College Town Kids. I presume that they are related in his mind.

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Who would win in a fight, him or William Gibson?

Gibson would hold on to the end despite Stephenson pounding on him the whole fight, because Stephenson doesn't do endings well....

Heyo!

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Joe Haldeman proved that good sci fi can have terrible endings. Stephenson is just following in the footsteps of other giants.

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He answered that 15 years ago.
https://slashdot.org/story/04/10/20/1518217/neal-stephenson-responds-with-wit-and-humor

Hehe...nice.

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How the heck did the eight last human survivors left at the end of Part 1 of _Seveneves_ manage to hold on long enough to produce the society we saw in Part 2? They were in a comically hopeless situation--few resources, most skills/specializations lost (book learning is not remotely the same as a practitioner's knowledge), only eight people left alive.

Also, why didn't they take genetic samples from Luisa and the dead from the battle, so they'd have more starting genetic stock? It looked like they only needed the information from the DNA, not viable cells, but the still-warm dead from the battle would still have viable cells for awhile and Luisa would have had it until she died.

Indeed. Moira comes right out and says that she was largely unoccupied during the time it took to reach Cleft; but it apparently never occurred to her to secure sperm samples from the dwindling number of males; nor did she think of harvesting sperm from the corpses of the recently deceased men. This would not only have increased the genetic diversity of the population, but would've permitted insemination by turkey-baster rather than risking the species' future by depending on Moira's special knowledge and potentially fragile equipment.

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What does he make of Chinese technology development so far, and how has it changed from when he wrote "In the Kingdom of Mao Bell" and "The Diamond Age"? In particular, his contention in the former piece that technology was inherently decentralizing and would conflict with authoritarian centralizers.

> that technology was inherently decentralizing and would conflict with authoritarian centralizers.

Technology is decentralizing only when baizuo dominates, like the countless gender types now in US.

Not when the political leaders are technologists and engineers. Initially Opus Dei was organized by a group of engineers around their spiritual leader Escrivá, and an engineer succeeded Escrivá as the Prelate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81lvaro_del_Portillo The current Prelate has a background in Physics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_Oc%C3%A1riz_Bra%C3%B1a

In China Teng decentralized the governance but Xi brought everything back under him. In industries they allow limited decentralization for competition. Large projects like the Grand Canal, Three Gorge Dam, National High Speed Rails, etc are possible only with strong central technologist government. The two Chinese macaque labs competing to clone the first primate using the more advanced somatic cell nuclear transfer are also directed by two biomedical engineers, even though US was first to clone primates using the simpler embryo splitting but then stalled.

Technology is decentralizing only when baizuo dominates, like the now countless gender types in US.

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And on the topic of China: Stephenson complains that we don't build big things anymore. China seems to be an exception to this. Maybe he has a view about why big projects have become such an ordeal for democracies.

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He's written extensively of the cultural prerequisites for technological development. How does that lens lead him to think about tech centers, and which are overrated and underrated? What is the trendline in Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, Bangalore, Lagos, etc?

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Another question about Seveneves:

It seemed like a whole bunch of the characters in the story were very transparently modeled on real-world characters (Elon Musk, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Malala Yousef, Sarah Palin). I don't recall ever seeing that done so obviously before. Was that a conscious choice, or did it just follow from the story somehow?

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How does he maintain discipline when writing?

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BTC or ETH?

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What are his observations on the parallels between bitcoin and the gold-backed electronic currency in Cryptonomicon?

That's my question too.

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Yes. In my lifetime I’ve never been more astonished by a futurist’s prediction coming true than I was about Stephenson’s ideas on virtual currency before bitcoin. What led him to those ideas, and what does he now think of crypto-currency?

He was familiar with the Cypherpunks, who pioneered a lot of thinking about the implications of widespread adoption of cryptography and open networks in the early 90s.

I was on the Cypherpunks list at the time, and _Cryptonomicon_ seemed heavily influenced by that thinking.

For those interested, here is a long document by a prominent Cypherpunk on the dominant themes discussed - anarcho-capitalism, anonymous information markets, and so on.

http://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/classes/6.805/articles/crypto/cypherpunks/cyphernomicon/CP-FAQ

Those were optimistic times.

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Was the gold-backed electronic currency in Cryptonomicon a real event from southern Philippine? I heard that story before the book from sources allegedly close to the event. It more or less confirmed indirectly when Malaysia officially set up an offshore banking center out of nowhere in the remote Labuan island closed to southern Philippine to kill that project.

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Do science fiction authors become less visionary as the age?

Similar to this, but unrelated to the authors age: Is it becoming more difficult to write science fiction today vs say 20-30yrs ago?

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Life story of Enoch

Oh gosh this. Same character in Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon. Time traveller? Immensely long lived.

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Two questions:
1) How to approach "fact-full fiction" such as Cryptonomicon or Seveneves without it getting in the way of story?
2) Has he stuck with the process of rotating fire around the pig for BBQ? Or has his workflow changed?

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Ask him if he'll do any more books with his uncle. Interface and Cobweb might not be quite as showy or funny as Stephenson own books, but his Uncle George knows how to end things.

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What would he do if he didn't write?
Any updated thoughts on In the Beginning... Was the Command Line? I read it almost 10 years ago and it's held up well.
Does he still use the treadmill desk?

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What is his favorite evolutionary race that he developed in Seveneves and why? Did it match up with his favorite Eve?

That's a good one. Tangential follow up might be -- is their any evolutionary theory around how the water race could develop skin / lung capacity so quickly (5k years)?

I always assumed that it wasn't pure evolution, but a lot of genetic edits. But it's been a while since I read it. Did he exclude genetic engineering?

Our versions, an aversion to stem cell research, the strength and peace version, is actually investment banking (no architecture buddy).

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I found this the least believable part. The space station had the world's resources and months to prepare. The cave also had months to prepare (and as Harold Lee pointed out, a "smart redneck"). One submarine already chock-full of war-making equipment somehow adding genetic engineering with no equipment and no specialists at the bottom of a boiling ocean?

One submarine? My assumption was that all the worlds submarines were eventually united. And that people with resources, sunk a lot of equipment and supplies that was all going to be destroyed soon anyway.

Wouldn't everybody who couldn't get into space be trying the other obvious approach of getting under deep cover?

To be fair, I always assume a lot is going on in the background of a book like this, that you aren't hearing about. I would just assume that every deep mine and cave on the planet was chock full of people and supplies by the time the last spaceships were launching into orbit.

And logically, the resources you could put into going deep in the ocean or escaping into deep mines would probably be several orders of magnitude greater than what you could get into space.

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As Tyler famously (to me at least) observed, Reamde may be his best written book, but the one with the least interest. How important to him is honing his craft as a writer (and book-ender) relative to honing his craft as a speculative explorer?

I was going to ask about his thoughts on the speculations of Phllip K. Dick and Iain M. Banks, but then I saw a blurb for "Fall..." that seems to answer all of those questions.

Agree with Reamde. It’s the Stephenson book I re-read the most, but seems to have little interest. Looking forward to Fall. Which leads to the question, which of his books does he think has the biggest gap between his assessment of the book and reader interest?

I found REAMDE a lot less interesting than his other novels. The SFnal idea about the emergent tribes in the virtual world is barely explored and the whole plot turns on a ridiculous coincidence. (Either that or the ransomware writers lived in the most dangerous/interesting building in all of China.)

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How has he changed as a writer over the years? What has he gained, what has he lost? Is there any aspect of his craft that he's consciously trying to improve?

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Does he plan to do any more books featuring the ancestors/descendants of the people in "Cryptonomicon" and the Baroque Cycle? How did he get the idea to write a series of books about the ancestors of the characters in "Cryptonomicon"?

Will Enoch Root ever be explained or was his purpose to be inexplicable?

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In Seveneves, the US president was written in such a way as her personality was very like Sarah Palin but her appearance was very Julia Louis-Dreyfus (veep). Was she a composite of these two?

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How far does he believe the present "cultural revolution" will go in the US and Europe? Is it inevitable that Red China, or at least its political system, will dominate the world? Can terrorism be stopped without someone enforcing a permanent ban on technological progress worldwide?

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Religion seems to play very little role in the runup to the apocalypse Seveneves; was that a conscious choice?

When a society becomes more secular, what replaces religion for the average person?

Do you expect the average reader can grasp what you're trying to say in Anathem with only two reads?

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I’ve always been interested in his concept of global tribes in the Diamond Age (such as the Victorians). Does he feel global tribes could supplant nations in the real world and does he see any movement in this direction?

Yes this please. At which point does technology make the nation-state obsolete? Is it all about the invulnerability of body and property (as the Diamond Age seems to suggest)?

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Just congratulate him for Cryptonomicon

Indeed. I finally read it this year and it's awfully good. His 3 heroes from WWII were wonderful characters (the Silicon Valley guy from the present less so). I liked how they never really achieved a meeting of the minds. The super nerd and the super soldier interacted frequently without ever learning much about or from each other.

As good as Cryptonomicon is, Anathem is better :-)

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What will the Shaftoes do next?

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Ask him how he thinks his sociamediapath stance is working thus far? A bit more spicy, does he think novelist who get very active on social media and outside projects like tv series are harming their long term work as novelist?

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Why did he seem to lose interest in character, detail, and historical delving after Cryptonomicon? BTW, your post reminded me to read Crypto... again, which i will now do.

Also, why isn't there an English/US published hard copy edition?

forty degrees

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Spacecraft debris and (micro) meteoroids are ubiquitous and a very, very well known threat in orbit. If he had to do it over, would he rely on "we are doing something really, really, really, really stupid" again? (wrt the genetic (human) library stored in an enormously vulnerable location).

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Did Neal Stephenson purposefully write Snow Crash to induce a trance-like state in humans?

The way it's written, the cadence and over abundance of words, and the fact that the audiobook ends every other chapter with tongues is reminiscent of hypnosis.

It feels like the entire book Snow Crash was designed (in some sense) to induce an actual "snow crash" in humans.

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What do you think about architecting a story and engaging a worldwide community to write it, as part of a massive collaborative effort?

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How would the avout in Anathem have felt about economics?

Are Anathem and DODO in the same universe (well, multiverse)?

I was going to ask #2.

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1. Has he ever actually met someone as badass as his badass characters?

2. What percent of snow crash and diamond age are predictive vs satirical? Has his answer changed over time?

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Do you think Mencius Moldbug's idea of sovcorps (sovereign corporations) might be good fuel for speculative fiction?

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Are endings overrated or underrated?

Should currency always be backed with gold?

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Out of all his books, who is his favorite character?

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How does he view the real world compared to his fictional worlds with regard to repetitive cycles of time? E.g. Does he believe that genetic descendants closely resemble their ancestors, or that personalities are memes and thus we get a lot of chance repetition, or that the real world is much more random and compartmentalized than fiction?

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One way of thinking about the particular affordances of the novel as a medium is that it opens up the mind and gives access to a character's interiority. And maybe at one time a novel was able to represent fantastical things that couldn't be well-represented in any other way, e.g. any stage representation of a massive alien invasion is bound to be disappointing.

In the world we live in now, what is the role of the science fiction novel? What in particular does it have to add over non-fiction or TV, movies, etc.?

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A recurring trope in his books is the "smart redneck." The Shaftoes (particularly in Cryptonomicon), the Crades from Anathem, Dinah's dad from Seveneves, the entire cast of Reamde. What are the modern Shaftoes doing in the increasingly winner-takes-all knowledge-economy-dominant world?

Given his focus on the Puritans in the Baroque cycle - does he thinks that Christianity, or elements within Christianity, were major drivers behind the Scientific Revolution and why it took place in northwest Europe rather than elsewhere?

+1 for a great questions. Both sound like questions that Tyler would pick verbatim. Possibly posted by Cowen under pseudonym so he can say "a question from our readers ..."

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I have just finished re-reading "Anathem," so ...
What are his current thoughts on the 10,000 year clock project & The Long Now. Does he still believe it is important, and how does it relate to any short term (decade to century) problems ahead?

A son honours his father, and a servant [the letter of the law] his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the LORD Almighty. "It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name [pain]. But you [should] ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'
— Malachi 1:6 (NIV)

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I happen to be re-reading the baroque cycle right now. As it obviously mirrors Cryptonomicon in so many ways, it is clearly meant as a sort of sequel or re-telling, but is three times as long as the original. What’s the message in that? What led him to want to, essentially, re-tell the same story in another era?

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What ideas, or areas of life, does he think are under thought about?

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As much as possible, I'd prefer to not hear a rehash of his opinions in "Some Remarks"--nothing against them, but even those essays were mostly a rehash of stuff already published. Overrated or underrated: Having just read "Educated" by Westover--are Idaho and survivalists now underrated? What about beards, scholarship, ales (v. lagers), retreating from society, iPads as educational primers, Newton, Leibniz, materialism, hacking (both literally and figuratively), the 80000 hours group, world travel, online gaming? The books I'd most like to hear discussed are Diamond Age, Baroque Cycle (esp. Confusion), Reamde, Anathem, and the Motherboard Travelogue. To what extent should one read his books as a response to the spirit of the age, and does he feel a need to speak to (speak out against) trends he sees in this era? I'd prefer not to hear anything about William Gibson as I view them as constantly compared but not particularly similar, but I would love to hear his thoughts on other SF writers, maybe KSR, who I view as a more interesting point of comparison to NS. To what extent should we study history with a sense that we the present readers will want to walk away from it able to write a story about that time? Would he advise you to shave your head? Good luck in your re-read--I can't imagine we'll see a "what I've been reading" any time soon.

I agree that his thoughts on Kim Stanley Robinson would be interesting.

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If he could hang out for a few hours, in some unusual time zone, with a dozen or so men or women who lived in the 1940s, but who miraculously retained all their youthful knowledge (for example, as a random selection, a few USA Navy personnel starting, from the youngest: a few teenaged Marine privates , up to, as the oldest example, a still youthful, circa 1944 , still-genius-level Spruance) : how much better would his books, insofar as they purported to describe the 1940s, have been? Or would they not have been better, are we all privileged to just one kind of information regarding our lifetimes and our possibilities to be eloquent or to care for others, or to pray for others, and are all writers limited to their own time, because after all one's own time is a very big thing?

How much do we lose as time goes by?

Does he ever write under a pseudonym on unmoderated website comment sections in order to understand why people love what they love and hate what they hate?

Well tell him he is a good writer and ILLEGITIMI NON CARBORANDUM

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(1) Would he want to actually live in any of his fictional worlds? (I would think seriously about becoming an avout if I had the option...)

(2) How has he avoided being stereotyped and harassed as politically incorrect? E.g., Reamde has as its chief baddie a black Muslim terrorist, the Forthrast clan is kind of the epitome of Stuff White People Like, etc.

(3) What authors - past and present - does he admire and why?

(4) What philosophers - past and present - does he admire and why?

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1. Other than Greek and Latin, which etymological references would give the Stephenson reader the most bang for buck? Hebrew and Sanskrit seem like the top contenders. Celtic? Germanic?

2. Do most open questions in your books have fairly conclusive answers in the texts, should the reader know how and where to look? Or are they meant to be evocative but fundamentally unanswerable?

3. Does any part of Age of Em stick out as especially provoking your skepticism?

4. Please confirm/deny Enoch Root was steering history so the Daban Urnud could pass through, like moving a lily pad on a pond to provide passage for a jumping frog.

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Talk about religion.

I find him harder to place politically than Asimov, Heinlein, or Le Guin. What does he think of their politics?

Cryptonomicon was efflorescent with simile. More than once he went off on page-long digressions just to set up an analogy for a point he wanted to make. His later works seem a little more straightforward. Does he think the more recent style is better, or just different?

In Seveneves, one of the biggest villains is a seeming stand-in for Hillary Clinton. Comments? Or comments on the whole decision to have obvious parallels to current famous people? (Tyson, Musk)

After all that happened in the first 2/3 of Seveneves, wouldn't the seven have gone out of their way to mix their DNA as much as possible, rather than create a culture with natural divides?

Compare and contrast: Jack Shaftoe and Jack Sparrow. Had he seen "Pirates of the Caribbean" when writing The Baroque Cycle? (Silly, I know, but I couldn't help being reminded.)

Funny. Other commenters have referred to that character as a Sarah Palin figure ...

Neither as I read it; as described fairly early in the novel, Julia Bliss Flaherty (often referred to as JBF) was a young (early 40's) politician from California, seen as a centrist, married to an actor/producer, brought onto the ticket as VP by a presidential candidate looking for some crossover voters (Stephenson doesn't actually say what party she belongs to); said candidate gets elected but is brought down by scandal less than a year into his term, leaving JBF as the youngest president ever at age 42.

Her policies and positions don't really matter in the story; what matters is that she is drawn to seek power by her nature, and as a result ends up precipitating a lot of chaos and woe. This is an important theme of Stephenson's narrative that would be blunted if JBF were heavily based on a real person, whether Palin, HRC, or somebody equally odious.

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What does he think of cryptocurrencies?

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In 2011 NL wrote in Innovation Starvation https://worldpolicy.org/2011/09/27/innovation-starvation
"I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done."
His recent work (Seveneves, Mother Earth, Mother Board, Atmosphæra Incognita) indicate a disillusion with the promises of IT, which is why he became famous for, and a longing for a civilisation able to focus on large engineering projects
Why have we entered an era of permanent secular innovation starvation?

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How does he think of the paradoxical value of hypocrisy?

Why do compelling high fantasy novels, whether set in a science magic future or nature magic past, lead us to assume there are historical/prophetic implications in what we know to be fiction? (How are we so naturally drawn into a coherentist mindset by scifi?)

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Long run cultural and social effects (might as well sling the political and economic in there as well) that appear to have arisen from the transition from analogue production techniques to digital from the late seventies onwards and subsequently appeared as consumption technologies.

The Long 90s and all that jazz.

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Neal Stephenson wrote great introduction to David Foster Wallace's book "Everything and More: A compact history of infinity". In the introduction, he writes about growing up in a Midwestern American College Town (MACT) in the 1960s-1970s. He says it was good to grow up in a MACT because kids were under the impression that being educated was typical and handy but not necessarily exalted or elite. There was a lot of mixing of the children of faculty and non-faculty. And there was some churn because students and faculty were always moving between universities.
My question is what Neal Stephenson thinks about the evolution of MACTs since he was a child. Today, there is a fair amount of inequality and perhaps residential segregation in MACTs. But universities are still pretty central. Are MACTs still places where people learn a kind of “democratic” attitude towards education and knowledge? What other places are like this? (Does the MACT strategy explain the mobility patterns across cities in – say – Raj Chetty’s work?)

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The major Stephenson trope seems to be the single person or small group that is wise to tech or science, overcoming large (tech-based!) adversaries who are blind to their vulnerabilities. From the hero of Zodiac to the raiding team in Anathem, with many others in between.

What is his theory of why large organizations are so bad at managing the low-level tech? Or is it just a literary device that does not hold true in practice?

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W/r/t Sevenes, faced with the prospect of the surface of the earth becoming uninhabitable in a short time horizon, wouldn't most of humanity's energy gone into building underground habitats? Seems like that would be a bigger bang for your buck (human lives saves per dollar) than orbital space stations, but I certainly don't have any real sense of the engineering challenges involved.

The argument in seven.eves was that the powers that be behind the project mostly saw it as an elaborate show to maintain social order in the face of the apocalypse (then the plucky spacers pulled one of the bag). If the population at large don't have a strong sense of the engineering / cost tradeoffs, seems plausible enough.

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Ask him how his attitude toward libertarianism has changed over time.

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Why is he an SJW, did he do too many drugs when he was a hippie or something? Why is he sexist (against males) and racist against whites, too much hippie white guilt?

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1. What does a typical Neal Stephenson workday look like in 2019? I'm talking nitty-gritty. What processes/software/things are you using to write your books?

Are you still using emacs? Or did you switch to something else?
How is the treadmill desk going?

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Would Neal ever consider writing a continuation or offshoot novel based off Anathem?

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What did his research for The Baroque Cycle look like? That was one massive, massive infodump.

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Does humor make speculative fiction more or less "correct"? Is a sense of humor (and an acceptance of the absurd) important for making predictions about the future?

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Can he please write some shorter books?

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Charles Dickens -- underrated or overrated? Jules Verne?

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His novels often touch on how culture and competence (or ability to be effective) are related, and how they interact with one another - most explicitly in Diamond Age, but tangentially in many other places. These are some of my favorite bits. Is this a theme he plans to explore more deeply in future novels?

Does he have thoughts about the way major American subcultures are adaptive (or maladaptive) and the extent to which they shape and are shaped by the circumstances of their members?

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A highly specific question: How much do Anathem's parallels between Arbran and Laterran thought, and the novel's cosmological explanation for that, reflect his views on the primacy of the Western philosophical tradition, or is this more of an self-acknowledged authorial limitation?

E.g. is a 'Plato' of sorts in Arbre and not a 'Confucius', because Plato's insights were 'upsights' (in the novel's term and cosmology) and Confucius' were not, in Neal's view, or is this that Neal knows a lot about Plato and the Western tradition not enough about the wider tradition to be able to talk about it?

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I would ask him about his relationship to martial training and swordsmanship. He is known for his fencing abilities, and I'd be very interested to hear how he thinks about that time in his life. Is fencing something more people should train at? Why?

Alternately, a shorter question that should elicit a good response: Underrated/Overrated: English Backsword.

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When he wrote about the spreading of memes in Snowcrash, did he envision anything like the modern spreading of memes in the political and social arenas, shaping discussion and events?

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Late to the party but I have two topics I'd like you to ask about.
Seconding the people who have asked about religion. I think at one point in Cryptonomicon he refers to religious texts like a user manual for life? And there is the conversation between Root and Randy regarding mythology. Are religions and mythologies a less precise but no less accurate way of understanding the world compared to our modern methods?
I'd also like to hear if he can recommend any non-fiction writers that write in a similar vein to his Mother Earth, Mother Board piece.
Thanks, looking forward to this one!

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