Neal Stephenson

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Any strategy that involves crossing a valley — accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance — will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.

Neal Town Stephenson (born 31 October 1959) is an American writer, known primarily for his science fiction works in the postcyberpunk and chemical generation genres with a penchant for explorations of society, mathematics, currency, and the history of science.

See also:
Snow Crash (1992)
The Diamond Age (1995)
Cryptonomicon (1999)
The Baroque Cycle (2003 - 2004)
Anathem (2008)
Reamde (2011)


So I’m well aware that there are certain people frustrated with the endings of my books.
  • For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter's is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you're trying to breathe liquid methane.
  • I think visual literacy and media literacy is not without value, but I think plain old-fashioned text literacy and mathematical literacy are much more powerful and flexible ways to organize your mind.
    • Neal Stephenson coins the term "text literacy" during interview for the article "Pushing the Edge With 'Diamond Age' Nano-Machines," Associated Press, May 10, 1995
  • I can never get past the structural similarities between the Singularity prediction and the apocalypse of St. John the Divine. The key thing they have in common is the idea of a rapture, in which some chosen humans will be taken up and made one with the infinite while others will be left behind...[loosely paraphrasing Jaron Lanier] while hardware might be getting faster all the time, software is shit. And without software to do something useful with all that hardware, the hardware's nothing more than a really complicated space heater.
  • Slashdot reader: In a fight between you and William Gibson, who would win?
    Stephenson: You don't have to settle for mere idle speculation...The first time was a year or two after Snow Crash came out. I was doing a reading/signing at White Dwarf Books in Vancouver. Gibson stopped by to say hello and extended his hand as if to shake...I grabbed the signing table and flipped it up between us...The falling table knocked over a space heater and set fire to the store. Gibson and I dueled among blazing stacks of books for a while...The second time, when Gibson came through Seattle on his Idoru tour, he devastated my quarter of the city...As a stalemate developed we began to resort more and more to the use of pure energy, modulated by Red Lotus incantations of the third Sung group...
    • Slashdot interview, 2004.
  • So I'm well aware that there are certain people frustrated with the endings of my books. I can remember at the time I was writing it, I told a friend of mine that the climax of Snow Crash was now longer than Moby-Dick: There's a helicopter that gets brought down; there's a private jet that blows up; some people die; there's confrontation and a girl goes home with her mom — so it seems like a good ending to me. [audience laughter]
    Once you write a book or two with controversial endings — and that meme gets going, of “Stephenson can’t write endings” — then that gets slapped on everything that you do no matter how elaborate the ending is. I think Anathem does OK on that score. I'm sure that I'll be hearing from some of the “Stephenson can’t write endings” people, but I think that it has a decent enough ending.
    • Response to audience question at a Authors@google appearance, Google headquarters, Mountain View, CA., September 12, 2008
If we had more bankers who adopted a long-term view…we might not be in the middle of a financial crisis that is blowing away 150-year-old investment banks. (Image: Lehman Brothers liquidation.)
  • As far as culture and politics are concerned, the important theme is long-attention-span vs. short-attention-span thinking. I'm sure that your readers can think of any number of ways in which having a longer attention span can be useful. But I'll name one. Bankers with long attention spans don't lend money to people who can't pay it back. If we had more bankers who adopted a long-term view of their responsibilities, we might not be in the middle of a financial crisis that is blowing away 150-year-old investment banks.
    • In response to whether Anathem "reflects today's culture or politics," from an interview published Sept. 22, 2008 by MIT News
  • Any strategy that involves crossing a valley—accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance—will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.
  • I wanted to create an interesting scifi universe that didn't violate the laws of physics, and that means that you're limited to staying inside the solar system. I also wanted to get away from the ship-centric style of science fiction. Star Trek is ship-centric and it's all about the Enterprise — there are many other examples. What if we decided to get away from the obsession with ships and instead thought about big machines and structures that might be used to create a civilization inside the solar system?
    • About Seveneves, "Here's How Space Megastructures Will Look, According to Neal Stephenson" in Gizmodo, interviewed by Annalee Newitz, May 20, 2015 (pre-Zero)

The Big U (1984)

  • Now, at the little southern black college where I went to school, we had no megadorms. We were cool at the right times and academic at the right times .... Boston University, where I did my Master's ... most students had no time for sonic war, and the rest vented their humors in the city, not in the dorms. Ohio State was nicely spread out, and I lived in an apartment complex where noisy shit-for-brains undergrads were even less welcome than tweedy black bachelors.
    • Dr. Bud Redfield; "The Go Big Red Fan" (prologue)
  • This is a history, in that it intends to describe what happened and suggest why. ... I may have fooled around with a few facts. But I served as witness until as close to the end as anyone could have ... and so there is not so much art in this as to make it irrelevant.
    • Early schema for author's now-familiar approach to historic events and persons; "The Go Big Red Fan" (prologue)
  • What you are about to read is not an aberration: it can happen in your local university too. The Big U, simply, was a few years ahead of the rest.
    • "The Go Big Red Fan" (prologue)
  • What people do isn't determined by where they live. It happens to be their damned fault. They decided to watch TV instead of thinking when they were in high school. They decided to blow-off courses and drink beer instead of reading and trying to learn something. They decided to chicken out and be intolerant bastards instead of being openminded and, finally, they decided to go along with their buddies and do things that were terribly wrong when there was no reason they had to. Anyone who hurts someone else decides to hurt them, goes out of their way to do it.... The fact that it's hard to be a good person doesn't excuse going along and being an asshole. If they can't overcome their own fear of being unusual, it's not my fault, because any idiot ought to be able to see that if he just acts reasonably and makes a point of not hurting others, he'll be happier.
    • Sarah

Zodiac (1988)

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition, published by Bantam Spectra (July 1995), ISBN 0-553-57386-1, 10th printing
It is a strange world that Industry has made…and I get to float around on the surface, on my Zodiac, announcing that they're in trouble.
  • Sangamon’s Principle,” I said. “The simpler the molecule, the better the drug. So the best drug is oxygen. Only two atoms. The second-best, nitrous oxide—a mere three atoms. The third-best, ethanol—nine. Past that, you’re talking lots of atoms.”
    “Atoms are like people. Get lots of them together, never know what they’ll do.”
    • Chapter 1 (p. 2)
  • I’m not that proud of being a congenital pain in the ass. But I will take money for it.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 7)
  • One of the problems, hanging out with me, is that I can turn any topic into a toxic horror story. I've lost two girlfriends and a job by reading an ingredients label out loud, with annotations, at the wrong time.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 10)
  • And I hadn't even told him the truth. Actually, the shit coming out of Basco's pipes was a hundred thousand times more concentrated than was legally allowed.... That kind of thing goes on all the time. But no matter how many diplomas are tacked to your wall, give people a figure like that and they'll pass you off as a flake. You can't get most people to believe how wildly the eco-laws get broken, but if I say "More than twice the legal limit," they get comfortably outraged.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 19)
  • The corporations have already planted their own bombs. All we have to do is light the fuses.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 24)
  • It's the ultimate Boston transportation. On land there's the Omni, but all those slow cars get in the way. There's public transit – the T — but if you're in good shape, it's usually faster to walk. Bicycles aren't bad. But on water, nothing stops you and there isn't anything important in Boston that isn't within two blocks of being wet. The Harbor and the city are interlocked like wrestling squid, tentacles of water and land snaking off everywhere, slashed with bridges or canals.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 29)
The corporations have already planted their own bombs. All we have to do is light the fuses.
  • At some point I was entitled to say that I had entered Boston Harbor, the toilet of the Northeast. By shoving the motor over to one side I could spin the Zode in tight rings and look up into the many shit-greased sphincters of the Fair Lady on the Hill, Hub of the Universe, Cradle of Crap, my hometown.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 30)
  • In four years of work, I've idled my Zodiac down every one of its thousands of inlets, looked at every inch of its fractal coastline and found every single goddamned pipe that empties into it. Some of the pipes are big enough to park a car in and some are the size of your finger, but all of them have told their story to my gas chromatograph. And often it's the littlest pipes that cause the most damage. When I see a big huge pipe coming right out of a factory, I'm betting the pumpers have at least read the EPA regs. But when I find a tiny one, hidden below the waterline, sprouting from a mile-wide industrial carnival, I put on gloves before taking my sample. And sometimes the gloves melt.
    • Chapter 4 (pp. 30-31)
  • Jim and his crew of a dozen or so specialize in loud, sloppy publicity seeking....
    Myself, I like the stiletto-in-the-night approach. That's partly because I'm younger, a post-Sixties type, and partly because my thing is toxics, not nukes or mammals....there are all kinds of direct, simple ways to go after toxic criminals. You just plug the pipes.
    • Chapter 6 (pp. 48-49)
There isn't anything important in Boston that isn't within two blocks of being wet. The harbor and the city are interlocked like wrestling squid.
  • The big lie of American capitalism is that corporations work in their own best interests. In fact they’re constantly doing things that will eventually bring them to their knees. Most of these blunders involve toxic chemicals that any competent chemist should know to be dangerous. They pump these things into the environment and don’t even try to protect themselves. The evidence is right there in public, almost as if they’d printed up signed confessions and sprinkled them out of airplanes. Sooner or later, someone shows up in a Zodiac and points to that evidence, and the result is devastation far worse than what a terrorist, a Boone, could manage with bombs and guns. All the old men within twenty miles who have come down with tumors become implacable enemies. All the women married to them, all the mothers of damaged children, and even those of undamaged ones. The politicians and the news media trample each other in their haste to pour hellfire down on that corporation. The transformation can happen overnight and it’s easy to bring about. You just have to show up and point your finger.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 57)
  • I don’t mean the EPA, the chemical Keystone Kops. Offices full of mediocre chemists, led by the lowest bottom-feeders of all: political appointees. Expecting them to do anything controversial is like expecting a hay fever sufferer to harvest a field of ragweed. For God’s sake, they wouldn’t even admit that chlordane was dangerous. And if they don’t have the balls to take preventative measures, punitive action doesn’t even enter their minds. The laws are broken so universally that they don’t know what to do. They don’t even look for violators.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 57)
  • Nothing in a hardware store ever gets bought for its nominal purpose. You buy something that was designed to do one thing, and you use it for another.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 64)
  • Any property that's open to common use gets destroyed. Because everyone has incentive to use it to the max, but no one has incentive to maintain it. Like the water and the air. These guys have incentive to pollute the ocean, but no reason to clean it up.
    • Chapter 8 (p. 67)
  • Every large corporation has its own telephone maze, its juicy numbers and dead ends, its nickel-plated bitch queens and sugary do-gooders.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 78)
  • He wanted Justice and I wanted a beer.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 87)
  • Talking to cancer victims never makes me feel righteous, never vindicated. It makes me slightly ill and for some reason, guilty. If people like me would just keep our mouths shut, people like him would never suspect why they got cancer. They'd chalk it up to God or probability. They wouldn't die with hearts full of venom.
    It is a strange world that Industry has made. Kind of a seething toxic harbor, opening out on a blue unspoiled ocean. Most people are swimming in it, and I get to float around on the surface, on my Zodiac, announcing that they're in trouble. What I really want to do is make a difference. But I'm not sure I have, yet.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 88)
  • "It might interest you to know that our state is tired of being used as a chemical toilet so that people in Utah can have plastic lawn furniture."
    "I can't believe an assistant attorney general came right out and said that."
    "Well, I wouldn't say it in public."
    • Chapter 11 (p. 89)
Nothing in a hardware store ever gets bought for its nominal purpose. You buy something that was designed to do one thing, and you use it for another.
  • I was happy to avoid them. They wore the uniform of the teen nonconformist: long hair, unsuccessful mustache, black leather.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 94)
  • Bartholomew was a sommelier of heavy metal. “Yeah. Not bad for a two-umlaut band. First album was so-so. Then they ran out of material—they write maybe two songs a year. Got into a black magic thing for their videos. Already passé.”
    “Isn’t that the whole point of heavy metal?”
    “Yeah. I’m the one who told you that,” he reminded me. “Heavy metal will never leave you behind.”
    • Chapter 13 (p. 103)
  • [I] followed him past all the smiling secretaries, the cheery bottle-washer pushing a cartload of glassware, the unresponsive Xerox repairman, the hale-and-hearty fellow executives, blah blah blah. Being in an office just makes my skin crawl. All that good cheer. All that fine wool, the processed air, the mediocre coffee, fluorescent tubes, lipstick, new-carpet smell, the same fucking xeroxed cartoons tacked on the walls. I wanted to shout: one Far Side on the door does not an interesting person make.
    • Chapter 20 (p. 162)
  • He had a sense of irony that ruled his life, made it impossible for him to use his considerable brains in any kind of serious job. Kind of like me.
    • Chapter 22 (p. 187)
  • There was a white man sitting at the kitchen table, warming his hands by wrapping them around a hot cup of tea. He had kind of an oblong face, curly red hair piled on top, a close-cropped but dense red beard, shocking blue eyes that always looked wide open. He face was ruddy with the outdoors, and the way he was sitting there with that tea, he looked so calm, so centered, almost like he was in meditation. When I came in, he looked at me and smiled just a trace, without showing his teeth and I nodded back.
    • Chapter 24 (p. 205; S.T. finally meets the legendary Hank Boone (proto-Enoch Root character)
  • “Those guys are troglodytes,” he said, “Their solution to everything is a high-powered rifle.”
    • Chapter 28 (p. 231)
  • “I always wanted to be a Secret Service agent,” he confessed. “Because then you’re the only person in the world who can knock down the president and get away with it.”
    • Chapter 30 (p. 246)
  • Heavy metal, drugs and sexual passion had dissolved her brain to a certain point where she no longer distinguished between dead and living persons.
    • Chapter 31 (p. 259)
  • A good yuppie has no sense of smell.
    • Chapter 36 (p. 301)

"Mother Earth Mother Board," cover story in Wired, 4.12 (1996)

"Mother Earth Mother Board : In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, chronicling the laying of the longest wire on Earth"
  • Everything that has occurred in Silicon Valley in the last couple of decades also occurred in the 1850s. Anyone who thinks that wild-ass high tech venture capitalism is a late-20th-century California phenomenon needs to read about the maniacs who built the first transatlantic cable projects. The only things that have changed since then are that the stakes have gotten smaller, the process more bureaucratized, and the personalities less interesting.
The world has actually been wired for a century and a half. (New York celebrates the transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858).
  • Both Penang and the Internet were established basically for strategic military reasons. In both cases, what was built by the military was merely a kernel for a much vaster phenomenon that came along later. This kernel was really nothing more than a protocol, a set of rules. If you wanted to follow those rules, you could participate, otherwise you were free to go elsewhere. Because the protocol laid down a standard way for people to interact, which was clearly set out and could be understood by anyone, it attracted smart, adaptable, ambitious people from all over the place, and at a certain point it flew completely out of control and turned into something that no one had ever envisioned: something thriving, colorful, wildly diverse, essentially peaceful, and plagued only by the congestion of its own success.
  • Both [Penang and the Internet] have seen many young Western men arrive here on business missions and completely lose control of their sphincters and become impediments to any kind of organized activity. Daily hired Wall because, like Daily, he is a stable family man who has his act together...and they seem to be making excellent progress toward their goal, which is to run two really expensive wires across the Malay Peninsula. They tend to be absolutely straight shooters.... Their openness would probably be career suicide in the atmosphere of Byzantine court-eunuch intrigue that is public life in the United States today. On the other hand, if I had an unlimited amount of money and woke up tomorrow morning with a burning desire to see a 2,000-hole golf course erected on the surface of Mars, I would probably call men like Daily and Wall, do a handshake deal with them, send them a blank check, and not worry about it.
  • The Victorian era was an age of superlatives and larger-than-life characters, and as far as that goes, Dr. Wildman Whitehouse fit right in: what Victoria was to monarchs, Dickens to novelists...Dr. Wildman Whitehouse was to assholes.
  • Whitehouse disappeared into ignominy. William Thomson ended up being knighted and later elevated to a baron by Queen Victoria. He became Lord Kelvin and eventually got an important unit of measurement, an even more important law of physics, and a refrigerator named after him.
  • To the hacker, the most interesting thing about the pyramids is their business plan, which is the simplest and most effective ever devised:
    1. Put a rock on top of another rock.
    2. Repeat (1) until gawkers arrive.
    3. Separate them from their valuables by all conceivable means.
It is a bit unsettling, at first, to think of Apple as a control freak, because it is completely at odds with their corporate image.
  • Hostility towards Microsoft is not difficult to find on the Net, and it blends two strains: resentful people who feel Microsoft is too powerful, and disdainful people who think it's tacky. This is all strongly reminiscent of the heyday of Communism and Socialism, when the bourgeoisie were hated from both ends: by the proles, because they had all the money, and by the intelligentsia, because of their tendency to spend it on lawn ornaments. Microsoft is the very embodiment of modern high-tech prosperity — it is, in a word, bourgeois — and so it attracts all of the same gripes.
    • "Class Struggle on the Desktop"
  • It is a bit unsettling, at first, to think of Apple as a control freak, because it is completely at odds with their corporate image. Weren't these the guys who aired the famous Super Bowl ads showing suited, blindfolded executives marching like lemmings off a cliff? Isn't this the company that even now runs ads picturing the Dalai Lama (except in Hong Kong) and Einstein and other offbeat rebels?
    It is indeed the same company, and the fact that they have been able to plant this image of themselves as creative and rebellious free-thinkers in the minds of so many intelligent and media-hardened skeptics really gives one pause. It is testimony to the insidious power of expensive slick ad campaigns and, perhaps, to a certain amount of wishful thinking in the minds of people who fall for them. It also raises the question of why Microsoft is so bad at PR, when the history of Apple demonstrates that, by writing large checks to good ad agencies, you can plant a corporate image in the minds of intelligent people that is completely at odds with reality.
    • "Class Struggle on the Desktop"
  • In your high school geology class you probably were taught that all life on earth exists in a paper-thin shell called the biosphere, which is trapped between thousands of miles of dead rock underfoot, and cold dead radioactive empty space above. Companies that sell OSes exist in a sort of technosphere. Underneath is technology that has already become free. Above is technology that has yet to be developed, or that is too crazy and speculative to be productized just yet. Like the Earth's biosphere, the technosphere is very thin compared to what is above and what is below.
    • "The Technosphere"
Unix, by contrast, is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic.
  • These changes in identity and location can easily become nested inside each other, many layers deep, even if you aren't doing anything nefarious. Once you have forgotten who and where you are, the whoami command is indispensable.
    • "The Oral Tradition"
  • Windows 95 and MacOS are products, contrived by engineers in the service of specific companies. Unix, by contrast, is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic.
    • "The Oral Tradition"
  • I use emacs, which might be thought of as a thermonuclear word processor. It was created by Richard Stallman; enough said. It is written in Lisp, which is the only computer language that is beautiful. It is colossal, and yet it only edits straight ASCII text files, which is to say, no fonts, no boldface, no underlining. In other words, the engineer-hours that, in the case of Microsoft Word, were devoted to features like mail merge, and the ability to embed feature-length motion pictures in corporate memoranda, were, in the case of emacs, focused with maniacal intensity on the deceptively simple-seeming problem of editing text.
    • "OS Shock"

Seveneves (2015)

All page numbers from the second trade paperback edition, published by William Morrow (2016), ISBN 978-0-06-233451-0, 17th printing

Part One

In the novel Seveneves, the Reiner Gamma formation is the site on the Moon's surface where a Utah amateur astronomer observes a "blur flourishing" or puff of dust moments before the Moon begins to break apart. In reality, Reiner Gamma is one of the strongest localized magnetic anomalies on the Moon.
  • The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designated A+0.0.0, or simply Zero.
    An amateur astronomer in Utah was the first person on Earth to realize that something unusual was happening. Moments earlier, he had noticed a blur flourishing in the vicinity of the Reiner Gamma formation, near the moon's equator. He assumed it was a dust cloud thrown up by a meteor strike. He pulled out his phone and blogged the event.
    • “The Age of the One Moon” (p. 3; opening paragraphs of the novel)
  • She had grown tired of the pouffy floating hair of zero gravity and, after a few weeks of clamping it down with baseball caps, had figured out how to make this shorter cut work for her. The haircut had spawned terabytes of Internet commentary from men, and a few women, who apparently had nothing else to do with their time.
    • “The Seven Sisters” (p. 11)
Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola (or Kupol) section of the International Space Station, one of the primary settings in Seveneves
  • The evening went fine. Doob, who had raised three children to adulthood, had figured out a long time ago that any event largely organized by elementary school teachers was likely to come off extremely well from a logistical and crowd-control standpoint.
    • “The Seven Sisters” (p. 25)
  • “Dinah,” Sparky said, “you’re indispensable.”
    She knew exactly what this meant, in meeting-speak: they would put her out the airlock if they could.
    • “Scouts” (p. 37)
  • Most of the people on the Cloud Ark were going to have to be women.
    There were other reasons for it besides just making more babies. Research on the long-term effects of spaceflight suggested that women were less susceptible to radiation damage than men. They were smaller on average, requiring less space, less food, less air. And sociological studies pointed to the idea that they did better when crammed together in tight spaces for long periods of time. This was controversial, as it got into fraught topics of nature vs. nurture and whether gender identity was a social construct or a genetic program. But if you bought into the idea that boys had been programmed by Darwinian selection to run around in the open chucking spears at wild animals—something that every parent who had ever raised a boy had to take seriously—then it was difficult to envision a lot of them spending their lives in tin cans.
    • “Scouts” (p. 62)
  • “We live in strange times. I’m fertile right now. I can tell. No more condoms for you, tiger."...He was already thinking about the videos he was going to make to teach his baby about calculus when he climaxed.
    • “Scouts” (p. 65)
  • So in order to accommodate the Pioneers who would begin arriving in a few weeks, the Arkitects sent up Scouts. The qualifications for being a Scout seemed to be a shocking level of physical endurance, a complete disregard for mortal danger, and some knowledge of how to exist in a space suit.
    All of them were Russian.
    • “Scouts” (p. 76)
  • Every parent of a teenager gets used to it: the moment in a child's life when he or she decides that certain facts are just too much trouble to explain to Mom or Dad. The parents can't, and needn't, know every last little thing. They just have to accept this, be content with what they can glean on their own, and move on.
    • “Pioneers and Prospectors: Day 56” (p. 133)
  • [Luisa] knew how to use her own ignorance as an icebreaker in conversations. Izzy was full of people who were skewed toward the Asperger’s end of the social spectrum, and there was no better way to get them to start talking than to ask them a technical question.
    • “Pioneers and Prospectors: Day 80” (p. 143)
  • You could get use to anything. You got used to it and then time raced by, and before you knew it, time was up.
    • “Consolidation: Day 260” (p. 173)
  • It was difficult to sustain the illusion that education was of value for kids who would not live long enough to use it. They'd never take the standardized tests that they were prepping for. In a way, Amelia had said, this had led to a kind of renaissance in pedagogy. Free from the constraints of racking up high test scores or getting into colleges, students could learn for learning's sake—which was how it ought to be. The tick-tock curriculum had dissolved and been replaced by activities improvised from day to day by teachers and parents: hiking in the mountains, doing art projects about the Cloud Ark, talking with psychologists about death, reading favorite books. In one sense Amelia and her colleagues had never been more needed, never had such an opportunity to show their quality.
    • “The Casting of Lots: Day 333” (p. 213)

Part Two

  • “Politics,” Doob sighed.
    Luisa chuckled. “I hear you, sugar. I’m not gonna say you’re wrong. But I have to warn you that this is the word—‘politics’—that nerds use whenever they feel impatient about the human realities of an organization.”
    • “Day 700” (p. 238)
What keeps us alive isn't bravery, or athleticism, or any of those other skills that were valuable in a caveman society. It's our ability to master complex technological skills. We need to breed nerds.
  • His earlier conversation with Luisa had brought home to him, however, that ignoring politics might not be the wisest long-term strategy. He might not care about politics, but politics cared about him.
    • “Day 700” (p. 251)
  • When he tried to filter out that bias and to look at the models and the data in a completely objective way, he concluded that the jury was still out. So, technical discussions of the matter tended to be unproductive, except insofar as they revealed the biases that the participants had brought into the room with them. And here was where it started to get difficult for him personally, because he couldn't understand why anyone would harbor a bias different from his own.
    • “Day 700” (p. 254)
  • Hotness was a part of the human condition and it was pointless to pretend that it did not exist.
    • “Day 700” (p. 276)
  • We did not expect to have a backup system for the rest of the universe. We can rely upon it to be cold most of the time.
    • “YMIR” (p. 354)
  • The little boy in him was crestfallen that he wasn't going on the adventure. Then he reminded himself that he was already part of the biggest adventure ever, and that, so far, it had been altogether miserable.
    • “YMIR” (p. 364)
  • We can't run this experiment a thousand times to see the range of different outcomes. We can only run it once. The human mind has trouble with situations like that. We see patterns where they don't exist, we find meaning in randomness.
    • “YMIR” (pp. 423-424)
  • Trying to, you know, persuade others to join our side. Trying to make the other side look bad. Just like the Internet always was.
    • “Endurance” (pp. 518-519)
  • “We can’t make the same mistake again,” Aïda said, “of fooling ourselves. Believing in shit that isn’t real.”
    • “Cleft” (p. 551)
  • There is a process known as parthenogenesis, literally virgin birth, by which a uniparental embryo can be created out of a normal egg. It's been done with animals. The only reason no one ever did it with humans is because it seemed ethically dodgy, as well as completely unnecessary given the willingness of men to impregnate women every chance they got.
    • “Cleft” (pp. 552-553)
  • “We need brains, is the bottom line,” Ivy said. “We’re not hunter-gatherers anymore. We’re all living like patients in the intensive care unit of a hospital. What keeps us alive isn’t bravery, or athleticism, or any of those other skills that were valuable in a caveman society. It’s our ability to master complex technological skills. It is our ability to be nerds. We need to breed nerds.”
    • “Cleft” (p. 560)
  • I have been clinically depressed for most of my life. I once used drugs to fix it. Then I stopped. I stopped because I decided they were making me stupid, and I'd rather be miserable than stupid. I am what I am.
    • “Cleft” (pp. 560-561)

Part Three

The mere suggestion that it might be possible to look at a thing from more than one point of view was infuriating to these people.
  • Kath Two was the sort of person whose caches were apt to be crammed with paper books. For her, the electronic books were an insurance policy of sorts. The four-day elevator ride might be nothing more than a prelude to further journeys, some of which might take her to places with little to no bandwidth, and nothing was worse than getting stuck in a situation like that with nothing to read.
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 639)
  • “I hope that this assignment will not prove an inconvenience,” Doc continued.
    “All duty is inconvenient to a greater or lesser degree, or it would not be duty.”
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 648)
  • If history was any guide, those best at violence might end up ruling over everyone else.
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 684)
  • He had had many conversations during his long life. Some were fascinating and stayed with him more than a century later. Others were less so. As a younger man he had tolerated those as part of the cost of doing business—a sort of tax that all people must pay in order to take part in civilized society. When he had turned one hundred, he had decided to stop paying that tax. Henceforth he would engage only in conversations that really interested him—which, with a few exceptions for close friends and family members, meant conversations with a purpose.
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 714)
  • As it turned out, imagining the fate of seven billion people was far less emotionally affecting than imagining the fate of one.
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 741)
  • It is only a certain type of mind that scorns what is known by all and treats secrets as jewels.
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 749)
  • The mere suggestion that it might be possible to look at a thing from more than one point of view was infuriating to these people.
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 774)
  • “If you show her too much favor she will be punished. If you touch her, we’re all dead,” Ty said.
    “Why?” Einstein asked.
    “Because this is one of those cultures that is psychotic about female reproductive organs.”
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 776)
  • “If you are going to make first contact with an intelligent alien race,” said Cantabrigia Five, “dropping huge strip-mining robots into their homeland might not be your best move.”
    • “Five Thousand Years Later” (p. 830)
  • “People who claim they are motivated by the Purpose end up behaving differently—and generally better—than people who serve other masters.”
    “So it is like believing in God.”
    “Maybe yes. But without the theology, the scripture, the pigheaded certainty.”
    • Epilogue (p. 860)

Co-authored with Nicole Galland, who solo-authored the sequel, Master of the Revels (2021).

Part One
  • My name is Melisande Stokes and this is my story. I am writing in July 1851 (Common Era, or—let's face it—Anno Domini)...London, England. But I am not a native of this place or time. In fact, I am quite fucking desperate to get out of here...when I'm done writing this Diachronicle, I am going to take it to the very discreet private offices of the Fugger Bank...not to be opened for more than one hundred and sixty years. The Fuggers, above all people in this world, understand the dangers of Diachronic Shear.
    • Diachronicle: Preamble, July 1851
  • I'm writing with a steel-nibbed dip pen...partly so that I could jab my thumb with it and draw blood. The brown smear across the top of this page can be tested in any twenty-first-century DNA lab...and you will know that I am a woman of your era, writing in the middle of the nineteenth century... To quote Peter Gabriel, a singer/songwriter who will be born ninety-nine years from now: This will be my testimony.
    • Diachronicle: Preamble, July 1851
  • Reader, if you don't know what a database is, rest assured that an explanation of the concept would in no way increase your enjoyment in reading this account. If you do know, you will thank me for sparing you the details.
    • Diachronicle: Days 57–221 (winter, year 0)
  • Young, lavishly bearded tech entrepreneurs were trudging forlornly down the hallways, laden with computers, printers, high-end coffeemakers, and foosball tables. Like digital Okies they loaded their stuff into their Scions or Ryder trucks and rumbled off into the unforgiving Boston commercial real estate market.
    “So you’re going to, uh, remove basically the entire floor of the conference room?”
    “The conference room will cease to exist. DODO is not about meetings. Not about PowerPoints.”
    “I never imagined otherwise.”
    • Diachronicle: Days 222–244 (March, year 1)
  • “I made it into Wikipedia,” sang Erszebet. “I’ll bet none of my enemies ever made it into Wikipedia.”
    • Diachronicle: Day 304
Part Two
I began to dig into the history of the Fuggers. Even with the combined resources of Harvard’s library system and U.S. intelligence databases, I wasn’t able to find much.
  • The next station was called simply TRAPEZOID, but I could have guessed as much from the fact that more than half the people getting on and off the train were dressed in military uniforms of one service or another...As the headquarters of the American military and presumed ground zero for any hostile military strike, the Trapezoid had, for me, always been more mythic than real...The terrorists had targeted it on 9/11, and I could see part of the memorial that had been built on the side where the plane had crashed into it.
    • Diachronicle: Day 309
  • I began to dig into the history of the Fuggers. This was the third time in the short history of DODO that the name had unexpectedly come up. And even though they were a famous old banking family, this seemed like too many coincidences...
    Even with the combined resources of Harvard's library system and U.S. intelligence databases, I wasn't able to find much. The medieval part of the story has been common knowledge for centuries...In 1459 the family had produced Jacob, the seventh surviving child in a large brood...who had, to make a long story short, become the richest person in the world... By 1601 the last central authority had been Markus Fugger: a patron of arts, a history buff, a collector of old artifacts, an ancient-languages geek...
    [1640] Athanasius Fugger was completely absent from the historical record.
    • Diachronicle: Days 380–389 (August, year 1)
  • I tried working from the other direction, getting what information I could about the modern-day organization, and working backwards. But they were discreet to the point of paranoia, running their business through a network of offshore companies registered in places like the Cayman Islands, Jersey, and the Isle of Man. They only allowed the Fugger name to break the surface when it was to their tactical advantage, as when trying to hire employees for of their humanitarian NGOs.
    • Diachronicle: Days 380–389 (August, year 1)
Part Three
  • In layperson's terms: if it has to be dunked in liquid helium to work, I don't understand it. If it's in a rack with fans blowing on it, that's a different story.
    • About Me (Mortimer Shore)
    This comes up a lot and I am working on upgrading the relevant wiki pages, but people seem to end up here anyway LOL.
    My basic advice: DON'T DO IT! It is ridiculously, fantastically dangerous. Modern people are calibrated for a whole different level of danger acceptance.
    • About Me (Mortimer Shore)
Part Four
  • Most of them don't actually care who wins because they understand it's just about who sits on the throne, they know the Crusaders aren't here to try to actually harm the city itself. All the potential emperors are assholes, and they're all related to each other, it hardly matters which one wins. So the citizens are literally picnicking and placing bets on who wins the day.
I believe that the building we all know as the Pentagon was called the Trapezoid when it was first built…It only became the Pentagon a few months ago.
  • USSS 1: I am beginning to get concerned messages from people in the Pentagon wanting to know why Backhoe is incommunicado.
    DOSECOPS C4: The Pentagon?
    USSS 1: The Trapezoid. Was my transmission garbled?
    DOSECOPS C4: Sorry, I was distracted. I thought you said Pentagon.
    USSS 1: I'm a little foggy myself with all of the weirdness around here and I may have said the wrong thing. I am referring to the [GARBLED]. The very large building across the Potomac River from DC that is the headquarters of the United States military. Does that help clarify matters?
    DOSECOPS C4: Sure. The Pentagon.
    USSS 1: That's what I'm saying!
    • Day 1920 (Halloween, year 5) Transcript, selected radio traffic, on DODO Security frequencies, 20:08:13 – 20:08:56.
Part Five
  • BOG Container Lines Inc. is the survival into modern times of Bunch of Grapes, which is an extremely old presence in the shipping industry. I mean, it's named after a tavern in Boston from the 1600s that was named after a tavern in London that dates back to at least the 1200s...I'm still waiting for some query results to come back so that we can discover their inevitable connection to the Fuggers. I don't even know why I bother.
    • Day 1959 (9 December, year 5) 16:42. Post from Mortimer Shore on “General” GRIMNIR channel.
  • To help the reader calibrate the level of weird that's going on, I believe that the building we all know as the Pentagon was called the Trapezoid when it was first built...It only became the Pentagon a few months ago. But when it did, it wasn't only the building itself that changed, but everyone's memories of it as well. So everyone, including me, thinks it has been the Pentagon from the moment its cornerstone (vertexstone? whatever) was laid...It was converted into the Pentagon on Halloween, just about two months ago, when a significant chunk of the United States military-industrial complex was taken over by witches.
    • Day 1960 (10 December, YEAR 5) Mission log of Tristan Lyons, written in ballpoint pen on pocket notebook.
  • Sportsmanship is for sportsmen.
    • Diachronicle: day 1960 (10 December, year 5)
  • "We’re bankers. That is really all we are. If you’ve been imagining some sort of fabulous conspiracy, you are in for a disappointment. Bankers, you see, don’t actually do very much. We take our percentage. That is all. We subsist on movements of money—across space, across time, and between Strands.”
    • Diachronicle: day 1960 (10 December, year 5) Frederick Fugger speaking to Melisande and Tristan.
Corvus now saw his nickname through a hybrid of Pacific Northwest aboriginal myths and Roman aviomancy. Crows, or ravens (the distinction was unclear), were set apart by their extreme intelligence, memory, and resourcefulness.


Part 1
  • In this dream, Dodge was in the small town in Iowa where he had grown up...the grid street pattern of that town was, decades later, the spatial lattice on which virtually all of his dreams were constructed. It was the graph paper on which his mind seemed to need to plot things.
    • Chapter 1
  • The amount of time spent asleep didn't really matter. He had decided that the key to it all — the one thing that determined whether the nap would actually refresh him — was the breaking of the thread of consciousness...Even if he woke up ten seconds later, he would be as refreshed — possibly more so — as if he'd slumbered deeply for an hour.
    • Chapter 1
Part 2
  • “I need you down here,” said his boss. “All hands on deck.” Then he hung up without explanation, leaving Corvallis with the vague feeling that he was missing something. ... The trail of notifications on his phone told the story. They had originated from various people on various social networks, but they had all been triggered by the same event: the surprising obliteration of the town of Moab, Utah, by what was apparently a tactical nuclear weapon.
    • Chapter 9; In Reamde, Corvallis Kawasaki was referred to by the nickname C-plus.
The ancestral home of the Forthrasts was situated in the northwestern quadrant of being displayed in miniature, superimposed on a coffee table in an eating club at Princeton University
  • Someone in DC posted a snapshot of a pizza delivery guy on a Pentagon-bound Metro train, toting a stack of pizzas so high he had to use a two-wheeled dolly. Self-proclaimed experts in the comment thread were climbing all over one another to explain that massive pizza deliveries to the Pentagon were an infallible sign that something big was happening.
    • Chapter 9
  • In reenactment groups it was customary for each participant to adopt a persona, or, at a bare minimum, a nickname that wouldn't sound too jarringly anachronistic when called out in the heat of action. Corvallis had become Corvus, which was just the Latin word for “crow.” ... At first he'd been mildly uncomfortable with it.... He now saw it through a hybrid of Pacific Northwest aboriginal myths and Roman aviomancy. ... Crows, or ravens (the distinction was unclear), were set apart by their extreme intelligence, memory, and resourcefulness; but no matter how well they embodied those fine traits, no one appreciated them.
    • Chapter 9
  • Of crows, people tended to predicate the same traits that they did of Asians.... Crows were commendably intelligent, and forever busy, but you couldn't tell them apart and their motives were inscrutable. But living inside of his own head, Corvus well knew his own motives. There was nothing wrong with those motives and he didn't need to justify them to anyone else.
    • Chapter 9; Corvus/Corvallis' parents were of Japanese and South Asian heritage
  • The Moab hoaxers had inoculated the [Internet] with a ready-made hoax narrative that was obviously ridiculous, and tailor-made to appeal to the vociferous citizens of Crazytown. Right now everyone's uncle Harry—the angry truther at Thanksgiving dinner—was typing as fast as he could with the caps lock key in effect.
    • Chapter 9
  • Stand-up peeing in a long flowing garment could lead to various mishaps.
    • Chapter 10
"Iowa is a Northern state. Fought on the Union side in the Civil War…Northerners don’t say ‘y’all’…It would have seemed weird for Northerners to paste the traitors’ flag on their bumper or cop an accent from Alabama. But—”
“The cultural border shifted north.”
  • Having spent the whole day sifting through incredibly depressing news reports, [the White House press corps] were bouncing back to a kind of giddy frame of mind brought on by a combination of completely natural and understandable happiness that Moab was fine...and schadenfreude directed at the social media companies that had been chipping away at their industry and their job security for the last couple of decades. Pointed questions were asked about how just unbelievably irresponsible those companies had been today and whether the scorpion-filled pits into which their executives should now be lowered should be a thousand meters deep or two thousand.
    • Chapter 10
  • All of the people in the conspiracy/troll ecosystem had been sucked into the vortex of Moab and begun to devote excruciating levels of attention to the entire cast of characters...performers in all of the fake videos and Corvallis Kawasaki. For he had been identified by name, on national television, by the president of the United States.... So within 24 hours, the citizens of Crazytown had compiled a huge dossier of mostly wrong material on him....
    Crazytown was repelled by facts and knowledge, as oil fled from water, but was fascinated by the absence of hard facts, since it provided vacant space in which to construct elaborate edifices of speculation.
    • Chapter 11
Part 3
  • The ancestral home of the Forthrasts was situated in the northwestern quadrant of being displayed in miniature, superimposed on a coffee table in an eating club at Princeton University, visible only to Sophia and to the friends she had shared it with: Phil, Julian, and Anne-Solenne. They could see it as long as they were wearing their glasses.
    They were planning a summer road trip. They had worked it out as far as Des Moines by following interstate highways. Now Sophia was proposing a diagonal transit to Sioux City on two-lane roads. The very idea of it had led to blank stares...until a solution had taken shape in the agile brain of Sophia's boyfriend Phil: “Look. I’m just not going to tell my parents—or anyone—that we are temporarily going off grid.” ... Sophia decided on the spot not to dump Phil for at least another few weeks.
    • Chapter 12. This is the opening paragraph of Part 3, set 17 years after the death of Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, early mid-21st century. Sophia is the daughter of Zula and Csongor, and a grand-niece of Dodge, from Reamde.
  • “Where are you from?” Sophia asked.
    Larry looked a bit startled. "I’m from here…Great-greats came over from Holland."
    "You said ‘y’all.’"
    Larry was confused....
    "What was that about?" Anne-Solenne asked.
    "It’s totally a Southern way of talking. Iowa is a Northern state. Fought on the Union side in the Civil War. Never had slavery…Northerners don’t talk like that, they don’t drawl, they don’t say ‘y’all’...”
    “Or put the Stars and Bars on their bumpers,” said Julian...and pointed at a Confederate flag sticker on the back of Tom and Kevin's truck.
    “Point being, it was not like that to my uncle...When he was born, the Civil War was only ninety years in the past—almost within living memory. It would have seemed weird for Northerners to paste the traitors’ flag on their bumper or cop an accent from Alabama. But while he was alive—”
    “The cultural border shifted north.”
    • Chapter 13, Des Moines, Iowa, preparing to enter Ameristan
This wasn’t Princeton. This was Ameristan. Facebooked to the molecular level.
  • There was no one moment when they definitely crossed over into Ameristan. The closest thing to a formal ceremony was when Tom pulled over onto the gravel shoulder of a two-lane road between cornfields and yanked off the vehicles' license plates—which was evidently held on with magnets... Then the caravan was back on the road.
    “When in Rome,” Julian said...
    About an hour out of Des Moines, they did pass by a tiny sign—Sharpie on plywood—bearing what might have been the burning-cross logo of the Levitican Church.
    • Chapter 13
  • “Ted has normal-people teeth because he is old and grew up before this part of the world got Facebooked. After that, the people with education fled to places like Ames, Des Moines, Iowa City. Which includes dentists. A few mainline churches used to run charity dental clinics where you could get a bad tooth pulled, or whatever, but those are being chased away by these people.”
    • Chapter 13, Sophia to Anne-Solenne
  • “There’s been all kinds of confusion about the Leviticans. Some kind of imagined link to the Ku Klux Klan.”
    “Maybe it’s because of the burning crosses,” Phil suggested, deadpan.
    Supposedly the KKK burned crosses,” Ted said with a roll of the eyes.
    “There’s no ‘supposedly’ about it,” Anne-Solenne started in. “What are you even—” But Sophia silenced her with a hand on the arm. There was no point.
    “If that is even true, it has no connection to our burning crosses, which have a completely different significance,” Ted announced.
    • Chapter 13
"Make a password…that you’ve never used before."
Sophia typed in “IsasdftFffiI13da!,” for “I stole a shower DAISY from the Forthrast family farmhouse in Iowa 13 days ago!”
  • Having caught Phil's eye, Sophia panned her gaze across the entire scene, asking him to take it all in. Reminding him that this wasn't Princeton. This was Ameristan. Facebooked to the molecular level.
    “Professor Long,” she muttered, “the Red Card.” It was a reference to...a wallet card for people to keep in front of them during conversations like this one. One side of the card was solid red, with no words or images, and was meant to be displayed outward as a nonverbal signal that you disagreed and that you weren't going to be drawn into a fake argument.
    The other side, facing the user, was a list of little reminders as to what was really going on:
    1. Speech is aggression
    2. Every utterance has a winner and a loser
    3. Curiosity is feigned
    4. Lying is performative
    5. Stupidity is power
    • Chapter 13
  • None of them said a word until they had parked in the Walmart's lot.
    “I am gonna buy some flowers,” Sophia said, “to put on the grave. We’re almost there. Within the blast radius of this.” She nodded toward the front of the superstore.
    “Blast radius?"
    “It’s only ten miles farther. Any retail base in the actual town will have been obliterated by this. So if we want to buy anything, we have to buy it here.”
    • Chapter 13
  • They laid in a course for Moab, which ought to have been as simple as laying in a course for any other place. But a little warning did come up on Sophia's UI, letting her know that the existence of Moab was in question. Opinions differed as to whether it had been burned off the surface of the world by a nuclear blast twelve years ago. ...
    “It’s easy to forget,” Sophia remarked, “that there are millions of people who really don’t believe that Moab still exists. But when you’re here, you see the REMEMBER MOAB stickers all over the place.”
    • Chapter 16
  • “One of Enoch’s ancestors was, like, the great-great-granddad of fractal geometry,” Julian reported. “In 1791—”
    “Oh, god, please don’t read the Wikipedia entry,” Enoch said, showing more emotion than when he had been literally crucified.
    “I have an edit overlay that filters out most of the garbage,” said Julian, mildly offended that Enoch had taken him for the kind of person who would actually take Wikipedia at face value.
    “But, Julian, I am sitting right next to you and so you don’t have to consult an online source.”
    • Chapter 16
  • The Utah state legislature had been taken over by Moab truthers who insisted that Moab had been obliterated by nuclear terrorism 12 years ago. From which it followed that anyone claiming to actually live there was a troll, a crisis actor in the pay of, or a sad dupe in thrall to, global conspirators trying to foist a monstrous denial of the truth on decent folk. In recognition of, and indignation over, which they had passed a law ordering the state licensing bureau to stop accepting motor vehicle paperwork from Moab.
    • Chapter 16
One side of [Professor Long's] card was solid red, with no words or images, and was meant to be displayed outward as a nonverbal signal that you disagreed and that you weren't going to be drawn into a fake argument.
Part 5
  • “I could not be more confused as to what we are looking at right now,” announced Gloria Waterhouse. She was a philanthropist, connected with her family's foundation, nontechnical, and always the first to stand up and request commonsense explanations when the discourse became too academic. She'd assigned herself that role and she did it well.
    • Chapter 29


Part 6
  • Her free hand came up. Daisy came up with it, the faded plastic petals floating in front of her face but gradually fading from view as she sank.
    • Chapter 40
Part 7
  • Agreement got by compulsion or trickery is not agreement, but a thing akin to slavery. Free minds are the only company worth having.
    • Chapter 43
Part 9
  • Corvallis took to the air and went for a spin on some tempting thermals while the visitors were shown in... He had known them now for forty years and resigned himself to the fact that their appearance did not change over time. He wheeled around them anyway, peering down on them from all angles.
    “Calling a meeting of the Societas Eruditorum?” C-plus asked.
    “You’re the only member left."
    • Chapter 47
Part 10
  • Six dawns in a row, a new soul glimmered on a branch of the old tree, only to fade in the strong light of the day...It looked like a star softened by drifting fog and mist... On the seventh morning it seemed to discard all hopes and intentions of ever making light of its own, and darkened and solidified into the form of a black bird.
    • Chapter 48
Part 11
No sky, no neighboring houses, no trees, no mountains. The fog had clamped it all off.
Image: Zula's neighborhood, Capitol Hill, Seattle.
  • “I understand the speed of light!” Zula blurted.
    Faces turned toward her, gawped, then turned away. A hundred years ago, someone would have taken her up on the gambit. Now people were too intimidated—or perhaps they assumed she was finally losing it.
    Except for Enoch. “Explain it,” he urged her. “I’ve always wanted to understand.”
    • Chapter 55 (early 22nd century)
  • No sky, no neighboring houses, no trees, no mountains. The fog had clamped it all off. It muffled sound too...She and Enoch were existing in a bubble of space maybe a hundred paces across... She wondered if it had been thus for Dodge in the beginning, when he had been alone in Bitworld and the Landform had begun to take shape around him.
    • Chapter 55
  • “Where on earth are you going?” Zula asked, looking about for him. But she had lost him in the radiant fog.
    His voice was clear, though. It was the only sound in the world.
    “I’m not entirely sure,” he admitted. “But I’m done here. I did what I was sent to do.”
    The golden light grew until it was all she could see, and his voice was heard no more.
    • Chapter 55
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