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)

Quotes[edit]

Why Baroque? Because it is set in the Baroque, and it IS baroque. Why Cycle? Because I am trying to avoid the T-word.
The corporations have already planted their own bombs. All we have to do is light the fuses.
  • 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
  • Why Baroque? Because it is set in the Baroque, and it IS baroque. Why Cycle? Because I am trying to avoid the T-word ("trilogy"). In my mind this work is something like 7 or 8 connected novels. These have been lumped together into three volumes because it is more convenient from a publishing standpoint, but they could just as well have been put all together in a single immense volume or separated into 7 or 8 separate volumes. So to slap the word "trilogy" on it would be to saddle it with a designation that is essentially bogus. Having said that, I know everyone's going to call it a trilogy anyway.
    • Baroque Cycle entry in now-defunct MetaWeb
  • 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
  • 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.

The Big U (1984)[edit]

  • 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)

Zodiac (1988)[edit]

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.
  • 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.”
    “So?”
    “Atoms are like people. Get lots of them together, never know what they’ll do.”
    • Chapter 1
  • 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
  • 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
  • The corporations have already planted their own bombs. All we have to do is light the fuses.
    • Chapter 4, Sangamon Taylor on why violent action is not necessary against polluting corporations
  • If you look at the bottom of a Zodiac, it's not just flat. It's got a hint of a keel on it for maneuverability. Not a proper hull though.
    Hull design is an advanced science. In the days of sail it was as important to national security as aerodynamics are today. A hull was a necessary evil: all that ship down under the water gave you lots of drag, but without it the rest of the ship wouldn't float.
    Then we invented outboard motors and all that science was made irrelevant by raw power. You could turn a bathtub into a high performance speedboat by bolting a big enough motor on it. When the throttle is high, the impact of the water against the bottom of the hull lifts it right up out of the water. It skims like a skipping rock and who gives a fuck about hydrodynamics. When you throttle it down, the vessel sinks into the water again and wallows like a hog.
    • Chapter 4
  • It's the ultimate Boston transportation. On land…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
  • 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
  • My nighttime attitude is, anyone can run you down and get away with it. Why give some drunk the chance to plaster me against a car? That's why I don't even own a bike light, or one of those godawful reflective suits. Because if you've put yourself in a position where someone has to see you in order for you to be safe — to see you, and to give a fuck — you've already blown it.
    • Chapter 5 (Taylor on riding a bike at night)
  • 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
  • Most of my colleagues go on backpacking trips when they have to do some thinking. I go to a good hardware store and head for the oiliest, dustiest corners. ... If they're really good, they don't hassle me. They let me wander around and think. Young hardware clerks have a lot of hubris. They think they can help you find anything.... Old hardware clerks have learned the hard way that 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
  • 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.
    • Chapter 8
  • I don't like sewing machines. I don't understand how a needle with a thread going through the tip of it can interlock the thread by jamming itself into a little goddamn spool. It's contrary to nature and it irritates me.
    • Chapter 9
  • 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
  • "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."
    • "Cohen," the assistant attorney general of an unnamed East Coast state meeting covertly with Sangamon Taylor near the Jersey Shore. Chapter 11
  • The intern had also discovered a vague little article from the late Sixties saying that Basco had put some "junk machinery" on the floor of the Harbor, giving the usual feeble excuse.
    "They claim that this junk was going to become a habitat for marine life. You don't buy that?"
    Bless her, she did know how to blow my lid. "Rebecca, goddamnit, since the beginning of time, every corporation that has ever thrown any of its shit into the ocean has claimed that it was going to become a habitat for marine life. It’s the goddamn ocean, Rebecca. That's where all the marine life is. Of course it's going to become a habitat for marine life."
    • Chapter 21
  • 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
  • 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…"
    • The legendary S.T. finally meets the legendary Hank Boone (proto-Enoch Root character), end of chapter 24
  • He was a peculiar guy. I'd never met him, just seen his picture and heard tell of him from the veterans of GEE's early days… And I’d seen him on film… sitting right underneath a five-ton container of radioactive waste, getting thrown into the sea when it was dropped on his Zodiac… And he was like that even when he wasn't working — a drunk, a bar fighter. But the guy I was looking at was totally different. Shit, he was drinking herb tea. He talked in a slow, lilting baritone murmur, he paused in the middle of sentences to make sure the grammar was right, to pick just the right word. But it wasn't a wimpy Boone I was looking at. I had to remember the action he'd just pulled off, on short notice, on my behalf….
    Boone turned and looked at me with his invisible smile again.
    • Further description of the mysterious Hank Boone, beginning of chapter 25

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

"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.
  • 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 of them 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.

In the Beginning... was the Command Line (1999)[edit]

  • 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"
  • 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 indispensible.
    • "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"

Anathem (2008)[edit]

The novel is written in first person, the narrator is named "Erasmus" or "Raz."
  • IF YOU ARE ACCUSTOMED to reading works of speculative fiction and enjoy puzzling things out on your own, skip this Note. Otherwise, know that the scene in which this book is set is not Earth, but a planet called Arbre that is similar to Earth in many ways.
    • Note to the Reader
  • “Do your neighbors burn one another alive?” was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.
    “Do your shamans walk around on stilts?” Fraa Orolo asked, reading from a leaf that, judging by its brownness, was at least five centuries old. Then he looked up and added helpfully, “You might call them pastors or witch doctors.”
    “When a child gets sick, do you pray? Sacrifice to a painted stick? Or blame it on an old lady?”
    “Do you fancy you will see your dead dogs and cats in some sort of afterlife?”
    • Part 1, Provener; The questionnaire, in use for 1,100 years, is used once every ten years to determine if civilization outside the monastic compound is beginning to regress.
  • “Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.”
    • Part 2, Apert; Orolo to Raz
  • "Ylma is having you work it out in the most gruesome way possible...so that when she teaches you how it's really done, it'll seem that much easier....Like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer—it feels so good when you stop." This was the oldest joke in the world, but Barb hadn't heard it before, and he became so amused that he got physically excited and had to run back and forth across the kitchen several times to flame off energy. A few weeks ago, I would have been alarmed by this and would have tried to calm him down, but now I was used to it, and knew that if I approached him physically things would get much worse.
    • Part 4, "Anathem"
  • "Describe worrying," he went on.
    "What!?"
    "Pretend I'm someone who has never worried. I'm mystified. It don't get it. Tell me how to worry."
    "Well...I guess the first step is to envision a sequence of events as they might play out in the future."
    "But I do that all the time. And yet I don't worry."
    "It is a sequence of events with a bad end."
    "So, you're worried that a pink dragon will fly over the concent and fart nerve gas on us?"
    • Orolo and Erasmus, Part 4, "Anathem"
  • There’s no way to get from the point in Hemm space where we are now, to one that includes pink nerve-gas-farting dragons, following any plausible action principle. Which is really just a technical term for there being a coherent story joining one moment to the next. If you simply throw action principles out the window, you’re granting the world the freedom to wander anywhere in Hemm space, to any outcome, without constraint. It becomes pretty meaningless. The mind...knows that there is an action principle that governs how the world evolves from one moment to the next—that restricts our world’s path to points that tell an internally consistent story. So it focuses its worrying on outcomes that are more plausible...
    • Orolo and Erasmus, Part 4, "Anathem"
  • "I guess that people like to think they are not only living but propagating their way of life."
    "That's right. People have a need to feel that they are part of some sustainable project. Something that will go on without them. It creates a feeling of stability. I believe that the need for that kind of stability is as basic and as desperate as some of the other, more obvious needs. But there's more than one way to get it."
    • Orolo and Raz, Part 4, "Anathem"
  • “Give me an adventure. I’m not talking about some massive adventure. Just something that would make getting fired seem small. Something that I might remember when I’m old.”
    “I can’t predict the future,” I said, “but based on what little I know so far, I’m afraid it has to be a massive adventure or nothing.”
    “Great!”
    “Probably the kind of adventure that ends in a mass burial.”
    • Cord and Erasmus, Part 6, "Peregrin"
  • “Do you need transportation? Tools? Stuff?”
    "Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs. We have a protractor."
    “Okay, I’ll go home and see if I can scrounge up a ruler and a piece of string.”
    “That’d be great.”
    • Cord and Erasums, Part 6, "Peregrin"
  • The work that people did had been broken down into jobs that were the same every day, in organizations where people were interchangeable parts. All of the story had been bled out of their lives. That was how it had to be, it was how you got a productive economy.
    But it would be easy to see a will at work behind this: not exactly an evil will, but a selfish will. The people who'd made the system thus were jealous, not of money and not of power, but of story. If their employees came home with interesting stories to tell, it meant that something had gone wrong: a blackout, a strike, a spree killing.
    The Powers That Be would not suffer others to be in stories of their own unless they were fake stories that had been made up to motivate them. People who couldn't live without story...had to look somewhere outside of work for a feeling that they were part of a story, which I guessed was why Sæculars were so concerned with sports, and with religion. How else could you see yourself as part of an adventure?
    • Erasmus theorizing why others are joining his journey, Part 7, "Feral"
  • "He told us that a lone avout was being pursued by a mob. We saw it as an emergence."
    • Vale leader explains to Raz how they came to rescue him, Part 7, "Feral"
  • "Quantum interference—the crosstalk among similar quantum states—knits the different versions of your brain together."
    "You're saying that my consciousness extends across multiple cosmi," I said. "That's a pretty wild statement."
    "I'm saying all things do," Orolo said. "That comes with the polycosmic interpretation. The only thing exceptional about the brain is that it has found a way to use this."
    • Part 8, "Orithena"
  • Neither of us said a word as we picked our way down the path for the next quarter of an hour, and the sky receded to a deep violet. I had the illusion that, as it got darker, it moved away from us, expanding like a bubble, rushing away at a million light-years an hour, and as it whooshed past stars, we began to see them.
    • Part 8, "Orithena"
  • Tris was pudgy and not especially good looking, but she had the personality of a beautiful girl because she'd been raised in a math.
    • Part 10, "Messal." (A "math" is a co-ed academic/research monastery. Most of the novel takes place in maths.)
  • "I can hardly believe we are talking about a possibility so inconceivable as that other universes exist—and that the Geometers originate there!"
    In this, Zh'vaern seemed to speak for the entire table.
    Except for Jad. "The words fail. There is one universe, by the definition of universe. It is not the cosmos we see through our eyes and our telescopes—that is but a single Narrative, a thread winding through a Hemm space shared by many other Narratives besides ours. Each Narrative looks like a cosmos alone, to any consciousness that partakes of it. The Geometers came from other Narratives—until they came here, and joined ours."
    Having dropped this bomb, Fraa Jad excused himself, and went to the toilet.
    "What on earth is he going on about?" Fraa Lodoghir demanded. "It sounded like literary criticism!"
    • Part 10, "Messal"
  • Those who think through possible outcomes with discipline, forge connections, in so doing, to other cosmi in which those outcomes are more than mere possibilities. Such a consciousness is measurably, quantitatively different from one that has not undertaken the same work and so, yes, is able to make correct decisions in an Emergence where an untrained mind would be of little use.
    • Part 11, "Advent." Fraa Jad, on his polycosmic approach to problem-solving.
  • Much pruning had taken place in recent weeks. I am now absent in many versions of the cosmos where you are present.
    • Jad to Raz, Part 11, "Advent"
  • Yul had simply launched himself at the guy from some distance away, and body-checked him at full speed, stopping on a dime in midair as he transferred all of his energy into the target.
    "Conservation of momentum," he announced, "it's not just a good idea—it's the law!"
    • Yulassetar Crade removes a TV reporter in zero gravity, Part 12, "Requiem"
  • But in that we started so many things in that moment, we brought to their ends many others that have been the subject matter of this account, and so here is where I draw a line across the leaf and call it the end.
    • Final sentence of the novel, possibly addressing criticism of the author’s previous endings, Part 13, "Reconstitution"
  • bulshytt … Technical and clinical term denoting speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said. ...
    It is inherent in the mentality of extramuros bulshytt-talkers that they are more prone than anyone else to taking offense (or pretending to) when their bulshytt is pointed out to them. ... One is forced either to use this “offensive” word and be deemed a disagreeable person and as such excluded from polite discourse, or to say the same thing in a different way, which means becoming a purveyor of bulshytt oneself.... The latter quality probably explains the uncanny stability and resiliency of bulshytt.
    • Definition of "bulshytt," The Dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000
  • The expression can be traced to the Third Centennial Apert, when the gates of several Hundreder maths opened to reveal startling outcomes, e.g.: at Saunt Rambalf's, a mass suicide that had taken place only moments earlier. At Saunt Terramore's, nothing at all — not even human remains. At Saunt Byadin's, a previously unheard-of religious sect.... At Saunt Lesper's, no humans, but a previously undiscovered species of tree-dwelling higher primates.
    • From the definition of "to go Hundred," The Dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000 (Anathem's glossary)

Reamde (2011)[edit]

Part I: Nine Dragons[edit]

  • He kept flinching. The low sun shone in the face of a two-hundred-foot-tall wind turbine in the field across the crick, and its blades cast long scything shadows over them. … The sun above blinking on and off with each cut of a blade. … Something about their being in motion, in a place where everything else was almost pathologically still, seized the attention; they always seemed to be jumping out at you from behind corners.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • Though Richard’s Wikipedia entry had been quiet lately, in the past it had been turbulent with edit wars between mysterious people, known only by their IP addresses, who seemed to want to emphasize aspects of his life that now struck him as, while technically true, completely beside the point. Fortunately this had all happened after Dad had become too infirm to manipulate a mouse, but it didn’t stop younger Forthrasts.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • The young woman had turned toward him and thrust her pink gloves up in the air in a gesture that, from a man, meant “Touchdown!” and, from a woman, “I will hug you now!”
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • He could only conjecture what style pheromones Zula was throwing off to her peers, but to him it was a sort of hyperspace-librarian, girl-geek thing that he found clever and fetching without attracting him in a way that would have been creepy.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • But he was a quick study. An autodidact. Anything that was technical, that was logical, that ran according to rules, Peter could figure out. And knew it. Didn’t bother to ask for help. So much quicker to work it out on his own than suffer through someone’s well-meaning efforts to educate him—and to forge an emotional connection with him in so doing. There was something, somewhere, that he could do better than most people.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • Richard’s ex-girlfriends were long gone, but their voices followed him all the time and spoke to him, like Muses or Furies. It was like having seven superegos arranged in a firing squad before a single beleaguered id, making sure he didn’t enjoy that last cigarette.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • The girl in the passenger seat said she had never before been in “a car like this,” meaning, apparently, a sedan. Richard felt far beyond merely old.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • The Walmart was like a starship that had landed in the soybean fields. … They went inside. The young ones shuffled to a stop as their ironic sensibilities, which served them in lieu of souls, were jammed by a signal of overwhelming power.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • As a fantasy writer, he was not highly regarded (“one cannot call him profoundly mediocre without venturing so far out on the critical limb as to bend it to the ground,” “so derivative that the reader loses track of who he’s ripping off,” “to say he is tin-eared would render a disservice to a blameless citizen of the periodic table of the elements”).
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • Gold, he learned, was considered to be a reliable store of value because extracting it from the ground required a certain amount of effort that tended to remain stable over time. When new, easy-to-mine gold deposits were found, or new mining technologies developed, the value of gold tended to fall. It didn’t take a huge amount of acumen, then, to understand that the value of virtual gold in the game world could be made stable in a directly analogous way: namely, by forcing players to expend a certain amount of time and effort to extract a certain amount of virtual gold…
  • The opening screen of T’Rain was a frank rip-off of what you saw when you booted up Google Earth. Richard felt no guilt about this, since he had heard that Google Earth, in turn, was based on an idea from some old science-fiction novel.
    • Thanksgiving (prologue)
  • "Ha ha noob, you are pwned by troll. I have encrypt all your file. Leave 1000 GP at below coordinates and I give you key"
    • The REAMDE virus’ accompanying message, Day 1
  • “This isn’t the first. People have been making malware that does this for a few years now. There’s a word for it: ‘ransomware.’”
    • Day 1
  • Richard resumed reading the T’Rain Gazette, a daily newspaper (electronic format, of course)... which summarized what had been going on all over T’Rain during the preceding twenty-four hours:
    Notable achievements, wars, duels, sackings, mortality statistics, plagues, famines...untoward spikes in commodity prices.
    • Day 1
  • The “Meat” were there because of REAMDE, which had been present at background levels for several weeks now but that recently had pinballed through the elbow in its exponential growth curve and for about twelve hours had looked as though it might completely take over all computing power in the Universe, until its own size and rapid growth had caused it to run afoul of the sorts of real-world friction that always befell seemingly exponential phenomena and bent those hockey-stick graphs over into lazy S plots.
    • Day 1
  • “I don’t think you are actually retired,” Corvallis pointed out mildly.…
    “It’s a selective retirement,” Richard explained, “a retirement from boring shit.”
    “I think that’s called a promotion.”
    • Day 1
  • Sokolov put the odds at 100 percent that Peter would, sooner or later, do something stupid and cause enormous trouble. Peter would do this because he believed he was clever and because he thought only of himself. It would be safer to take him out and shoot him now, but disposing of the body would be difficult and the shock of it would probably disturb the equilibrium of Zula.
    • Day 2
  • Waging war on his enemies had been Sokolov’s habit and his profession for a long time, but being chivalrous to everyone else was simply a basic tenet of having your shit together as a human and as a man.
    • Day 2
  • Now he was far from bored but feeling many of the same stresses that had caused him to retire from active duty in the first place. Was it possible to find a station in life with just the right level of interest? Was it possible to be normal without being someone’s dupe?
    • Sokolov, Day 2
  • This was always the hard part. If you knew what was normal to the enemy, then everything became easy: you could lull them to sleep by feeding them normal, and you could scare the hell out of them by suddenly taking normal away. But normal to Afghans and Chechens was so different from normal to Russians that it took a bit of work for a man like Sokolov to establish what it was.
    • Day 2
  • Don Donald was clearly accustomed to addressing people whose only way of responding was to nod worshipfully and take notes. He did not, in other words, leave a lot of breaks in his testimony to allow for discussion. For the moment, that was fine, since it made it easier for Richard to drink.
    • Day 2
  • “There is nearly always a chthonic link. The object-imbued-with-numinous-power tends to be of mineral origin: gold, perhaps mined from a special vein, or a jewel of extraordinary rarity, or a sword forged from a shooting star. I am merely describing pulp. But the vast popularity…attests to the power of these motifs to seize the reader’s attention, down at the level of the reptilian brain, even as the cerebrum is getting sick.”
    • Donald Cameron, flashback to development of T'Rain, Day 2
  • Men always made crude jokes about people pissing their pants with fear, but in Sokolov’s experience, shitting the pants was more common if it was a straightforward matter of extreme emotional stress. Pants pissing was completely unproductive and suggested a total breakdown of elemental control. Pants shitting, on the other hand, voided the bowels and thereby made blood available to the brain and the large muscle groups that otherwise would have gone to the lower-priority activity of digestion. Sokolov could have forgiven Peter for shitting his pants, but if he had pissed his pants, then it really would have been necessary to get rid of him.
    • Day 2
  • “Why do they believe that?”
    “Because we are hackers,” Csongor said, “and they have seen movies.”
    • Day 4
  • In the whole world, there might have been as many as ten thousand people who were better than Sokolov at falling and rolling around on hard surfaces. Circus acrobats and aikido masters, mostly. Also included in that group would have been many of the younger Spetsnaz men. The remaining six billion or so living humans did not even enter the picture.
    • Day 4
  • …he had found an image of one of the big Western-style business hotels along the waterfront: one of those places where it was possible to be a white person without attracting one’s own personal Stonehenge of cataleptic, openmouthed gapers.
    • Xiamen, Day 4
  • Hungary, severed from half of the population and most of the natural resources that it had once claimed, had now to practice a sort of economic acupuncture, striving to know the magic nodes in the global energy flow where a pinprick could alter the workings of a major organ. Mathematics was one of the few disciplines where it was possible to exert that degree of leverage, and so the Hungarians had become phenomenally good at teaching it to their children.
    • Day 4
  • That, as far as she could tell, was the purpose of the religion she had been brought up in: It made people feel better when really horrible things happened, and it offered a repertoire of ceremonies that were used to add a touch of class to such goings-on as shacking up with someone and throwing dirt on a corpse.
    • Day 4

Part II: American Falls[edit]

  • But Richard had already gone the cop route and found it not nearly as productive as driving around with a sledgehammer and retaining the services of men with oxyacetylene torches.
    • Day 6
  • One way to be strong was to be knowledgeable. In so many areas, it was not possible to be knowledgeable without getting a Ph.D. and doing a postdoc. Guns and hunting provided an out for men who wanted to be know-it-alls but who couldn’t afford to spend the first three decades of their lives getting up to speed on quantum mechanics or oncology.
    • Day 8
  • “Welcome to the GWOJ.”
    “GWOJ?”
    “Global War on Jones.”
    • Day 15
  • This was part of Corporation 9592’s strategy; they had hired psychologists, invested millions in a project to sabotage movies—yes, the entire medium of cinema—to get their customers/players/addicts into a state of mind where they simply could not focus on a two-hour-long chunk of filmed entertainment without alarm bells going off in their medullas telling them that they needed to log on to T’Rain and see what they were missing.
    • Day 15
  • “Is this a real blue-collar bar or a simulacrum thereof?”
    “Both. It started out as a pure simulacrum, a few years ago, before the economy crashed, when it was hip for twentysomethings to move down here and dress in Carhartts and Utilikilts. But they did such a good job of it that actual blue-collar people began to show up. And then the economy did crash, and the hip people discovered that they were, in actual point of fact, blue collar, and probably always would be. So you’ve got guys here who run lathes. But they have colored Mohawks and college degrees, and they program the lathes in computer languages. I was trying to come up with a name for them. Cerulean-collar workers, maybe.”
    “Do a lot of people stop by here on their way to the private jet terminal?”
    “You’d be surprised.”
    • Day 17, Seattle
  • There was a common saying in the biz/tech world that “A's hire A's, and B's hire C's,” the point being that as long as you continued to recruit only the very best people, they would attract others, but as soon as you let your standards slip, the second-raters would begin to seine up third-raters to act as their minions and advance their agendas.
    • Day 18 (This saying was popularized by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his "Rumsfeld's Rules" document, dating back to his tenure on the Ford Administration transition team.)
  • She…cast an eye over the contents of his cart, wondering whether this was totally random stuff…to perfect his Walmart shopper disguise: 5.56-millimeter cartridges, a water purification device, jerky, bug repellent, a camouflage hat. Freeze-dried meals. A roll of black plastic sheeting. Parachute cord. Batteries. A folding bucksaw. Camouflage binoculars.…
    It turned out that Sokolov really did want to buy all that stuff. Not because he envisioned any particular use for it. He just believed in stocking up on such things, on general principles, whenever an opportunity presented itself.
    He would fit in well here.
    • Day 20, Northern Idaho
  • This was probably rooted in a belief that had been inculcated to him from the get-go: that there was an objective reality, which all people worth talking to could observe and understand, and that there was no point in arguing about anything that could be so observed and so understood. As long as you made a point of hanging out exclusively with people who had the wit to see and to understand that objective reality, you didn’t have to waste a lot of time talking. When a thunderstorm was headed your way across the prairie, you took the washing down from the line and closed the windows. It wasn’t necessary to have a meeting about it. The sales force didn’t need to get involved.
    • Day 20
  • By this point he had seen enough of them to know that they were cooler under pressure, and better to be within a tight spot, than 999 out of 1,000 women. But their presence obliged him to divert a significant fraction of his attention into being considerate of their needs, responding to their inquiries, and keeping them alive.
    • Day 21

External links[edit]

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Nonfiction articles by Neal Stephenson, published online[edit]

Short fiction by Neal Stephenson, published online[edit]