It’s not often I meet a book that really, really bowls me over: possibly the first was Robert A Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land; then came his Time Enough for Love, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Lord of the Rings – all in the same year.
Roger Zelazny mesmerised me next, with Lord of Light, then Larry Niven’s Ringworld – all in the 1970s, mind you – and then there was a gap. Of years.
There has been a revolution in recent times, that’s every bit as profound as the New Wave of the early 70s: it’s the advent of hard science fiction writers who can really write, and are doing so superlatively well.
One such is Neal Stephenson: I first read stories by him in collections; then came Snowcrash – and I was hooked. Little did I know, however, that Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle series followed…and that I would be swept away on a tide of such well-imagined fantasy, that it was hard to surface – and I never wanted it to stop. U-boats, strange gold, cryptography, Alan Turing, Isaac Newton, and what amounts to magical realism reinterpreted.
Now he’s written another insanely good blockbuster, called Anathem. I have a particular fascination for the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics – and Stephenson explores the concept so well, with such a well constructed back story, that I wanted the story to run, and run, and run.