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Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
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Volume Two of the Baroque Cycle

A-ConfusionJack Shaftoe, "King of the London Vagabonds," leads a team of mutinous galley slaves in a daring heist of Spanish silver. Their fortune secured, Jack and his crew embark on an odyssey that takes them from Egypt to England, via sundry ports in between. Meanwhile, Jack’s amour, the Countess de la Zeur, charms and manipulates her way through Louis XIV’s France in an effort to shelter her illegitimate infant son from harm. The Confusion is an old-fashioned love story wrapped in a dense treatise on the scientific and financial developments of the 17th century.
Morrow. 815 pages. $27.95.
ISBN: 0060523867

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Stephenson doesn’t disappoint those who look to him for fascinating, potentially apocryphal digressions into matters of historical or scientific interest. … In its complexity, as well as the way it creates a vibrant fantasy world (which only happens to be this world’s distant past), the Baroque Cycle is one of the closest analogues to The Lord of the Rings trilogy we’re likely to come across." Marc Mohan

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Stephenson] sacrifices nothing of his postmodern sensibility, but he occasionally adopts the extended phrases, archaic spelling and italicized emphasis of Daniel Defoe, John Cleland and their contemporaries, creating a theatrical richness that perfectly suits the complicated intrigues and exotic milieus through which Jack and Eliza must maneuver. … a dazzlingly orderly display of meaningful intricacy." Nisi Shawl

Denver Post 3 of 5 Stars
"[T]oo often Stephenson’s love of the Baroque era and all of its marvels bogs down the narrative. … Just as with Quicksilver, The Confusion is unparalleled geek literature—deeply moving, painfully detailed, replete with big laughs and packed with hyperkinetic adventure." Eric S. Elkins

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"This rich historical setting allows Stephenson the opportunity to explore the concept of mutability in its many forms—how alchemists seek to make gold from lead, how slave traders turn human suffering into wealth, how mathematicians use geometry to devise the calculus." Michael Berry

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"[Science fiction writers] fasten onto those aspects of the present that most arouse their curiosity—in Stephenson’s case, computers and modern finance—and treat them as historical inevitabilities. Thus characters in The Confusion sound a little like talking figures in an Epcot Center diorama, as if totally aware of their contributions to posterity and humankind." Stephen Metcalf

Plain Dealer 1.5 of 5 Stars
"There is a story, somewhere, in The Confusion, but it is so smothered in ornament, discursion and detail that it’s often impossible to see what unifies the whole." John Alden

Critical Summary

This "con-fusion" of two distinct novels (Juncto and Bonanza), alternating between Jack and Eliza’s stories, is a must-read for Stephenson fans. Though neither entry in the Baroque Cycle (including Volume 1, The Quickening, 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2003) has impressed the critics as much as some of Stephenson’s previous work, The Confusion proves his narrative skills are still in fine shape. Casual readers beware: many critics feel the lengthy scientific and historical digressions, however well researched and explicated, tend to hold up the story. If the book suffers from an information glut or stylistic terseness, then it is the cracking plot and rich milieu of the Baroque world that set the ship right.

Also by the Author

AS-SnowCrashSnow Crash | Neal Stephenson (1992): In the not-too-distant future, hacker and samurai swordsman Hiro Protagonist must track down a computer virus that affects humans.

AS-CryptonomiconCryptonomicon | Neal Stephenson (1999): A massive, 918-page epic with conspiracies that cross generations—from the code-breakers fighting the Nazis during World War II to the software geeks creating offshore data havens in present-day.