Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, Zodiac, and Anathem.
From a Q & A about Quicksilver at his publisher's website:
Quicksilver includes some of the most important events and people during a crucial nexus between historical eras. What compelled you to write about this particular time period?According to Charlie Jane Anders of io9, Neal Stephenson is one of the twenty biggest science fiction movers-and-shakers.
Around the time that I was closing in on the end of Cryptonomicon, I heard from a couple of different people about some interesting things having to do with Isaac Newton and with Gottfried Leibniz. One person pointed out to me that Newton had spent about the last 30 years of his life working at the mint, which was interesting to me. In Cryptonomicon there was a lot of stuff about money, so I had been thinking about money anyway.
The other related thing that I bumped into about the same time — I was reading a book by George Dyson, called Darwin Among the Machines. He talked a little bit about the work of Leibniz with computers. He arguably was the founder of symbolic logic and he worked with computing machines. I found it striking at a time when I was already working on a book about money and a book about computers that there were these two people 300 years ago who were quite interested in the same topics. And not only that, but they had this big, famous rivalry that supposedly was about which of them had invented the calculus first, although it was really about a lot more than that.
I began to do a bit of reading about that era and immediately got excited about it because so many things were happening all at once during that time period. So, I decided that as soon as I got done with Cryptonomicon, I would turn all my efforts towards trying to write a historical piece set during that era.
So how does the high Baroque era relate to the Enlightenment, for those of us who are historically challenged?
I didn't really have a good grip on this either, and still don't, but it appears that the Enlightenment refers to a bunch of stuff that was triggered by a lot of thinkers who were active during the late 17th century. Work that was done by the Royal Society and other natural philosophers of the time, combined with other currents in politics and religion, led to this later thing called the Enlightenment, more of an 18th century phenomenon. It doesn't really enter in to the book that I'm writing here.
The Enlightenment, though it sounds really good, is and should be a...[read on]