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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Some Remarks

Neal Stephenson

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To purchase Some Remarks

Title: Some Remarks
Author: Neal Stephenson
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2012)
Length: 324 pages
Availability: Some Remarks - US
Some Remarks - UK
Some Remarks - Canada
Some Remarks - India

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Our Assessment:

B : decent grab-bag collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly B- 1/8/2012 Darren Franich
LA Rev. of Books . 7/8/2012 Norman Spinrad

  From the Reviews:
  • "This slim collection Some Remarks is a good entry into the relentless mind of the autodidactic writer" - Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

  • "So, in a conventional sense, what we have here is an incoherent and unbalanced mess of a collection that seems to have been thrown together out of the contents of Neal Stephenson’s electronic trunk, with apparently no editorial consideration of what readership it is supposed to appeal to. In a less conventional sense, however, intentionally or not, it can be read as a kind of intellectual autobiography of Neal Stephenson, with the targeted readership being the fans and devotees of his total oeuvre, which, the publisher seems to have judged according to Stephenson’s Introduction, is large enough to make it commercially viable. And in that sense, it is literarily quite successful too." - Norman Spinrad, Los Angeles Review of Books

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Some Remarks collects some twenty years worth of stray pieces by Neal Stephenson, from interviews to his Foreword to David Foster Wallace's Everything and More to the lengthy report, Mother Earth, Mother Board, and even a bit of fiction (including just the first sentence of: "a thriller that I will never complete"). Almost all the contents have been previously published -- though Stephenson notes that some have been edited (some more than others) --; many are freely available online.
       Stephenson is basically a novelist -- and one who writes big, fat, involuted novels at that. Almost all these pieces are very much incidental work -- op-eds, a lecture, an introduction to a book, responses to questions posed on Slashdot, etc. --, many just offering commentary on a specific topic; in other words, most of these pieces were very much written on the side. It makes for a selection closer to eclectic than just varied, though obviously focused on his main areas of interest (but then those are pretty varied too). They range from the first piece (new and previously unpublished), "Arsebestos", in which he -- a fresh convert -- enthuses about the benefits of walking while working (treadmill at the desk) and warns of the health-dangers of prolonged sitting, to a lament about contemporary "Innovation Starvation".
       Two pieces that were larger projects for Wired magazine also find place here. One, "In the Kingdom of Mao Bell", has been cut down to size, Stephenson explaining: "many of the remarks that, at the time, I thought of as insights have now become either bromides or simply been proven wrong" (see the original here). The other is Mother Earth, Mother Board, a quite fascinating tour of what goes into laying undersea fiber-optic cables (with all sorts of historic, scientific, and engineering details helpfully padding the account). While an interesting piece, "Mother Earth, Mother Board" also stands very much apart from the others in the collection -- for one, simply because of its sheer size: at almost 120 pages, it is by far the longest piece in the book. Arguably, readers would be better served if it had been severed from the collection and presented as a stand-alone (add a few photographs and diagrams and it would make a nice little book). Presumably, it was felt the rest of the collection might not appear quite substantial enough without it, and maybe it really would have appeared a bit thin; still, the big piece feels rather out of place here.
       Even if most of these pieces have a slightly off-hand feel to them -- a feeling Stephenson reinforces by his self-deprecating humor and repeated I'm-no-expert claims (he bills himself as "a sort of Idiot Savant" for his Gresham College Lecture) -- there's obvious passion (which can also feel slightly odd, as in that piece on "Arsebestos") and a consistent thoughtfulness to his writing. It may not make much of a coherent whole, but there's a large amount of interesting material throughout Some Remarks. It does, however, probably lend itself to more casual reading -- dipping in and out of it -- rather than the cover-to-cover immersion that is the preferable way of enjoying his novels.

- M.A.Orthofer, 30 August 2012

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Some Remarks: Reviews: Neal Stephenson: Other Books by Neal Stephenson under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Neal Stephenson was born in 1959. After his novel about academia, The Big U, he wrote "the Eco-thriller" Zodiac and then began writing true science fiction, with which he has had great success.

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