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Archive for July, 2010

Neal Stephenson’s “The Big U”

Posted by samgr on July 20, 2010

Thought I might try to get back into the swing of things with some reviews.

I recently finished “The Big U” by Neal Stephenson.  I understand that Stephenson is not very proud of this book, but I enjoyed it.  If anything, I was just a little surprised by  how dark and cynical it is.

It’s a satire of university life, where the university in question is based very loosely on BU; it’s basically BU if everyone lived in a nightmarish dystopian version of Warren Towers.

So we follow a bunch of mostly likable — if pathetic — characters through their travails.  And things get odder and odder until a full-scale civil war erupts in the university, and there are giant radioactive rats running all over the place.  It’s all very imaginative and well put-together, even if it’s ultimately kind of unclear what the point is besides the fact that Neal Stephenson must had a dreadful time at BU.

But lots of neat ideas, from early mention of the similarities between pipe organs and computers — which Stephenson goes into great length about in the Cryptonomicon — to great creepy scenes of drug-blasted bros in their dorms worshiping an obvious analog of the Citgo sign.  I would recommend it for the quality of the writing no matter how scattered it is.

Also, I’ve still never actually read “Gormenghast” — tried a few times without success — but “The Big U” seems a bit like what you’d get if you applied sort of the “Gormenghast” approach — big and exaggerated, decaying, and a bit anachronistic — to a University setting, which is interesting, and something I’ve thought about.

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