The Confusion

This volume contains two novels, Bonanza and Juncto, that take place concurrently during the span 1689-1702. Rather than present one, then the other… I have interleaved sections of one with sections of the other so that the two stories move forward in synchrony. It is hoped that being thus con-fused shall render them less confusing to the Reader.
–Neal Stephenson.

Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
–The Timeshredder

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a yo-yo
–Enoch Root

General Information

Title: The Confusion (Book 2 of The Baroque Cycle).

Author: Neil Stephenson

Original Publication Date: 2004

ISBN: 0-06-052386-7

Buy from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca

Cover Price (hardcover) $24.95 U.S. $39.95 Canadian. Special deals and some used may be had from Amazon.

Premise:

In the late 17th century, characters from Quicksilver (ancestors of characters in Cryptonomicon) enjoy swashbuckling adventures while conspiring to bring about the Modern WorldTM.

High Points

Jack’s better adventures: his escape in Ahmadabad, and the voyage of the Minerva, for example.

Low Points:

Waaaaaaaaay too many too-long didactic conversations, which at times become Socratic dialogues. Stephenson deliberately parodies the tendency in places; it still doesn’t redeem them.

The Waterhouse/Natural Philosophy sections don’t integrate so well into the plot as they do in Quicksilver

The Scores

Originality: 4/6

Story: 4/6 Stephenson will write brilliantly for pages, evoking the passage of the sea-voyage or describing the politics of Versaille, and then suddenly rush through key plot elements. That anyone could juggle so many elements without having the book implode is impressive, but, as in Quicksilver, I kept feeling that I was reading an earlier draft of a better book.

Characterization: 4/6 Stephenson peoples this book with deliberately over-the-top creations. The key figures are memorable, and Halfcock Jack and Eliza get to grow a little over the years. Overall, however, there’s little depth to most of the characters in this novel. The secondary figures remain especially one and two-dimensional. He’s done better elsewhere, even in Quicksilver.

Imagery: 5/6 The novel’s better chapters give a good sense of the era, underneath the exaggerated swashbuckling and deliberately anachronistic dialogue.

Emotional Response: 4/6 This varies quite a bit. Stephenson can be hilarious at times, but a book this lengthy would do better to explore a wider range of emotions. The serious moments– if that’s what they were supposed to be– generally don’t play.

Editing: 4/6. The novel (pair of novels? One-third of a novel?) improves as it progresses (though it slows down a little in the middle), but remains as uneven as its predecessor.

Overall Score: 4/6.

In total, The Confusion receives 29/42

8 replies on “The Confusion”

  1. frunkee says:

    My current Aggravation
    I just finished up The Confusion, which I thought was significantly better than Quicksilver. I thought Quicksilver dragged horrendously, and although The Confusion suffers from similar problems they were muted. At least this one didn’t have the ridiculously long letters written by Eliza, only a few couple pagers. It felt like both books could have benefited from some serious editing.

    The thing that bugs me is the contrast that I see between this series and Cryptonomicon. In Cryptonomicon my favorite passages were the Waterhouse sections, both historical and present day, while the Shaftoe sections were entertaining but didn’t capture my interest the same way. The Baroque Cycle is quite the opposite. It isn’t that the Shaftoe bits have gotten better but that the Waterhouse story is dreadfully dull for the most part.

    I’m a few pages into The System of the World and it has been all Waterhouse so far. Despite this I’m enjoying it, so I hold out hope.

    • iawia says:

      Re: My current Aggravation

      I’m a few pages into The System of the World and it has been all Waterhouse so far. Despite this I’m enjoying it, so I hold out hope.

      Having just last night finished with System of the World, I found this to be the best book of the trilogy. The pace is a lot faster, and the different threads (Eliza/Jack, Waterhouse/Newton/Leibniz) come together into one story line.

      In fact, for the last 600 pages (or so) this book was, for me, a real page-turner. The previous two installments, while very much enjoyable, weren’t written in a way that urged me to read on, but SotW rather cut into my sleeping time.

      One thing I’m missing in the review here is that I found the link with Cryptonomicon to be much tighter that I had expected. It’s not only the main characters that return, but also a lot of secondary ones, and all the premier places the story takes place (outside of London, Paris and Hannover, of cource).

      For example Randy in Cryptonomicon goes to Queena-Koota, and end up in a bar with stuff from the Minerva (and the name Van Hoek mentioned, if I recall correctly). He also notices a mountain there that has been removed, that was named after a certain Lady. It goes on and on!

      • white.roses says:

        Re: My current Aggravation

        For example Randy in Cryptonomicon goes to Queena-Koota, and end up in a bar with stuff from the Minerva (and the name Van Hoek mentioned, if I recall correctly). He also notices a mountain there that has been removed, that was named after a certain Lady. It goes on and on!

        OK, now I’ll have to pick up Crypto again.

        I started SoTW (got about 100 pages in), but then Going Postal came home with my wife, so I’m reading that. I needed a little break from the Cycle, as I had re-read Confusion just before starting SoTW (I should have just Cliff-noted it, rather than re-reading – these are seriously dense works).

        • Timeshredder says:

          Re: My current Aggravation

          One of the things about this trilogy is that it will have me re-reading Crypto once I finish the third book. However, I have some other reading to do first.

        • iawia says:

          Re: My current Aggravation

          I started SoTW (got about 100 pages in), but then Going Postal came home with my wife, so I’m reading that. I needed a little break from the Cycle, as I had re-read Confusion just before starting SoTW (I should have just Cliff-noted it, rather than re-reading – these are seriously dense works).

          It’s all in the timing… I received SotW together with Going Postal, so I knew the Pratchett had to be read first.

          Of course, I had to stop reading SotW for a few days to complete One More* (with footnotes) (a Pratchett short story collection) but that is the only break I made. This is in contrast with the two earlier books in The Baroque Cycle, both of which I intermingled (of should I say ‘Con-fused’?) with other books when the story slowed down a bit.

  2. y42 says:

    syphilis (maybe spoily)
    I really thought Jack died at the end of Quicksilver, at least I thought he would die chained to an oar. He and his syphilitic visions were getting on my nerves, but I really enjoyed his adventures in Confusion and System…

    But, isn’t his recovery from syphilis a little… far fetched?

    • iawia says:

      Re: syphilis (maybe spoily)

      But, isn’t his recovery from syphilis a little… far fetched?

      It is explained in The Confusion. Apperently there is a theory that says that syphilis can be cured by prolonged fever.

      See here for Stephenson’s own explanation.

      • y42 says:

        Re: syphilis (maybe spoily)

        But, isn’t his recovery from syphilis a little… far fetched?

        It is explained in The Confusion. Apperently there is a theory that says that syphilis can be cured by prolonged fever.

        See here for Stephenson’s own explanation.

        Ah, thanks. I read the whole cycle, I just didn’t think it was possible to get over siphilys, especially once you’re deep in the third stage of the disease.

Comments are closed.