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