Neal Stephenson

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Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson 2008 crop.jpg
Stephenson at Science Foo Camp 2008
Born Neal Town Stephenson
(1959-10-31) October 31, 1959 (age 54)
Fort Meade, Maryland, United States
Pen name Stephen Bury
(with J. Frederick George)
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, essayist
Nationality American
Period 1984–present
Genre Speculative fiction, historical fiction, essays
Literary movement cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, maximalism
Website
nealstephenson.com

Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer and game designer known for his works of speculative fiction.

His novels have been variously categorized as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and "postcyberpunk." Other labels, such as "baroque," often appear.

Stephenson explores subjects such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired.

He has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system, and is also a cofounder of Subutai Corporation, whose first offering is the interactive fiction project The Mongoliad. He has also written novels with his uncle, George Jewsbury ("J. Frederick George"), under the collective pseudonym Stephen Bury.

Life[edit]

Born on October 31, 1959 in Fort Meade, Maryland,[1] Stephenson came from a family of engineers and scientists; his father is a professor of electrical engineering while his paternal grandfather was a physics professor. His mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, and her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1960 and then in 1966 to Ames, Iowa. He graduated from Ames High School in 1977.[2]

Stephenson studied at Boston University,[2] first specializing in physics, then switching to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe.[3] He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in geography and a minor in physics.[2] Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family.[2]

Career[edit]

Discussing Anathem at MIT in 2008

Stephenson's first novel, The Big U, published in 1984, was a satirical take on life at American Megaversity, a vast, bland and alienating research university beset by chaotic riots.[4][5] His next novel, Zodiac (1988), was a thriller following the exploits of a radical environmentalist protagonist in his struggle against corporate polluters.[4] Neither novel attracted much critical attention on first publication, but showcased concerns that Stephenson would further develop in his later work.[4] The Big U went out of print until 2001, when Stephenson allowed it to be republished after realizing that this book that he considered inferior to his others was being sold at inflated prices for used copies because of its scarcity and collectors' value.[citation needed]

Stephenson's breakthrough came in 1992 with Snow Crash,[5] a comic [6] novel in the late cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk tradition fusing memetics, computer viruses, and other high-tech themes with Sumerian mythology, along with a sociological extrapolation of laissez-faire capitalism and collectivism. Snow Crash can be considered to be the first expression of Stephenson's mature style. Stephenson at this time would later be described by Mike Godwin as "a slight, unassuming grad-student type whose soft-spoken demeanor gave no obvious indication that he had written the manic apotheosis of cyberpunk science fiction."[7] In 1994, Stephenson joined with his uncle, J. Frederick George, to publish a political thriller, Interface, under the pen name "Stephen Bury";[8] they followed this in 1996 with The Cobweb.

Stephenson's next solo novel, published in 1995, was The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, which introduced many of today's real world technological discoveries. Seen back then as futuristic, Stephenson's novel has broad range universal self-learning nanotechnology, dynabooks, extensive modern technologies, robotics, cybernetics and cyber cities. Weapons implanted in characters' skulls, near limitless replicators for everything from mattresses to foods, smartpaper, air and blood-sanitizing nanobots, set in a grim future world of limited resources populated by hard edged survivalists, an amalgamation hero is accidentally conceptualized by a few powerful and wealthy creatives, programmers and hackers.

This was followed by Cryptonomicon in 1999, a novel concerned with concepts ranging from computing and Alan Turing's research into codebreaking and cryptography during the Second World War at Bletchley Park, to a modern attempt to set up a data haven. It has subsequently been reissued in three separate volumes in some countries, including in French and Spanish translations. In 2013, Cryptonomicon won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award.

The Baroque Cycle, Stephenson's next novel, is a series of long historical novels set in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is in some respects a prequel to Cryptonomicon. It was originally published in three volumes of two or three books each – Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004) and The System of the World (2004) – but was subsequently republished as eight separate books: Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds, Odalisque, Bonanza, Juncto, Solomon's Gold, Currency, and System of the World. (The titles and exact breakdown varies in different markets.) The System of the World won the Prometheus Award in 2005.

Following this, Stephenson published a novel titled Anathem (2008), a very long and detailed work, perhaps best described as speculative fiction. It is set in an Earthlike world (perhaps in an alternative reality), deals with metaphysics, and refers heavily to Ancient Greek philosophy, while at the same time being a complex commentary on the insubstantiality of today's society.

In May 2010, the Subutai Corporation, of which Stephenson was named chairman, announced the production of an experimental multimedia fiction project called The Mongoliad, which centered around a narrative written by Stephenson and other speculative fiction authors.[9][10]

REAMDE, a novel, was released on September 20, 2011.[11] The title is a play on the common filename README. This thriller, set in the present, centers around a group of MMORPG developers caught in the middle of Chinese cyber-criminals, Islamic terrorists, and Russian mafia.[12]

On August 7, 2012, Stephenson released a collection of essays and other previously published fiction entitled Some Remarks : Essays and Other Writing.[13] This collection also includes a new essay and a short story created specifically for this volume.

In 2012 Stephenson launched a Kickstarter campaign for CLANG, a realistic swordfighting fantasy game. The game uses motion control to provide an immersive experience. The game will contain a distinctive world and plotline. The campaign's funding goal of $500,000 was reached by the target date of July 9, 2012 on Kickstarter, but funding options remained open and were still taking contributions to the project on their official site.[14] The project ran out of money in September 2013.[15] This, and the circumstances around it, has angered some backers.[16] There has even been talk, among the backers, of a potential class action lawsuit.[17] The project to develop the game ended in September 2014 without the game being completed. Stephenson took part of the responsibility for the project's failure, stating that "I probably focused too much on historical accuracy and not enough on making it sufficiently fun to attract additional investment".[18]

Stephenson is currently working on a multi-volume work, that will "have a lot to do with scientific and technological themes and how those interact with the characters and civilisation during a particular span of history". He expects the first two volumes to be released in mid-to-late 2014.[19]

Non-fiction[edit]

The science fiction approach doesn't mean it's always about the future;
it's an awareness that this is different.

– Neal Stephenson, September 1999[20]

Stephenson has also written non-fiction. In The Beginning Was The Command Line, an essay on operating systems including the histories of and relationships between DOS, Windows, Linux, and BeOS from both cultural and technical viewpoints and focusing especially on the development of the Graphical User Interface, was published in book form in 2000.[5] Various other essays have been published in magazines such as Wired.

With the 2003 publication of Quicksilver, Applied Minds debuted The Metaweb, an online wiki annotating the ideas and historical period explored in the novel. The project was influenced by the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, and its content included annotations from Stephenson himself.[21]

Style[edit]

In his earlier novels Stephenson deals heavily in pop culture-laden metaphors and imagery and in quick, hip dialogue, as well as in extended narrative monologues. The tone of his books is generally more irreverent and less serious than that of previous cyberpunk novels, notably those of William Gibson.

Stephenson at the Starship Century Symposium at UCSD in 2013

Stephenson's books tend to have elaborate, inventive plots drawing on numerous technological and sociological ideas at the same time. This distinguishes him from other mainstream science fiction authors who tend to focus on a few technological or social changes in isolation from others. The discursive nature of his writing, together with significant plot and character complexity and an abundance of detail suggests a baroque writing style, which Stephenson brought fully to bear in the three-volume Baroque Cycle.[22] His book The Diamond Age follows a simpler plot but features "neo-Victorian" characters and employs Victorian-era literary conceits. In keeping with the baroque style, Stephenson's books have become longer as he has gained recognition. For example, the paperback editions of Cryptonomicon are over eleven hundred pages long[23] with the novel containing various digressions, including a lengthy erotic story about antique furniture and stockings.

Works[edit]

Stephenson at the National Book Festival in 2004

Novels[edit]

Short fiction[edit]

Other fiction projects[edit]

  • Project Hieroglyph, founded in 2011, administered by Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination since 2012. Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, ed. Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer, which includes contributions by Stephenson, was published by William Morrow in September, 2014.

Non-fiction[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fisher, Lawrence M. (April 17, 1994). "SOUND BYTES; Orwell – Class of 1994". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d Stephenson, Neal. "Biography". Neal Stephenson's Site (MobileMe). Archived from the original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Neal Stephenson – Biography". ElectricInca.com. Retrieved August 7, 2010. "He began his higher education as a physics major, then switched to geography when it appeared that this would enable him to scam more free time on his university's mainframe computer." 
  4. ^ a b c Booker, M Keith; Thomas, Anne-Marie, eds. (2009). "Neal Stephenson (1959–)". The Science Fiction Handbook. Chichester, UK ; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 173. ISBN 1-4051-6205-8. OCLC 263498124. 
  5. ^ a b c Grassian, Daniel (2003). "From modernists to Gen Xers". Hybrid fictions: American fiction and Generation X. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-0-7864-1632-5. OCLC 52565833. 
  6. ^ Westfahl, Gary (2005). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, Vol. 3. Greenwood Publishing. p. 1235. ISBN 0-313-32953-2. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  7. ^ Godwin, Mike (February 2005). "Neal Stephenson's Past, Present, and Future". Reason (Reason Foundation). Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Neal Stephenson: Cryptomancer". Locus Online. August 1, 1999. Retrieved August 7, 2010. "...a thriller written in collaboration with his uncle, George Jewsbury, under pseudonym Stephen Bury..." 
  9. ^ Eaton, Kit (May 26, 2010). "The Mongoliad App: Neal Stephenson's Novel of the Future?". Fast Company. Retrieved July 4, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Subutai Corporation – Team". subutai.mn (Subutai Corporation). Retrieved August 7, 2010. "Neal Stephenson, Chairman" 
  11. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (July 14, 2009). "Neal Stephenson Gets Half A Million Dollars, But Did He Have To Switch Genres To Get It?". io9. Gawker Media. Retrieved August 7, 2010. 
  12. ^ "reamdeDescription". 
  13. ^ Upcoming4.me. "New Neal Stephenson book Some Remarks announced!". Upcoming4.me. Retrieved June 26, 2012. 
  14. ^ Twitter / subutaicorp: @LordBronco We're still taking. Twitter.com. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  15. ^ Famous Kickstarter Turns Into Complete Disaster. Kotaku.com. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  16. ^ THUD: Development Of Neal Stephenson’s CLANG Halted. Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  17. ^ Neal Stephenson Says His Dream Of Making A Video Game Isn't Dead | Kotaku Australia. Kotaku.com.au. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  18. ^ Stephenson, Neal (19 September 2014). "Final Update". CLANG by Subutai Corporation. Kickstarter. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  19. ^ Kelion, Leo. (2013-09-17) BBC News - Neal Stephenson on tall towers and NSA cyber-spies. Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  20. ^ Catherine, Asaro (September 1999). "A Conversation With Neal Stephenson". SF Site. Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  21. ^ McClellan, Jim (November 4, 2004). "Neal Stephenson – the interview". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  22. ^ Giuffo, John (October 1, 2004). "Book Capsule Review: The System of the World". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. Retrieved September 22, 2008. 
  23. ^ ex: Stephenson, Neal (1999). Cryptonomicon. Avon Books. pp. 1152 p. ISBN 978-0-06-051280-4. 
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h Kelly, Mark R. "The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees". Locusmag.com (Locus Publications). Retrieved January 18, 2011. 
  25. ^ William Morrow. Harpercollinscatalogs.com. Retrieved on 2014-01-14.
  26. ^ [1]. Graal.com.pl. Retrieved on 2014-08-13.

External links[edit]