by Laura Davis
One of the great things about going to a book signing is hearing the opinions and insights of other fans. So, when I went to Skylight Books in Los Angeles on Wednesday night for Neal Stephenson’s signing, I sat quietly, notebook in hand, and listened.
The guy in front of me remarked, “When I read the reviews and stuff for the Baroque Cycle, it talked a lot about pirates. I like pirates, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I start reading, I’m going along, and I’m thinking, ‘where are the freekin pirates?’ Eventually, I got to them and I loved the books, but I had to go back and re-read them.”
Another fan chimed in, “Yeah, it takes about the first 300 pages to get where he’s going, but then it clicks and it’s amazing. I kind of read them in layers and get something new out of each reading. I’ve read the Baroque Cycle 6 times now.”
While we waited, I read the first essay in Stephenson’s new book, Some Remarks. The essay is called “Arsebestos,” and it talks about how, as a child, Stephenson equated Bob Crachit’s being tied to a desk with a low station in life, and how Scrooge’s higher status allowed him the freedom to walk around. Other movies and television programs furthered his opinion that heroes stride around free, while losers sit still. Young Stephenson put a great deal of thought into developing a career that would allow him to not be chained to a desk. So he became a writer. As with many people who spend their days working on a computer, Stephenson eventually began to suffer wrist, shoulder, and back problems. His ultimate solution was a treadmill desk, which allows him to work standing up, walking at a leisurely pace of 1-1.5 miles an hour, all day. I’ll admit it: I’m suffering desk envy.
Stephenson’s overall theme for the evening was geeks and geekdom, with some interesting tangents. He read his essay, “Turn on, Tune In, Veg out,” in which he uses the “old” vs. “new” Star Wars movies to demonstrate the difference between geeking out and vegging out. “In the 16 years that separated [The Phantom Menace] from the initial trilogy, a new universe of ancillary media had come into existence. These had made it possible to take the geek material offline so that the movies could consist of pure, uncut veg-out content, steeped in day-care-center ambience. These newer films don’t even pretend to tell the whole story; they are akin to PowerPoint presentations that summarize the main bullet points from a much more comprehensive body of work developed by and for a geek subculture.”