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And What Do You Do with Your Spare Time, Neal Stephenson?
Neal Stephenson produces novels at a pretty astounding clip, considering the size and the quality of the novels he writes. In the last 10 years, he's published a trilogy on the history of science (The Baroque Cycle), a space opera (Anathem), a zippy international thriller (Reamde), and a Wikipedia-style collaborative novel about the Mongol horde (!). It would be at best impious to demand more work out of the man.
But here we are. Some Remarks is a collection of Stephenson's nonfiction that ranges back to 1993, and at just over 300 pages, it's by far the thinnest book he's put out in decades. It's a fast, entertaining read, and by the end you'll find yourself wishing he wrote like this more often.
The Stephenson of Remarks is chatty, amiable, and intensely curious about how things are made. The best of the lot is "Mother Earth, Mother Board," a 1996 Wired essay about the construction and maintenance of the underwater cables that connect entire countries to the internet. Stephenson's curiosity leads him around the world in search of topics including international fishing laws, manholes, the history of wired communication, and the rise of the internet. As a work of journalism, it's unlike anything you'll find in magazines today: rambling, funny, informed, and informative. The rest of Remarks is similar. Essays about geek culture, the history of metaphysics, David Foster Wallace, and space travel all sparkle with ease and intellect, and two rare short stories show a lighter, more brazenly satirical side of a writer known for more Serious Pursuits. Not to be a dick or anything but: More like this, please, Mr. Stephenson.