Tuesday, September 07, 2004

another Stephenson book review

Last night I finished Neal Stephenson's Interface, a thriller about a US presidential election, shadowy world-dominating organizations, and a candidate whose thoughts are being controlled by political consultants and media moguls. He wrote the book in 1994 with his uncle, Frederick George, and published it under the pseudonym Stephen Bury. 1994 puts it between Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, for those who follow Stephenson's career. I've never seen the novel in the US, but I found it in a bookstore in London's Gatwick Airport last summer and again this summer. Apparently Stephenson would rather not publicize this book -- there's no mention of it on his web site and I've only found it on Amazon.com under a search for Stephen Bury. Maybe, like his early novels, he doesn't think it's up to the standards of his later works. Or maybe he doesn't want to take full credit for it, since he co-wrote it with George. Or maybe he just doesn't like it much.

I didn't think it was that bad. I got caught up in the story and really liked it. It's a good thriller plotline of mysterious, all-powerful forces versus a few questioning heroes who quietly struggle behind the scenes until a final showdown. It reminded me of Robert Ludlum's novels Trevayne and The Icarus Agenda, both of which involved politics and campaigns, along with Ludlum's usual monolithic all-powerful bad guys.
The characters are well-defined, interesting, and sympathetic, qualities I don't always find in thrillers. And the writing style is similar to what Stephenson fans expect: casual prose, sometimes witty, sometimes tangential and rambling. It's definitely not as mature as Cryptonomicon or the Baroque Cycle trilogy, so hard-core fans may be disappointed. But casual readers who are looking for a good book to pass the time on that long flight back from London would enjoy it. In the end I forgot it was a Stephenson novel and just enjoyed it for the political thriller that it was.

My biggest complaint about the book has nothing to do with the writing or the story, but with the proofreading. Not to put too fine a point on it, this book was the most poorly edited and proofread book I have ever seen, and I've read lots of crappy paperbacks in my time. Every chapter had at least one spelling error or mistaken word, requiring me to re-read a sentence two or three times to discern what the authors were trying to say. The poor quality of this printing might be one of the reasons Stephenson doesn't tell his fans about this novel. It was a serious flaw that detracted from my involvement in and enjoyment of the story. It was so bad I nearly took a pen to my book to correct it so that friends who read my copy won't have to endure what I did.

Stephenson published another book under the Bury pseudonym, The Cobweb, in 1997. It's on my Amazon.com wishlist, if anyone wants to buy it for me. Otherwise, I'll pick it up myself, but not until I've read Stephenson's The System of the World, the final book in the Baroque Cycle which comes out later this month. And I've got Dan Brown's Deception Point to read in the meantime.

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