This book is a collection of essays and short pieces – some fiction, but most non-fiction – by Neal Stephenson. Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite SF writers of present day, as you can tell from the books of his that I have read recently (REAMDE, Anathem and others).
The topics of the essays vary wildly. In the very first one, titled “Arsebestos” the author explains why he now writes while slowly walking on a treadmill. Turns out sitting on your “arse” is not that healthy. Another, rather long essay, discusses the metaphysics of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, who along with Isaac Newton invented Calculus. It turns out that a lot Leibniz’s metaphysics contain the seeds of very modern ideas that we find in today’s physics. I won’t attempt to explain it here. However, it is clear that Neal Stephenson read about all this while gathering material for his Baroque Cycle series of books (I never finished reading those).
One of the longer essays was published in Wired Magazine back in the 1990s. It described his trip around the world following the construction of an communications cable that since then became part of the internet. To me that article dragged for a little too long.
Included in the collection is an introduction that Neal Stephenson wrote to a book by David Foster Wallace called “Everything and More“. This is a book about mathematics and more precisely about the history of infinity. From this introduction it sounded interesting. I will need to check it out.
The last essay in the collection turned out to be one of my favorites. It’s titled “Why I Am a Bad Correspondent“. Briefly, Neal Stephenson says, there is only so much time to write fiction, that’s what he wants to do and that’s how he can reach most readers. All else is a distraction.