Books at my door – April

Weird order this one, I’d say.

Toll the Hounds – Steven Erikson – 1270 pages
A month ago I mail Transworld to inform them there was a mistake about the format on the page of the mass market (paperback in UK) edition of the book. I got no reply. Then the book is available on, I make my order, and a day later I read on the forums that they arbitrarily switched (AGAIN) the format to a larger one. DAMMIT! Now I have seven books in one format and one in another. Hardcovers are out of print and there isn’t one way to get this series complete in one format. They already changed the graphic of the mass market (and I got all books in the new version to have something even) now they change the damned format. There’s also absolutely no change in the way the book is set up. One could assume that they embiggen it because this is a huge book (392k words) but they just upscaled the previous format. Margins are bigger and text is bigger, the format is exactly the same, just upscaled. The decision to use a new format may also be related to the fact that when they published the hardcover they didn’t publish a trade paperback as always. So now they publish something somewhere in the middle.

It’s interesting to notice that all these three books are in the same format, also using a similar soft cover. The edition is definitely better done than classic mass market. Better paper, better cover, better binding. It looks much more solid. They are also selling it at just one pound higher, so I doubt it’s more convenient for them. But the text now is slightly too big and they could have definitely used better the space available and cut some pages.

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson – 920 pages
Looks like a twin to Toll the Hounds, but here they used the space available. The text is tiny and fills the page (415k words in 900 pages). I decided to buy this version because I have already Quicksilver in the same style. This isn’t fantasy but it’s still epic in its own way. It also works as a “prequel” to the Baroque cycle, so I decided that I’d better start here. This book is also one of the most praised of Stephenson, and along with the full Baroque cycle will likely remain his most ambitious effort. I doubt Stephenson has equals on his field. He’s just totally insane and I crave for insane things and excessively ambitious works.

On the back cover there’s some praise talk that is quite bold:
“Mixes history and fiction in the way that Don DeLillo did in Underworld. Stephenson’s book is more successful than DeLillo’s, and much funnier.”

He is also known for having a beautiful, intelligent prose. I’ll quote the beginning of one of the first chapter as an example, even if I don’t know how representative it is, but quite a fancy introduction.

Let’s set the existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating
organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each
other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means
which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the
universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years
of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was
born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan
Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous
badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line
of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo–which, given the
number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of
all time. Everyone and everything that wasn’t a stupendous badass was dead.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens – 970 pages
This should be Dickens real pageturner, so I bought it. I’m still about 170 pages into Bleak House and there are parts I like and parts that I have to struggle through. Some characters and some of the writing is pure genius. Something unparalleled still today. But I also got the impression that I understood most of the essence of the book and so it gets really redundant at times and the language is rather hard and requires to be untangled in a way that makes reading it not exactly an easy and fun task. With phrases nestled one into the other, that you start and don’t know where they end, like complex mathematical expressions. So I struggle and I go forward, knowing that if I stop I’ll never try again (as I have now both Copperfield and Great Expectations that are easier reads, without counting the multitude of other books in the reading pile). The book is still splendidly convoluted and masterly organized. It’s not Erikson but there’s plenty of foreshadowing even here and it’s interesting to notice that all descriptions aren’t just descriptions but metaphors of what is to come. It’s fascinating.

In the meantime I read, as I said, Bleak House (170 pages of 1000), A Game of Thrones (170 pages of 800), The Colour in the Steel (70 pages from the end) and Viriconium, but just 40-50 pages of the first novel in the book. While House of Chains (Erikson) and Reality Dysfunction (Hamilton) are sooooo tempting.

Speaking of Hamilton. I updated/recounted the wordcount of a bunch of epics (now with Hamilton and Stephenson). Hamilton’s third in the trilogy (The Naked God) is INSANE. 470k, one of the biggest books published in mass market. But I don’t want that, I want the hardcover. It’s miraculously still available. It’s huge, it has a beautiful cover. I crave it. Don’t think about buying it because there are very few copies left. And it has to be mine. My preeeecious.

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