April 10, 2012

NSA Week: Tuesday

The language is just extraordinary. Stephenson is one of the authors, very popular right now and rightly so, whose writing is complex, literary, and very diverse, like David Mitchell or David Foster Wallace. It draws from technology, hackers, sports, literary language, texting, agriculture, and more.  There's irony, a rejection of irony, old-fashioned flourishes, humility, a whole gamut of tones to his writing.

And because his characters are so diverse (Russian mobster, Chinese hacker, American grad student, Midwestern survivalist), he juggles not only different vocabularies and tones but different levels of knowledge of English. He has to figure out just how much English a brilliant, young, and totally untraveled gamer from a small city in China would know. Occasionally you feel Stephenson should pull back, that not every individual in the world is as smart and quick as almost all of his characters are. But this is a small price to pay for being in the presence of such continually stimulating company.

Here are some favorite lines:

On the sudden realization of danger, and the instincts that kick in:
"When this policy initiative had abruptly been made known to Richard in the middle of a barroom conversation on seemingly unrelated topics, awe and horror had struggled for supremacy in his mammalian brain as his reptilian had begun to tally all exits, conventional and un-, from the bar."

Recombinant cuisine!
"He was fascinated by the midwestern/middle American phenomenon of recombinant cuisine. Rice Krispie Treats being a prototypical example in that they were made by repurposing other foods that had already been prepared (to wit, breakfast cereal and marshmallows). And of course any recipe that called for a can of cream of mushroom soup fell into the same category. The unifying principle behind all recombinant cuisine seemed to be indifference, if not outright hostility, to the use of anything that a coastal foodie would define as an ingredient."

Shotgunned is just the right word here, relays just about the right measure of frequency:
"Peter’s loft was all of about a mile from the world headquarters of Starbucks, an organization that had shotgunned the planet with coffee bars featuring Wi-Fi."

I like fauna here:
"Much of the laughter seemed to be at the expense of American cubicle fauna who thought in PowerPoint and typed with their thumbs."

Capitalization turns it from an adjective to a noun:
"Back in Xiamen, Jones had been convinced that they would be able to fly the jet to some friendly location in Pakistan, pick up a cargo of Bad (perhaps a dirty bomb?), then turn the jet around and fly it straight to some kind of Armageddon in Las Vegas."

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