In this concluding volume of Neal Stephenson's epic work, "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe must escape the noose of Jack Ketch; the rivalry between Newton and Leibniz comes to a head; and Daniel Waterhouse pursues his dream to build the Logic Mill.
The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson's award-winning series, spans the late 17th and early 18th centuries, combining history, adventure, science, invention, piracy, and alchemy into one sweeping tale. It is a gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive historical epic populated by the likes of Isaac Newton, William of Orange, Benjamin Franklin, and King Louis XIV, along with some of the most inventive literary characters in modern fiction.
Audible's complete and unabridged presentation of The Baroque Cycle was produced in cooperation with Neal Stephenson. Each volume includes an exclusive introduction read by the author.
©2004 Neal Stephenson (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"Learned, violent, sarcastic and profound: a glorious finish to one of the most ambitious epics of recent years." (Kirkus Reviews)
The sort of work that quickly becomes an obsession." (Toronto Star)
This final part is a satisfying completion of the Baroque Cycle and a fitting climax to its ingenious narrative. The last three parts stand together and are I think the best parts of the book for the unrelenting pace of narration and depth of historical detail; but the final part is darker- much of it set in prisons, madhouses or sewers. Jack, our much loved hero, is caught, tried for treason and condemned to the ultimate penalty of being hanged, drawn and quartered. We take a final guided tour of the streets of London with the condemned on the route to Tyburn Hill and the gallows tree. There seems to be no hope of escape as time runs out and every possibility is exhausted. Stephenson turns the screw and keeps us guessing to the very end.
I bid a sad farewell to Jack, to Eliza, Daniel, and all the others who now seem so real to me. After this magnificent feast for the mind, where do I go now to feed my imagination? Perhaps I will assay Stephenson?s Cryptonomicon, another suitably roomy tome in which I can expect to renew my acquaintance with an old friend.
Among the top 5. It's really that good.
I love so many of the, but most of all I love Jack. Even when facing certain doom he has a ridiculously unfeasible plan.
Yes in the other Baroque Cycle novels, and this one is right up there.
There were several but I'm not spoiling ANYTHING in this review so read it yourself!
This book isn't really a book all its own, but a conclusion to a long series that is actually three volumes of the same book. DO NOT START WITH THIS ONE! These books really need to be read in order or you won't have a clue as to what's going on.
"So good, I want to start the whole series over"
It’s not often that I like a book so much I want to read it over again. With trilogies, it has only happened once before (Lord of the Rings, of course). With really long books, once is always enough (2666). But this Baroque Cycle was simply so astonishingly good, the characters so real, the story so compelling, that I would begin it again tomorrow if I didn’t have two book club books waiting for me and 50 others on my nightstand.
I don’t know how Stephenson managed to sustain the great writing across the nearly 3,000 pages in this series, but he did, right through to the very end. I will mention just two passages that struck me as the best ever in their category: the best sex scene ever, and the best duel ever.
The seduction of Daniel Waterhouse on the Roman chariot in the shadow of the fake volcano is surely the best sex scene ever written. Here is a short excerpt:
“Tilt your pelvis the other way, if you please, sir. There, much better, you’ll admit! Now, leave the rest to me, sir. The balance of this chariot can be a bit tricky. The ride a bit rough.” Indeed, the axle bearings of the chariot of Vulcan presently began to creak as it got to rocking forward and back, forward and back on its wheels. Daniel was old and the ride was correspondingly long but the primo mobile—the body of Miss Barton—was young and as everyone in London agreed, in the most superb condition, and more than equal to the work.
The duel using cannons between Charles White and Dappa, written in Stephenson’s typical hyper-detailed mode, poked a hole the size of a howitzer in the swashbuckling genre and drove right through it. I have seldom laughed so hard while reading. Sheer genius!!
I cannot fail to once again note the SUPERB narration provided by Simon Prebble on the audio book. He gave each character a distinct voice and allowed all the humor to shine through. Listening to Mr. Prebble’s performance is undoubtedly the best way to experience the Baroque Cycle.
After spending about a month with all three volumes that consist of 115 hours, I have accomplished something that I wanted to do for years. I have to thank my friend for reminding me to purchase these books. I'm not a hoarder of books. Just because an audiobook is on sale, I don't get them and save them for later. I don't like having stockpile of books that I might not ever read. I tend to buy them as I go. Having a backlog of reading material is a chore and not a pleasure.
As for the last book in the "Baroque Cycle", I have the up most respect for Neal Stephenson and how well he can tell a story and stay on topic. It is remarkable how focus he was to write almost 2700 pages and publish them within a few years time. Unlike his predecessor George R.R. Martin in "A Song of Ice and Fire", Neal Stephenson completed the "Baroque Cycle" in favor for his audience. I don't like to compare the two authors together, but it seems like Martin is being selfish by not completing his series in a timely fashion. Even his loyal followers, including myself, have their doubts that he will ever finish them.
Coming to the end to "The System of the World" is a bitter sweet. I am relief that it has ended and with the result that I was expecting. I kind of wish that there was a fourth volume because it is that awesome. Besides the "Dark Tower" by Stephen King, "Baroque Cycle" has to be one of my favorites. Neal Stephenson wrote this one for his readers and chose not to extend the tale any further. In that respect, he is a decorative author that enjoys his readers.
I have no regrets at getting to know Jack, Newton, Eliza and Daniel.
In my review of "Quicksilver", I have compared it to starting an eight course meal.
I have come to the last nibble and I'm satisfied.
"An epic tale of the world on the brink"
I made it through all eight parts of this most intriguing tale. Stephenson creates characters that seem to jump through the mists of time to be real and alive.
Where to start. All the characters were intriguing. The main - Half-Cocked Jack, Drs. Waterhouse, Leibnitz and Newton, Lady Eliza, and Enoch the Red. Plus the minors of Jack's brother Bob and Jack's sons, Father Ed, Fraze, Dapper, Princess Caroline, Roger Comstock, Hook, Wren, and the rest of the lot.
Simon Prebble has as gifted a voice as Jim Dale. Each character was fully realized, different, and distinctive. Even the ladies. I'd recommend this for him alone if the story were half as good as it is. They were all great.
This is an epic tale of the birth of modernism of the baroque period. It is fiction, Stephenson refers to it as science-fiction due to it centering around Isaac Newton and many other contemporaries of the Royal Society; I'd go a bit further with historical science fiction. It's a great long yarn told with names of dead white guys with big wigs you heard in school, but didn't know anything about them. All eight parts of the tale probably total over 75 hours, but what a ride.
"Great Ending to the Series"
No one thing stands out when it comes to this audiobook because everything is done so well. The story is the perfect finale to the series and it is excellently performed. Although, like other Neal Stephenson tomes, it was a bit slow to get going as he set up the characters and the situations that would drive the story forward, I enjoyed the Baroque Cycle - and this reading of it in particular - from beginning to end.
"An epic story about the turn of the 18th century."
I enjoyed this last bit of the story almost more than any previous volume (other than the first). Here we're at last allowed to glimpse the whole point of it all. Our characters have almost completed their work, they are devising (mostly without understanding, or even knowing that they're doing it) a new system of the world. And of course, everyone we've come to know and love has a happy ending.
Highly detailed, and sometimes slow moving, the entire story will span over 50 years, the reign of many different kings and queens across europe, several trips to America and back, pirates, african queens, and the Philosopher's Stone. Well worth slogging through the slow points to find out what happens in the end.
"Outstanding Author, Reader, and Story"
I am sad the I finished one of the best series I have listened to...Baroque Society...but what a great ride! I rank it with Steig Larsson's, Dragon Tattoo series, the Uplift War series by David Brin, the Aubrey/Maturn series by Patrick o'Brian, and the Black Tower Series, by Stephen King.
I cannot recommend it highly enough.
"The Final Chapter"
This is a fitting end to this series. Its a well told story tracing parts of the true Baroque period in the guise of SCI-FI. This series was okay. Some of the books are great, others are a bit slow. Overall, its a fun few of our history told through some interesting characters. Over the course of the books, the fun heros do get somewhat lost in the story. The are very compelling in the first few books and not so compelling in the last.
But I am glad I read the series.
Best fiction book I've listened to. One of my very favorite books in general.
There are many. Jack and Gex getting reacquainted was good.
He did a fantastic job with complex material. Often different voices can be distracting be he did an amazing job with some complex material.
This is the last part of an eight book epic. All of the books are broken into two or three parts. There is nothing about this that could be done in a single sitting.
"Imp of the Perverse Embodied in Brilliant Fiction"
This series must be contemplated as a unified whole. This review is for the entire BAROQUE CYCLE.
Sorry Neal, I was wrong. For me Neal Stephenson was a bit of an acquired taste. My first Stephenson exposure was with SNOWCRASH, a zany over-the-top Sci-Fi farce with quirky characters, tight plotting and fascinating ideas—try an ancient software virus in the human brain. My next Neal Stephenson encounter was THE DIAMOND AGE and this was for years my last. It was not until revisiting SNOWCRASH now as an audiobook (narrated by the superb Jonathan Davis) that I realized that anyone able to reach such dizzying fictional heights once deserves more than one strike. It was after this that I listened to ANATHEM; strike two. But there was one more title that had received acclaim that I first had to tackle before relegating Stephenson to one-hit-wonder status: CRYPTONOMICON. This was a home run; different from SNOWCRASH in almost every way but still wonderful, and really long. From this I learned three things: (1) Stephenson was not easy to pigeon-hole; and (2) He could handle fictional works in the long form; and (3) If you are not preoccupied with plot advancement, the rabbit trails can be quite scenic. So, once I learned that many of the characters in CRYPTONOMICON had ancestors in THE BAROQUE CYCLE, I determined to tackle the whole lot back-to-back, as if it were one giant novel. QUICKSILVER is the first audio installment of THE BAROQUE CYCLE, which is here divided into seven installments. In print form it is broken into eight books published in three hefty volumes.
I could tell from the comments of other listeners that this huge tome is not for everyone. If you require fast tight plotting, this may not be for you. If you enjoy witty repartee between vagabonds, kings, courtiers and thieves then this may be the mother lode. I liken Neal Stephenson to Gene Wolfe; another writer who can keep my interest just by the brilliance of his prose. It was in the middle of ODALISQUE, book three in the cycle, that I realized I didn’t much care that the plot was just creeping along, and that side trips to follow the numerous cast of characters kept taking me away from the one I liked best. I was enjoying the show and didn’t want it to end. This is truly not seven different novels, but one huge novel tied together by recurring characters and one vast and very satisfying story arc.
This accomplishment by Neal Stevenson is just the thing that the term magnum opus was coined for. Mr. Stevenson demonstrates his ability to manage a vast narrative alternate history and retains his focus over two-thousand six-hundred eighty-eight hardcover pages, through one-hundred fourteen hours of audiobook narration; yet the feel and texture and pacing is consistent throughout the entire work. Amazing. If you decide to tackle this tome you will be rewarded. It may cause you to rethink the whole audiobook medium.
I really enjoyed Stephenson’s insights into the politics of the scientific community, revolving around Isaac Newton. The fusing of Natural Philosophy (science), Alchemy, commodity-based monetary theory, rags-to-riches character transformations, and court intrigue make for a fascinating experience. Listening to this series is like taking a time-travel vacation to the eighteenth century. The shabby, muddy, miasmic grunge of the period’s living conditions sometimes remind me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Jabberwocky, with associated punch-lines. This is a very different world from the one we live in but I began to think I might understand it a little better and found that, in some ways, it might not be so bad.
If you are at all interested in free-market economics, and commodity-based monetary theory then one of the long-term story arcs will be of intense interest to you. Stevenson explores the impact of the foundation of the central Bank of England upon the flow of gold. And his deft insertion of an Alchemical component into the mix creates an enjoyable element of mystery. This is the storyline that required one-hundred hours to tell.
This is a Science Fiction work because the alternate-history angle with Alchemy infecting the realm of science will appeal to the SF fan. If you were provided with a plot outline or given some character sketches you may think this an historical novel, and it could be read from that perspective. But Science Fiction readers don’t as a rule read historical novels, but they will read this, therefore, whatever qualities it possesses, justify the SF label.
—PERSISTENT THEMES OF THE BAROQUE CYCLE—
Predestination versus Free-Will is on everyone’s mind
The debate between Protestantism versus Catholicism had a huge political impact
Geocentrism versus Heliocentrism is the only thing everyone can agree upon
Commodity-based Monetary theory makes the world work
Court Intrigue and witty conversations provide joy in every circumstance
Meritocracy rags-to-riches stories abound
People can endure much if they have hope
Vagabond underworld versus Persons of Quality show we have much in common
Alchemy counterpoised with Natural Philosophy revel the nature of science
Encryption and secret writing have long been employed
True love makes life worth living
Courtly liaisons show the shallowness of the ruling class to whom society is entrusted
Simon Prebble does yeoman’s work on this production. To my ear he nailed every single pronunciation of every word in the course of over one-hundred hours of narration—no mean feat. His character voicings are subtle but immediately recognizable. His talent allows him to even give convincing alternate pronunciations of words to the different characters that are appropriate to their individual personalities. The more foppish English characters habitually emphasize different syllables than the lower class characters. Despite the deep quality of his voice Simon Prebble handles both male and female character voices convincingly. His voice has a limited range but I was constantly amazed at how he could make subtle alterations in inflection, diction and pacing to effectively distinguish the various characters in a conversation. Simon Prebble achieves the desirable state of occupying the place in your head usually reserved for your own internal sub-vocalizations when you are reading a print book to yourself. This is a high achievement indeed and makes this a soothing book experience.
Narrated by Simon Prebble (Main text)
Kevin Pariseau (Chapter epigraphs)
Neal Stephenson (Introduction)
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