The System of the World, Volume Three of The Baroque Cycle, will be released this month, and Neal Stephenson will be lavishing three of his promotional tour stops on the Bay Area:
Tuesday, September 28, 07:30 PM
2454 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley
Wednesday, September 29, 07:30 PM
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park
Thursday, September 30, 07:00 PM
Park Branch Library 1833 Page Street, San Francisco
In interviews to date Stephenson has brushed off questions about his shift from science fiction to contemporary fiction (Zodiac) to historical fiction (starting with Cryptonomicon), but he's not alone. When I went to hear Bruce Sterling promote Tomorrow Now at Cody's over a year ago, he explained that hard science fiction is becoming too hard to write as the technology continues to accelerate so quickly and get simultaneously so powerful and so complex. (Sterling's latest, The Zenith Angle, which I found very entertaining, is set in an alternate "present" post-dot-bomb, post-9/11 U.S.A.) But I think that's only part of the explanation.
I also think many of these authors, whether self-consciously or not, are feeling increasingly compelled to reach out to a more mainstream audience, in order to educate as much of the public as possible about the profound importance of the political ramifications of technological progress and technology application. And I think a parallel influence is an increasing preoccupation with the incredibly complex social, political, and cultural processes by which we all have and will continue to co-create our collective future, and that contemporary and historical fiction is just much richer in its exploration of this dynamic because of all the extant ideas and referents which can be drawn upon without having to first invent and convey all of them. I'm still not sure when I'll find the time to tackle the Baroque Cycle, or even Cryptonomicon, but I do look forward to the opportunity to prompt such an author to reflect on these observations and offer what, if anything, he thinks he's learned from these explorations.