Java News from Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I've just received my copy of The System of the World, the final volume in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. At this point, there's no real question that something very strange is indeed up with Enoch Root. Unless Stephenson, the person, (as distinguished from Stephenson, the narrator) is deliberately lying to us, Enoch Root is one individual who has somehow managed to live for at least several centuries. Exactly how he has managed to do this is still an open question (unless perhaps it's answered in the latest volume, which I have not yet read). Hypotheses to date include:

There are other possibilities; Root could be the wandering Jew. He could be a space alien. The most ridiculous explanation I've heard yet is that Root is the Riemann Zeta function. Jon Paul Henry has recently suggested to me that Root is a robot, based on what seems to me to be over-reaching based on one small description in the text. But perhaps if I toss that hypothesis out, some other people may point out additional points in the text that support this hypothesis. (And even if Root is a robot, this still leaves open the question of who made the Root robot hundreds of years ago, which leads to the possibility of time travel.) Still the three , I've listed seem to be the main, reasonable theories; and honestly the whole Root=Gandalf business seems to me as symbolism and a possible deliberate allusion to The Trilogy in Stephenson's own trilogy, but not really a practical explanation of just what's up with Enoch Root. I'm a little surprised the first two books in the Baroque Cycle didn't reveal more, but Root wasn't really a major character in either one. Perhaps all will be revealed in the The System of the World, or perhaps we'll have to wait for the final third of Cryptonomicon, set in the future, to be published, before we discover the answer. (Stephenson originally planned the story of Cryptonomicon to have three parts: one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future; but he dropped the future part when it was obvious the book was getting too long.) In the meantime I'm going to spend a little time today collating and collecting the various comments made on this over the last year. Since many of them rely on information contained in Quicksilver and The Confusion, I've started a new Baroque Cycle page to avoid spoiling the fun for anyone who's only read Cryptonomicon.

By the way, I think all these books are wonderful. If you haven't read them yet, you really ought to, starting with Cryptonomicon. I know they're a bit large and intimidating—it took me two years to open Cryptonomicon—but they're well worth the effort. I know a few readers were turned off by the more cerebral nature of Quicksilver. If that's the case, don't hesitate to read The Confusion. It's a real page turner with lots of swashbuckling, conspiracies, exotic locales, court intrigue, and just a generally fun read all around. The Confusion focuses almost exclusively on Jack and Eliza (and a little of Bob Shaftoe too) with almost no Daniel Waterhouse or Isaac Newton. Of course, this looks to change in the final book when all the major characters arrive in London at the same time, though what happens then I don't yet know. Check back next month.