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The Confusion: The Baroque Cycle, # 2


The Confusion: The Baroque Cycle, # 2 Cover




Barbary Coast
October 1689

He was not merely awakened, but detonated out of an uncommonly long and repetitive dream. He could not remember any of the details of the dream now that it was over. But he had the idea that it had entailed much rowing and scraping, and little else; so he did not object to being roused. Even if he had been of a mind to object, he'd have had the good sense to hold his tongue, and keep his annoyance well-hid beneath a simpering merry-Vagabond façade. Because what was doing the waking, today, was the most tremendous damned noise he'd ever heard — it was some godlike Force not to be yelled at or complained to, at least not right away.

Cannons were being fired. Never so many, and rarely so large, cannons. Whole batteries of siege-guns and coastal artillery discharging en masse, ranks of 'em ripple-firing along wall-tops. He rolled out from beneath the barnacle-covered hull of a beached ship, where he had apparently been taking an afternoon nap, and found himself pinned to the sand by a downblast of bleak sunlight. At this point a wise man, with experience in matters military, would have belly-crawled to some suitable enfilade. But the beach all round him was planted with hairy ankles and sandaled feet; he was the only one prone or supine.

Lying on his back, he squinted up through the damp, sand-caked hem of a man's garment: a loose robe of open-weave material that laved the wearer's body in a gold glow, so that he could look directly up into the blind eye of the man's penis — which had been curiously modified. Inevitably, he lost this particular stare-down. He rolled back the other way, performing one and a half uphill revolutions, and clambered indignantly to his feet, forgetting about the curve of the hull and therefore barking his scalp on a phalanx of barnacles. Then he screamed as loud as he could, but no one heard him. He didn't even hear himself. He experimented with plugging his ears and screaming, but even then he heard naught but the sound of the cannons.

Time to take stock of matters — to bring the situation in hand. The hull was blocking his view. Other than it, all he could see was a sparkling bay, and a stony break-water. He strode into the sea, watched curiously by the man with the mushroom-headed yard, and, once he was out knee-deep, turned around. What he saw then made it more or less obligatory to fall right on his arse.

This bay was spattered with bony islets, close to shore. Rising from one of them was a squat round fortress that (if he was any judge of matters architectural) had been built at grand expense by Spaniards in desperate fear of their lives. And apparently those fears had been well founded because the top of that fort was all fluttery with green banners bearing silver crescent moons. The fort had three tiers of guns on it (more correctly, the fort was three tiers of guns) and every one of 'em looked, and sounded, like a sixty-pounder, meaning that it flung a cannonball the size of a melon for several miles. This fort was mostly shrouded in powder-smoke, with long bolts of flame jabbing out here and there, giving it the appearance of a thunderstorm that had been rammed and tamped into a barrel.

A white stone breakwater connected this fort to the mainland, which, at first glance, impressed him as a sheer stone wall rising forty or feet from this narrow strip of muddy beach, and crowded with a great many more huge cannons, all being fired just as fast as they could be swabbed out and stuffed with powder.

Beyond the wall rose a white city. Being as he was at the base of a rather high wall, he wouldn't normally expect to be able to see anything on the opposite side thereof, save the odd cathedral-spire poking out above the battlements. But this city appeared to've been laboriously spackled onto the side of a precipitous mountain whose slopes rose directly from the high-tide mark. It looked a bit like a wedge of Paris tilted upwards by some tidy God who wanted to make all the shit finally run out of it. At the apex, where one would look for whatever crowbar or grapple the hypothetical God would've used to accomplish this prodigy, was, instead, another fortress — this one of a queer Moorish design, surrounded with its own eight-sided wall that was, inevitably, a-bristle with even more colossal cannons, as well as mortars for heaving bombs out to sea. All of those were being fired, too — as were all of the guns spraying from the several additional fortresses, bastions, and gun-platforms distributed around the city's walls.

During rare intervals between the crushing thuds of the sixty-pounders, he could hear peppery waves of pistol-and-musket-fire rolling around the place, and now (beginning to advert on smaller things) he saw a sort of smoky, crowded lawn growing out of the wall-tops — save instead of grass-blades this lawn was made up of men. Some were dressed in black, and some in white, but most wore more colorful costumes: baggy white trousers belted with brilliantly hued swathes of silk, and brightly embroidered vests — frequently, several such vests nested — and turbans or red cylindrical hats. Most of those who were dressed after this fashion had a pistol in each hand and were firing them into the air or reloading.

The man with the outlandish johnson — swarthy, with wavy black hair in a curious 'do, and a knit skullcap — hitched up his robe, and sloshed out to see if he was all right. For he still had both hands clamped over the sides of his head, partly to stanch the bleeding of the barnacle-gashes, and partly to keep the sound from blowing the top of his skull out to sea.

Copyright © 2004 by Neal Stephenson

Product Details

Stephenson, Neal
William Morrow
by Neal Stephenson
New York
Action & Adventure
Short Stories (Anthologies)
Historical - General
Historical fiction
Spy stories
Single mothers
Adventure fiction
Women spies.
General Fiction
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Baroque Cycle
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
April 13, 2004
Grade Level:
9.50x6.52x1.86 in. 2.99 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » A to Z

The Confusion: The Baroque Cycle, # 2 Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.95 In Stock
Product details 832 pages William Morrow & Company - English 9780060523862 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The title of Stephenson's vast, splendid and absorbing sequel to Quicksilver (2003) suggests the state of mind that even devoted fans may face on occasion as they follow the glorious and exceedingly complex parallel stories of Jack Shaftoe, amiable criminal mastermind, and Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, courageous secret agent and former prisoner in a Turkish harem. In 1689, Jack recovers his memory in Algiers, evades galley slavery and joins a quest for the lost treasure of a Spanish pirate named Carlos Olancho Macho y Macho. This leads to adventures at sea worthy of Patrick O'Brian, and hairbreadth escapes from the jaws of the Inquisition. Meanwhile, Eliza is captured by the historical (and distinguished) French privateer Jean Bart while trying to escape to England with her baby. She must then navigate the intrigues of the court of Louis XIV, which are less lethal than those of the Inquisition by a small margin, but still make for uneasy sleep for a friendless female spy. Her correspondence with such scientific minds as Wilhelm Leibniz helps propel the saga's chronicling of the roots of modern science at a respectable clip. Of course, one can't call anything about the Baroque Cycle 'brisk,' but the richness of detail and language lending verisimilitude to the setting and depth to the characters should be reward enough for most readers. Agent, Liz Darhansoff at Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents. Forecast: The third volume of the trilogy, The System of the World, is due in September (and it may take readers till then to finish volume two). Though fatigue might winnow out a few fans, most should stay the course." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Stephenson has always excelled at pushing to the limits of absurdity....What Stephenson seems to be telling us throughout the Baroque Cycle is that the actual way things really happened — the way systems of credit were created, or timber delivered — is just as kooky as anything that a fabulist could concoct out of the wild speculation of his or her own mind." (read the entire review)
"Review" by , "[H]efty but propulsive....Packed with more derring-do than a dozen pirate films and with smarter, sparklier dialogue than a handful of Pulitzer winners, this is run-and-gun adventure fiction of the most literate kind."
"Review" by , "Stephenson is a graceful writer, never getting bogged down in detail, keeping the story moving, dazzling us with his technique....[A]nyone who reads this one will [await the third volume] with breathless anticipation."
"Review" by , "[E]very bit as rollicking and overstuffed as its predecessor....[B]rimming with a hail-fellow-well-met good cheer, at the heart of which lies a genuinely fun pirate romance."
"Review" by , "The Baroque Cycle...will defy any category, genre, precedent, or label — except genius....Stephenson has a once-in-a-generation gift: he makes complex ideas clear, and he makes them funny, heartbreaking, and thrilling."
"Review" by , "In its complexity, as well as the way it creates a vibrant fantasy world...the Baroque Cycle is one of the closest analogues to The Lord of the Rings trilogy we're likely to come across."
"Review" by , "[A] work of idiosyncratic beauty whose plots boast tangled, borderless roots....[Stephenson's] globe (an irregular pearl?) never ceases to astonish us or its own creator, even as it grows smaller with each new discovery."
"Review" by , "Stephenson seems to take his aesthetic cue from [the Baroque] era's architecture, renowned for its elaborate embellishments and over-the-top ornamentation. And it works....[N]either confused nor confusing but a dazzlingly orderly display of meaningful intricacy."
"Review" by , "[W]hen Stephenson completes his ambitious Baroque Cycle...he might just have created the definitive historical-sci-fi-epic-pirate-comedy-punk love story. No easy feat, that. (Grade: A-)"
"Review" by , "Stephenson excels in marrying geekspeak with riotous action. When he describes a battle or a duel, his prose acquires thrilling panache....Unfortunately, these vibrant scenes are rare in a vast, dreary landscape."
"Review" by , "Brimming with period detail and spiced with literate humor reminiscent of the works of John Barth, this prequel to Stephenson's sf thriller Cryptonomicon demonstrates his masterly storytelling. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "The Confusion is a rousing adventure of action and ideas, funny, gripping and informative....No matter where Stephenson finishes up, [this series] will have been one heck of a voyage."
"Review" by , "The Confusion's greatest bound up with its most striking achievement....His novel, stuffed with exposition and descriptions of places and processes, lacks narrative drive."
"Review" by , "Stephenson has plainly steeped himself up to the eyebrows in his chosen era, and can render entertaining treatises...that carry absolute authenticity. And his genius with elaborate set pieces of plotting is exemplary. (Grade: B+)"
"Review" by , "[A] brawny, barrel-chested work of beauty. Stephenson's unique prose style — at once charmingly old-fashioned and punk rock snappy — is usually enough of an incentive to keep turning pages....[U]nparalleled geek literature..."
"Review" by , "The plots...multiply and cross-pollinate faster than e-mail viruses, conveyed at times by passages so creakingly expository and characters so unrelentingly wooden — you take the good with the bad with Stephenson — you fear for splinters..."
"Review" by , "The characters laying the bricks of this lengthy plot are an uninspiring lot....There is a story...but it is so smothered in ornament, discursion and detail that it's often impossible to see what unifies the whole."
"Synopsis" by , The second in the Baroque Cycle three-volume epic tale, The Confusion picks up where Quicksilver left off, and, as expected, thrills readers until its final page.
"Synopsis" by , In this compelling adventure, Stephenson brings to life a cast of unforgettable characters in the late 1600s on the high seas. It is a time of breathtaking genius and discovery for men and women whose exploits define an age known as Baroque.

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