Quicksilver

Introduction

Quicksilver is a historical novel by Neal Stephenson, published in 2003. It is the first volume of The Baroque Cycle, his late Baroque historical fiction series, succeeded by The Confusion and The System of the World (both published in 2004). Quicksilver won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was nominated for the Locus Award in 2004.[1] Stephenson organized the structure of Quicksilver such that chapters have been incorporated into three internal books titled "Quicksilver", "The King of the Vagabonds", and "Odalisque". In 2006, each internal book was released in separate paperback editions, to make the 900 pages more approachable for readers. These internal books were originally independent novels within the greater cycle during composition.

The novel Quicksilver is written in various narrative styles, such as theatrical staging and epistolary, and follows a large group of characters. Though mostly set in late 17th century England, France, and the United Provinces, the first book includes a frame story set in early 18th century Massachusetts. In order to write the novel, Stephenson researched the period extensively and integrates events and historical themes important to historical scholarship throughout the novel. However, Stephenson alters details such as the members of the Cabal ministry, the historical cabinet of Charles II of England, to facilitate the incorporation of his fictional characters. Within the historical context, Stephenson also deals with many themes which pervade his other works, including the exploration of knowledge, communication and cryptography.

The plot of the first and third books focus on Daniel Waterhouse's exploits as a natural philosopher and friend to the young Isaac Newton and his later observations of English politics and religion, respectively. The second book introduces the vagabond Jack Shaftoe ("King of the Vagabonds") and Eliza (a former member of a Turkish harem) as they cross Europe, eventually landing in the Netherlands, where Eliza becomes entangled in commerce and politics. Quicksilver operates in the same fictional universe as Stephenson's earlier novel Cryptonomicon, in which descendants of Quicksilver characters Shaftoe and Waterhouse appear prominently.


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