Neal Stephenson book

Excerpts: *

Richard’s ex-girlfriends were long gone, but their voices followed him all the time and spoke to him, like Muses or Furies. It was like having seven superegos arranged in a firing squad before a single beleaguered id, making sure he didn’t enjoy that last cigarette.

Since Dad had acquired all these accessory parts—the external kidney, the external lung—he had become a rather complicated piece of machinery, like a high-end TIG welder, that could not be operated by just anyone.

He thought it quite strange and improbable that such an industry could exist until he read an article in which it was estimated that the size of the worldwide virtual gold economy was somewhere between $1 and $10 billion per year.

The game that Corporation 9592 built had any number of novel features, but in Richard’s mind their most fundamental innovation was that they built it from the ground up to be Gold Farmer-friendly. G

For a while the memo had rattled around the office like a dried-out whiteboard pen. Then Richard, with a bit of jargonic assistance from Corvallis, had given it an arresting title: Medieval Armed Combat as Universal Metaphor and All-Purpose Protocol Inter face Schema (MACUMAPPIS).

All I am trying to say with this memo,” he told Corvallis, “is that anyone who feels like it ought to be able to grab hold of our game by the technological short hairs and make it solve problems for them.” A

It was, rather (to use yet another of those portentous phrases cribbed from the math world), an existence proof. Once it was up and running, they could point to it and to its 100 percent success rate as vindicating the premise of APPIS, which was that real-world problems—especially problems that were difficult to solve because of hard-wired deficiencies of the human neurological system, such as the tendency to become bored when given a terrible job—could be tackled by metaphrasing them into Medieval Armed Combat scenarios, and then (here brandishing two searingly hip terms from high tech) putting them out on the cloud so that they could be crowdsourced.

Even if it had worked, it just would have meant more crap showing up on his schedule, and fewer of the perfectly empty days that always gave him such a nice little endorphin rush when they appeared, as if by some act of divine grace, on his screen

In Russia there are a few such groups as the one that Ivanov is part of. Some are ethnic Russians. Ivanov belongs to one of those. Others are Chechens or Uzbeks or what have you. The Russian ones are very old, dating back to perhaps Ivan the Terrible. If you are a member of such a group, you live your whole life in it.”

But each had a kind of confidence about him that was not often found in young men who had followed the recommended path through high school to college and postgraduate training. If she had wanted to be cruel or catty about it, Zula might have likened those meticulously groomed boys to overgrown fetuses, waiting endlessly to be born.

They got rid of most of their guns and took advantage of Canada’s surprisingly easygoing sword laws, riding around the provincial byways with five-foot claymores strapped to their backs

“It’s a selective retirement,” Richard explained, “a retirement from boring shit.”

“I think that’s called a promotion.”

Was it possible to be normal without being someone’s dupe?

Waging war on his enemies had been Sokolov’s habit and his professsion for a long time, but being chivalrous to everyone else was simply a basic tenet of having your shit together as a human and as a man. H

The drivers of the taxis that flocked and schooled in the plaza before the KFC-topped hotel were confounded by, and almost indignant at, the manner in which the three Westerners had seemingly teleported into existence in this normally unfrequented corner. It was clearly their habit to keep an eye on every place from which a possible customer could sortie. Westerners on foot, unnoticed and unpestered, were as much an affront to civic order as gushing fire hydrants and warbling car alarms. So

If they had dressed up in clown suits, strapped strobe lights to their foreheads, and sprinted out into traffic firing tommy guns into the air, they would not have drawn more immediate and intense scrutiny than they did simply by entering this public space as non-Chinese person

Some ropes might come in handy. But really, when wasn’t that the case?

ula didn’t want to ask that hard question of Peter because she was afraid of what she might learn about the man she’d been sleeping with.

She realized that she kind of wanted to kill him. She was sure that the feeling would pass. But she was also sure that it would come back.

These meetings tended to start out with confident MsPowerpoint presentations and gradually trail off into quasi-philosophical management-speak aphorisms, more and more eyes turning to Richard as if to say, Please O please help us. Because Corporation 9592, at bottom, didn’t make anything in the way that a steel mill did. And it didn’t even really sell anything in the sense that, say, did.

ut now they were thinking about it quite hard, and the more they thought about it, the more troubled they became. Corporation 9592 seemed to be undergoing an ontogenical retroversion to something like a start-up company. Richard was the only link back to that phase of the company’s development, the only one who could think and function in that environment. The rabid dog they kept locked in the basement. Most of the time.

devoted pint numbers 4 and 5 to disgorging an entire cosmogonical schema that he had either just made up or been carrying around in his hip pocket in case someone asked for one.

“Pluto, would you care to expand on what you just said, since we do not understand it?” Richard asked.

Other people would want to sentimentalize about the old days, but the great thing about traveling with Pluto was that he only cared about you to the extent that you were interesting to him now. In that way he kept you on your toes. No aspect of the relationship could be counterfeited when it was being minted anew from moment to moment.

He was working on a theory that it was all related to the Rice Krispie Treats.

Pluto, who had never been here before, picked one of them up and went into the flow state himself as he learned all about this amazingly productive psychological/physiological regimen and how all history’s greatest artists and geniuses had done their best work while immersed in it. Richard, who’d had plenty of opportunities to familiarize himself with the document’s contents, knew that it contained only one operative phrase, which was that interruptions were inimical to the flow state and had to be prevented at all costs. It was the most passive-aggressive way imaginable for Devin Skraelin to tell people that he was in the middle of something and fuck off.

Devin, naked except for a pair of gym shorts emblazoned with the logo of one of his favorite charities, was stirring the air with his legs, working the reciprocating paddles of the trainer. Invisible streams of cool wind impinged on his body from perfectly silent high-tech fans, not quite evaporating a sheen of perspiration that caused all his veins and tendons, and his twelve-pack abs, t

So the Wor is our customers calling bullshit on our ‘Good/Evil’ branding strategy, you’re saying,” Richard said.

“Not so much that as finding something that feels more real to them, more visceral.”

Richard knew a few people who, like himself, basically could not stop making money no matter what they did; they could be kicked out the door of a moving taxi anywhere in the world and be operating a successful business within weeks or months

Then you’re not doing your fucking job,” Richard said. “Because the world is supposed to have a real story to it. Not just people killing each other over color schemes.”

“Maybe you’re not doing yours,” Devin said. “How can I write a story about Good and Evil in a world where those concepts have no real meaning—no consequences?”

“All we can do,” Richard said, “is move faster than the other guys. Lunge ahead of them. Surprise them with just how cool, how adaptable we can be. Delight them by incorporating their creation into the Canon. Show them what we’re made of.”

f. In general, they hugely overestimated hackers’ ability to do certain things. But there was one area in which hackers were routinely underestimated, and that was lock picking.

Sokolov had spoken to them of the need to sever the loop: the loop of observing, thinking, deciding, and acting. I

Every day he’d get up and dribble his basketball through the streets of Xiamen to an office building that housed a medium-sized gold-mining operation: seventy-five computers used in shifts by a couple hundred miners. But since anyone could do this from any computer on the Internet, there was no reason to work for a company that would take part of your earnings,

Then it penetrated his awareness that the other guys, the younger ones, were looking at him wondering what to do.

The big man was talking himself into something.

He was talking himself into doing something dreadful to the younger man.

Ah, brave Peter goes ahead to scout for danger? Zula waits behind, ready to follow? Shall we go and have conversation with Zula? No? Vwy not? Perhaps story is lie? Yes? Is lie? Zula is in cellar for other reason? Maybe because she is CHAINED TO PIPE!? Because BRAVE BOYFRIEND left her behind? TO DIE? While BRAVE BOYFRIEND ran away LIKE FUCKINK RAT?”

MARLON’S TENDENCY TO get fascinated by things and for fascination to then override the normal human instinct of self-preservation had been getting him in trouble since the age when he was old enough to crawl to an electrical socket and shove something into it. H

Engineering! Another luxury of nationalities with huge populations and intact landmasses. Hungary, severed from half of the population and most of the natural resources that it had once claimed, had now to practice a sort of economic acupuncture, striving to know the magic nodes in the global energy flow where a pinprick could alter the workings of a major organ. Mathematics was one of the few disciplines where it was possible to exert that degree of leverage, and so the Hungarians had become phenomenally good at teaching it to their children

Leading the four men out across the lobby, Zula felt like a terrorist.

It felt sort of cool.

To be a man who had been helpless his entire life? And to have this power? To be able to access this feeling that she was just tasting now? It must be the most potent drug in the world.

Of your Machiavellian strategy? Because I can see that there is way more calculation and cynicism going on here than I can ever possibly comprehend—”

Guns and hunting provided an out for men who wanted to be know-it-alls but who couldn’t afford to spend the first three decades of their lives getting up to speed on quantum mechanics or oncology

“You can say ‘we,’” Richard said quickly. He held up his hands, palms out. “I am so far past the point of thinking that the writers have to be these, like, neutral, dispassionate forces in the world.”

This was part of Corporation 9592’s strategy; they had hired psychologists, invested millions in a project to sabotage movies—yes, the entire medium of cinema—to get their customers/players/addicts into a state of mind where they simply could not focus on a two-hour-long chunk of filmed entertainment without alarm bells going off in their medullas telling them that they needed to log on to T’Rain and see what they were missing.

He’s a gentleman,” she explained, for want of any better way to put it.

“Oh. Why didn’t you just say so?” said Uncle Meng.

the fictional premise was most threadbare here. The entire point of this market was to move money back and forth between the virtual economy of T’Rain and that of the real world

MOST OF CSONGOR’S time in T’Rain had been spent blundering about in a state of hapless newbie confusion. Only his long experience as a systems administrator, struggling with Byzantine software installations, had prevented him from plummeting into despair and simply giving up. Not that any of the sysadmin’s knowledge and skills were applicable here. The psychological stance was the thing: the implicit faith, a little naive and a little cocky, that by banging his head

EXCEPT FOR THE part about his niece being held hostage and he himself being the captive of murderous jihadists, this was the best vacation Richard had had in ten years. T

Maybe she should have taken a little more time off,” Freddie said. “Perhaps that sort of work didn’t suit her, lifestyle-wise.”

But Richard could not bring himself to do this, for exactly the same reason that, when Corporation 9592 had grown to a certain size, he had become listless during meetings and allowed himself to drift to the periphery of relevance. Richard was, at bottom, a guy who did stuff. A farmer. A plumber. A Barney.

What he wasn’t so good at was manipulating the internal states of other humans, getting them to see things his way, do things for him. His baseline attitude toward other humans was that they could all just go fuck themselves and that he was not going to expend any effort whatsoever getting them to change the way they thought. This was probably rooted in a belief that had been inculcated to him from the get-go: that there was an objective reality, which all people worth talking to could observe and understand, and that there was no point in arguing about anything that could be so observed and so understood. As long as you made a point of hanging out exclusively with people who had the wit to see and to understand that objective reality, you didn’t have to waste a lot of time talking.

Maybe because all that behavior ultimately seemed like groveling to him. That was really his problem: deep down, he believed that all such people were grovelers.

I love you, but I’m tired of being the girlfriend of the sacred monster. This had been the last thing that Alice, one of his ex-girlfriends, had said to him before ascending into the pantheon of the Furious Muses.

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