As mentioned in a recent post, I was one of the Very Special Important People who lucked into an advance reader’s copy of Neal Stephenson’s forthcoming novel (available November 16), Termination Shock (not an affiliate link — I won’t belabor that further, none of the Amazon links in this review are affiliate links).

So far as I can tell, there were no strings attached to the freebie. I wasn’t required, for example, to commit to reviewing the book positively, or for that matter at all. Since you guys know that when I don’t like something I either say I don’t like it and why, or else just go with “if I have nothing nice to say, say nothing” (my usual practice with review copies of books), you should have already figured out that I like it. A lot.

A TL;DR for those of you who are going to read the book no matter what I say: If you loved Cryptonomicon, you are going to at least like, and probably love, Termination Shock. [Note: If you don’t love Cryptonomicon, there’s something wrong with you; if you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest doing so between now and November 16).

The long version:

Stephenson’s work covers a lot of ground (including, in Anathem, faraway planets, and in e.g. Snow Crash and Fall: or, Dodge in Hell, worlds located partly or entirely inside computers), and a lot of time (from the 13th century in the Mongoliad series to the 17th century in the multi-volume System of the World, to World War 2 and the late 20th century in Cryptonomicon, to futures ranging from the day after tomorrow to presumably far, far away as in e.g. The Diamond Age).

Why do I specifically class Termination Shock with Cryptonomicon? Two reasons:

  1. Although the events in the novel take place in one time setting as opposed to two, and although that time setting is not current day, it’s close enough to current day for most of the setting to be very recognizable. Social media are still a phone/computer thing, not a cerebral implant thing. People are still hung up on memes and influencers. COVID has become basically an endemic inconvenience, but it’s still around. And anthropogenic climate change — which I understand some of my readers don’t really buy into — has continued on the current “consensus” course, raising temperatures, playing hob with weather, and most of all (key to the novel) raising sea level.
  2. The characters are not Waterhouses and Shaftoes and Hacklhebers and Kivistiks, but you can see all that literary DNA in various aspects of the dramatis personnae.
Let’s start with the characters. Just a few of them, since you know Stephenson 
There’s a reigning European monarch, from a country (the Netherlands) with a big stake in the rising sea level thing, who develops a relationship with a non-royal but very influential family from another place with a similar stake (Venice). 
There’s a retired-US-Army African-American-Comanche dude, from a simultaneously very pragmatic and potentially hell-raising extended family and friend circle (in other words, Shaftoes in everything but name), who brings an Ahab-like obsession to his specialty, which happens to be wild pig mitigation (for tragic reasons).
There’s a Dutch eurocrat/bureaucrat of cosmopolitan/colonial ancestry (pre-World-War-II Indonesia).
There’s a Canadian son of immigrants who, for various reasons, decides to get very, very, very much in touch with his Sikh origins, especially on the martial arts count.
Those are the main viewpoint characters.
There’s also a not exactly inscrutable, but definitely ubiquitous and involved, Chinese operative who, other than offering no evidence of being immortal, sports an unmistakable Enoch Root aura.
And there’s a Texas oil billionaire with a big idea for cooling the planet and a … let’s say cavalier … attitude toward political obstacles to implementing that idea, and the possible political consequences of doing so.
Plus a cast of dozens, all of them interesting but not interesting enough that I’m willing to turn this book review into a book to include them.
Speaking of Stephenson covering ground, this story plays out everywhere from Texas to Washington (state) to Canada to the Netherlands to Venice to Albania to Saudi Arabia to the Punjab to the Line of Actual Control (look that up if you want; it’s interesting; I’ll wait) to Indonesia and points in between.
There’s intrigue. There’s violence. There’s science (duh). There’s sex and romance (mostly less emphasized/problematic than in Cryptonomicon). There’s political intrigue, of course, but of types that advance rather than bog down the story. There are wild hogs and rogue waves and meth gators and trained eagles and drones and one of the largest moving structures on Earth.
Most of all, there’s story.
Stephenson delivers. Again. I mean, he always does, but Termination Shock weighs on the heavier end of the Stephenson scale in terms of carrying the reader along on a bumpy, but never boring and always believable in spite of its facial unbelievability, ride.
I’m not going to try to tell you that this is his best novel, because I don’t know that it is. He’s written so much that’s so great that trying to rank his works is a fool’s errand. And different readers like different plots, themes, and milieus. But I’d personally put it in his top five (along with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, the System of the World cycle, and maybe Anathem, a list which reflects absolutely nothing more than my personal “wowser!” reactions in chronological order of publication, not anything I’d try to pass off as an objective evaluation system).
Finis.

Imported from the original KN@PPSTER