Guru Drivel in Fiction
| Peter Klein |
A funny passage from Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion, the second volume of his Baroque Cycle trilogy. In this scene, set in 1690, a motley crew of galley slaves, victims of Barbary Corsair raiding parties, discuss their plan to escape and get rich. Each is giving his backstory:
“The winter before last, I made the acquaintance of Moseh, who was asking many questions about the market in tutsaklar ransom futures. We had several conversations and I began to perceive the general shape of his Plan.”
“He told you about Jeronimo, and the Viceroy?”
“No, I learned of that on the same night as you.”
“Then what do you mean when you say you understood his plan?”
“I understood his basic principle: that a group of slaves who, taken one by one, were assigned a very low value by the market, might yet be worth much when grouped together cleverly. . . .” Vrej rolled up to his feet and grimaced into the sun. “The wording does not come naturally in this bastard language of Sabir, but Moseh’s plan was to synergistically leverage the value-added of diverse core competencies into a virtual entity whose whole was more than the sum of its parts. . . .”
Jack stared at him blankly.
“It sounds brilliant in Armenian.”
The trilogy is sprinkled throughout with similar anachronisms which add to the fun and help move along the complex narrative. I also enjoyed this bit from the first volume, from a scene in which Isaac Newton is visited at home by his fictional freind Daniel Waterhouse:
He turned off the lane. The house was set back from it not more than twenty feet. Set above the door was a coat of arms carved into the stone: on a blank shield, a pair of human thigh-bones crossed. A Jolly Roger, minus skull. Daniel sat on his horse and contemplated its sheer awfulness for a while and savored the dull, throbbing embarrassment of being English.
The trilogy’s main themes are science, politics, finance, and alchemy, and should thus be of great interest to O&M readers.