Since Quicksilver took such a long time to read, I want to get a bit more mileage out of the experience.
One of the overarching themes is the pace of change. Today, it’s common to hear people bemoaning how changes seem to come faster and faster. Working in the field of web design, I know the feeling only too well. Tools and techniques I use on a daily basis didn’t exist ten years ago; I know that the possibilities of this information network are going to be very different even two or three years in the future.
However, as a former student of history, I’m drawn to look for the longer perspective. I’ve got a suspicion that complaints about the pace of change have been going on at least as long as human civilisation. There were probably citizens of the Roman Empire trying to get their heads around aqueducts and viaducts, and trying to to figure out what was coming next!
Stephenson’s novel is about a time of ferment, bursting with new ideas and societal change. It is a work of fiction but undeniably well researched so, while not all the comments and conversations are true, the underlying history is well-founded. Several of the characters comment on how the pace of life seems to be moving faster and faster, which sounds like a remarkably Post Modern concept for these Early Modern people.
If I was still at university, I’d be using the resources at hand to check back on original source material and see what corroboration or contradiction I could find. My hypothesis has long been that we’re not so very different from our forbears and even our times have more similarities than the average person with less than a lifetime’s perspective would credit.
Or, as was written substantially earlier than the 17th Century, “There’s nothing new under the sun!“.