Neal Stephenson and the current System of the World

I attended a reading by Neal Stephenson at Foyles bookstore this evening. He read a couple of passages from his latest book ‘Anathem’ before a wide-ranging Q&A prior to a signing.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask him a couple of questions. Aleks called me greedy, but I felt like the characters he describes in Anathem that only get to ask questions of the elders periodically… Who knows when I’d get to do this again?

My first question was around the fact that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the passages in his book, The System of the World where the birth of the modern financial system is described. I asked him whether he had been asked to comment on where that has led, to the current apparent systemic failure of that world.

He said he had, but hadn’t been able to come up with anything more insightful than the essay George Dyson had written about the current situation “Can You Have Your House And Spend It Too?’. He advised we all google for “Dyson” and “tally sticks” – thanks to Sascha Pohflepp for getting there first…

It’s a great read, but I’d still like to read Stephenson’s take.

My second question a little later, was about his role in Nathan Myhrvold‘s Intellectual Ventures.

His answer surprised me.

I had imagined that as a writer, he wrote scenarios or stories from possible futures as briefs or devices to frame invention or discovery in some way.

From his answer it seems that he uses his time there as an escape from writing, to engage in using his hands and mind in a different way in his afternoons from the mornings of writing fiction.

Can’t wait to see what comes from that…

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