The book isn’t perfect. A lot of people complain about the number of words that Stephenson coins, I can’t entirely disagree – they make the first few dozen pages rocky going. (Not The Name of the Rose difficult, but still a little work.) The thing that irked me most about the new words is that Stephenson makes a big deal about how he’ll call a root vegetable that has a role like a carrot a “carrot” even though it’s not really a carrot so as not to have to endlessly describe things, but then makes up a new word to mean “automobile”.
That being said, most of the new words made sense, and some of them are clever, blending two existing words so we get a new one with the sense of both.
In any event, the new words are quickly assimilated into our vocabulary and soon one begins not to notice them, so the reading gets easier.
And it’s good. Really good. Like I say, not perfect – the characters don’t quite come alive in the way that I’d like, but the world feels real, and the science feels like it’s working within a consistent framework. A few bits of the story drag a little, but the way that the world of Arbre is revealed to us, essentially peels back the layers of an onion from the inside, continually giving us a bigger and bigger picture to deal with. Stephenson’s clearly a bright guy who’s done his homework, and that really comes through in the work.
And ultimately, I enjoyed the story – mostly the pace was good, I liked the theoretical discussions and “calca”, and I loved the overall concept of the book. More deserving of the Hugo than The Graveyard Book, in my opinon. Highly recommended.