Neal Stephenson Five Minute Interview

We certainly can’t compete with this, but it’s worth noting that back in late fall, Return of the Reluctant coaxed Neal Stephenson into an interview.

STEPHENSON: Five minutes, son. Can’t you see you’re cutting into my brooding time?

RotR: Okay, I’m very sorry. You’re a novelist of ideas. I’m positive you have additional wisdom to impart.

STEPHENSON: It’s all in the books and the Wiki. Do you need me to hold your hand? But if you need an example for your little article…

RotR: It’s a blog, actually.

STEPHENSON: Oh, one of those. Okay, here goes: The very design of the bench you’re sitting on right now developed out of serious scientific talks in the Netherlands. The bench is a recruiting center for libertarians, meaning that if enlightened geniuses hadn’t devised an acceptable length between the two ends, your posterior might not feel as safe and comfortable as it does right now and as it will no doubt feel tomorrow.

It is the terrorist who favors a comfy chair, while the government advocate prefers a sofa. By this I mean that only the libertarian is willing to apply sanded wood, generally coming to us from an export processing zone, to his buttocks and sit up straight, sitting down like a real man. You will not find slouched shoulders on a libertarian, nor will you find a limp penis.

These are some of the many conundrums I’ve worked out in my novel. And it is why I am so misunderstood.

RotR: But you’re asking readers to sit through 3,000 pages of scientists and philosophers talking about ideas. Surely, even you have to confess that this is a bit much for a narrative. Why didn’t you come out with a treatise? At least with Vollman, you get gripping first-person accounts in Third World nations.

STEPHENSON: I don’t need editors. Editors restrict the natural creative impulse. After the Civil War, fiction followed the logical course that science and technology did. It developed plot, characters, prose, and other stylistic devices. Out of this came the MBA program, which came into being shortly after the Manhattan Project. What I am doing is harkening back to the antebellum novels, the novels of real ideas.

RotR: Most of them are forgotten or out of print.

STEPHENSON: Have you even read System of the World?

RotR: It only came out yesterday.

STEPHENSON: Are you a member of the Libertarian Party?

RotR: No. But you remind me of a skinnier John Milius.

STEPHENSON: Well, you’re one of the many reasons I don’t do these interviews. Please dispense with your sense of humor. You might be able to accomplish something without such a frivolous personality trait.

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