Thursday, October 21, 2004

Stephenson: Quicksilver - Odalisque Enobled

Odalisque, Book Three of Stephenson's Quicksilver centers around the activities of the harem girl rescued in the relief of Vienna by Half-cock Jack Shaftoe, in Book Two, King of the Vagabonds. Eliza has come a long way from the slave trudging across Europe at Jack's heels. In Odalisque, she is becoming a wealthy woman through her understanding of the Byzantine commodities market - and a chance meeting with Liebnitz that supplies her with the essential ingredient for wealth-building then (and today), a truly unbreakable cipher.

Historically, Liebnitz was known to have been fascinated by the I Ching, and to have used it as a cipher key to encode personal correspondence. Stephenson has incorporated the political backgrounds and historical battlefields, the customs and entertainments of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, to flesh out the first part of his tale of the (historical) scientific rivalry between Liebnitz and Newton, and the rise of the (fictional) Societas Eruditorum.

As with the first two books, Odalisque is shot through veins of mercury. This section adds references to Minerva as the patron of Amsterdam, model for scientists, and goddess of wisdom and guile.

Quicksilver is the first volume of The Baroque Cycle. The first book of three in Quicksilver is Quicksilver, the second is King of the Vagabonds.

Jane Chord: Enoch wind. Mother died. Like Daniel.