Neal Stephenson reeled me in with his remarkable novel "Cryptonomicon." Since then I have also discovered the Baroque Cycle. I love the way in which he uses his broad erudition as a polymath to inform both the content and the style of his novels. This behemoth book of over 1,000 pages is worth its weight in the "gold" that is traded in the novel's multi-player game entitled "T'Rain."
The plot pinballs back and forth among several settings and rapidly shifting clots of characters - from Seattle to China to Manila to British Columbia to the wilds of Idaho. Along the way, we are exposed to a band of young Chinese hackers who launch a computer virus that steals money and encryption keys, the Russian mafia, an Al Qaeda affiliate terrorist cell, the off-the-grid apocalyptic crowd in the mountains of Idaho, a fascinating extended family with roots in the heartland of Iowa, and finally a couple of intelligence officers who have gone rogue. The pace of the narrative is breathless and the writing is engaging and exhilarating.
My only quibble with this delightful tome is that the denouement - an OK Corral-style shoot-out in the mountains and mines of the Idaho-British Columbia border area - seems too protracted. But that is a minor point. Overall, I loved this novel and its colorful and memorable cast of characters.