I've read a bunch of Neal Stephenson's books, and if there's one thing I know, its that I'll never know what I'm going to get.
I happened to pick up a copy of The Confusion at the on-going book sale at my library; I've picked up a bunch of books this way, and because they're so cheap (pay what you can afford) I don't spend a whole lot of time pre-reading, or even poring over the dust jacket in most cases. So I guess it makes sense that when I got this book home, and then finally pulled it out to read it, I discovered when reading the frontmatter that it is indeed the second book in a trilogy The Baroque Cycle. Cut to a year or so later (or about a month ago, depending on your perspective) and I finally decide to take book one, Quicksilver, out of the library.
So, is this book SciFi? Information technology based fiction? Pseudo-historical, other-worldly, soft SF? No, its historical fiction, with some scientific leanings.
The story focuses on Europe in the time of Louis XIV, for the most part. The story spans quite a few decades, from about 1680 to 1730, or so. So far. And there is a fair amount of recounting the historical background of the present era as well. The focus, as far as I can tell, seems to revolve around the smaller characters, who may have done their parts to move the larger geo-political forces around them, and the storyline is followed through their divers viewpoints. see what I did there, with the old-timey spelling of diverse, yeah Stephenson does crap like that throughout. not a big fan of the technique myself So, the scientific bent--even a little code breaking, with nods to the 'original' Cryptonomicon, supposedly written by John Wilkins, an Anglican clergyman and natural philosopher from the period, and the basis for Stephenson's SF novel of the same name--mainly revolves around the members of the Royal Society and their scientific pursuits during the period.
So, there's a lot going on in this story. If I had any negative comment, it would be that its took a little while to get rolling. Now that I'm well into the second book, its pretty clear that the slow build-up is a function of how complex the story is. There are a lot of players, and the names can be as difficult to keep track of as The Silmarillion or The Count of Monte Cristo. Two of my favorites, by the way.
This looks like its going to be a good one. Good so far, and more to come.