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The Big U
by Neal Stephenson
HarperCollins, 308pp
Published: August 1984

I’ve been a fan of Stephenson for quite a while but I didn’t start with him back in 1984 when he published his first book, “The Big U”.  So I was intrigued to see what such a powerful writer did way back then.  O M G…this was just ten kinds of fun!

It’s a satirical and wildly imaginative and dark…oh, so very dark...take on college life. You simply will not believe to what lengths Stephenson’s characters will go when they feel there is no escape.  The university building is a giant skyscraper with warrens of rooms, so the reader is free to imagine the madness of rats cooped up in a maze.  The madness is pervasive even while the reader is given tiny glimpses of normal academia. Some of the madness is simply a release valve of sorts for the oppression from the faculty.  Some of the madness is simply youth expressing itself.  And some of it comes from a well of darkness…or maybe from the basement…  In any case, it gets truly whacked when our main characters discover what the Dean is hiding in the basement. 

The book starts with an oscillating fan and a cold war between two roommates…which eventually erupts into a complete civil war involving the whole university, and finally, irrevocably, ends with the fan.  The side bar story about the Crotobaltislavonians is just a cherry on top; of course, they couldn’t have been stopped without the RPGers.

A comparison with a 1985 movie called “Real Genius” is inescapable.  While a funny movie in its own right; showing the madness that genius sometimes displays, and the evilness of the establishment; it is but a small candle flame to the torch of madness this book delivers.

It is an incredible debut book and it staggers my imagination to think of the evolution of this writer.  It is howlingly funny and if you don’t snort, honk and guffaw then you don’t appreciate satire.  Just sayin’…  ~~ Catherine Book

For other titles by Neal Stephenson click here

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