Interface: Neal Stephenson's underappreciated masterpiece

Last week I was rearranging some bookcases and I found myself holding a copy of Interface, the novel Neal Stephenson wrote with his uncle George Jewsbury (AKA J. Frederick George) in 1994. I remember when this book came out; I'd gotten a set of galleys from Bakka Books, the bookstore I'd worked at in Toronto, took them home on a Friday night, and the next thing I knew it was Sunday afternoon and I was holding a finished copy of Interface, my mind whirling, grinning like a mad saint.

This is one of those books that you return to again and again — as I have just done, reading all 600+ pages of it in stolen moments over the past few days — and find something new to like about each time. Bruce Sterling once told me that a technothriller is a "science fiction novel with the President in it," and Interface fits that bill. It's a novel about a lovable, no-bullshit governor of Illinois who suffers a stroke on the eve of the State of the Union address in which a feckless President announces that he is capping the amount of the budget that can go to servicing the national debt. This motivates The Network, a shadowy cartel of financial interests who control most of that debt, to buy the presidency, after installing some interesting neural interface hardware into the governor's head.

This is probably Stephenson's most tightly plotted book — the kind of thing that proves that the sprawling, sometimes messy plots of books like Snow Crash are deliberate, not an accident or mistake. Like Cryptonomicon, the book is chock full of brilliant, memorable set pieces — if you liked the Cryptonomicon exegesis on eating Cap'n Crunch cereal, you will love this book.

And like Cryptonomicon and the System of the World trilogy, this book makes you feel like Stephenson is tapped into some of the Big Secrets of how the levers of power work in the world, the mysterious underpinnings of finance, history, and human relationships laid out there for us to see.

I keep losing days I can't afford to this book. This last reading was probably my tenth go at it, and there were whole passages I found myself remembering verbatim, warmly, fondly (did I mention how wonderfully written this book is, on a sentence-by-sentence level? It's like the glibbest, funniest raconteur you ever met, unspooling in virtuoso form for 650 pages).

I'm really glad that this thing is still in print — especially since that means I can now recommend it to all of you. Be prepared to lose a day or two to it.