I have tried to explain to people Neal Stephenson's novels Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver and most recently The Confusion, and I find that I fail horribly. Although the flashback-present day method of narration is hardly surprising, I find my explanations sidetracked and warped by attempts to convey the wit, the imaginatively-constructed setpieces that stretch ideas of historical fact, the candid portrayals of characters. Most of all, Stephenson's uncanny ability to take the most esoteric and complicated topics and infuse them with a startling energy and clarity. Suddenly topics like cryptography, trade and chemistry are essential elements in a rip-roaring adventure spanning the entire globe. I can't convey the depth of these ideas purely through words, let alone in an off-the-cuff conversation on an MRT train or over a meal.