I’ve been reading some Neal Stephenson lately and I’ve been reminded of a point that I often try to make when I do my world-building talks. The point being that the skills used for world-building in science fiction and fantasy are not genre specific. I see writers who assume that if they’re not building the universe from the ground up, the whole world-building toolkit is irrelevant. They fail to realize that every writer has to build a world in the reader’s mind, and even if the facts behind the pages are not the author’s invention, those facts still need to inform the story and make it into the reader’s head. The world of Cryptonomicon is no less full and complex and richly detailed as Snow Crash, despite the former being less science fiction than the average Tom Clancy novel.
I’m currently reading (listening to) Reamde. And I’m reminded a lot of a triptych of John Brunner novels; Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider. Like those three rightly classic novels, Stephenson juggles multiple viewpoints to illuminate an incredibly detailed and complex world— even when that world is much more congruent to the one we live in than Brunner’s.