Neal Stephenson

Posted on September 26, 2011 by Steve

It was seven years ago that I snapped, with a CLIÉ, the photo that would become, for a while, the image for Wikipedia's article on Neal Stephenson.

Mr. Stephenson was back in D.C. this week for the National Book Festival, reading from his latest thousand-page tome, this one written not with a fountain pen but using Scrivener.

I was late for the reading but managed to catch the end and get in line for the Q&A session. The audio was a bit clumsy, with large loudspeakers pointed straight at the questioners, causing them to shrink away while Neal struggled to hear. I got the last question in.

NTS: Okay we're in overtime I'll just take one more real quick.
Q: Thanks, Neal. The word from Venezuelan state television is that Presidente Chavez intends to repatriate eleven billion dollars worth of gold reserves, most of which are now in London.
NTS: I can't hear what you're saying, sorry.
Q: [same volume, one octave higher] From Venezuela, Presidente Chavez intends to repatriate eleven billion dollars worth of gold reserves. Any comments on the logistics of that kind of a transfer?
NTS: I'm not somebody who is really competent to have an opinion about it. Interesting factoid; thanks for mentioning it.
Something makes me think Dubner, asking over a calibrated, burr-ground, skimmed and French-pressed coffee, would have gotten an answer. Commenters on both the news article and a referring blog made Stephenson connections. I'll have to settle for a chuckle from the audience.

I followed the ridiculously slow-moving author cart over to the signing table, thinking I would get one up on the other fans, only to find a hoard of them already queued up. Not content with my goofy question, I planned to present the author with my smartphone, freshly-purchased Kindle version of Cryptonomicon opened to the title page. I even brought a Sharpie in case his fountain pen didn't work on the screen protector. But the line was long, and one of the handlers mentioned that some of the authors are fussy and refuse to sign anything but their current book. I lost my nerve and bailed out.

At least I have a legitimate, searchable copy of a great novel now, so I don't have to rely on that pirate site with its copy of Randy Waterhouse's treatise on the challenges of massive international gold transfer.