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To hear Wikipedia tell it, author Neal Stephenson was ashamed of this book. It was his first novel, written in 1984, and when Stephenson hit the big time it was a natural choice for the publisher to bring it back into print. Stephenson refused until he saw that copies were selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay. "[T]he only thing worse than people reading the book was paying that much to read it."
If you're a Stephenson fan, read it. Yes, it's raw, but the genius of his later books shows through. The rawness is in plot and character -- not in writing -- so even though the book doesn't measure up to his later work, it's still a pleasant experience.
The book reads like a cross between Tom Sharpe's "Wilt" novels and Stanislaw Lem. Specifically, the Wilt pattern of normal people reacting to strange events blossoming out of control -- and, like Wilt, at a university -- combined with Lem's absurdist-bureaucrat esthetic. Plus giant rats and a live action role player obsessed with them.
And if you live in Boston, you'll never look at the Citgo sign the same way again.

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