Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer known for his works of speculative fiction. His novels have been categorized as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, and baroque. Stephenson's work explores mathematics, cryptography, linguistics, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired. He has written novels with his uncle, George Jewsbury ("J. Frederick George"), under the collective pseudonym Stephen Bury.
Stephenson has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (founded by Jeff Bezos) developing a spacecraft and a space launch system, and is also a cofounder of Subutai Corporation, whose first offering is the interactive fiction project The Mongoliad. He was Magic Leap's Chief Futurist from 2014 to 2020. Born on October 31, 1959, in Fort Meade, Maryland, Stephenson came from a family of engineers and scientists; his father was a professor of electrical engineering, while his paternal grandfather was a physics professor. His mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, and her father was a biochemistry professor.
Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1960 and then in 1966 to Ames, Iowa. He graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson studied at Boston University, first specializing in physics, then switching to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Seattle with his family.
Stephenson's first novel, The Big U, published in 1984, is a satirical take on life at American Megaversity, a vast, bland, and alienating research university beset by chaotic riots. His next novel, Zodiac (1988), is a thriller following a radical environmentalist in his struggle against corporate polluters. Neither novel attracted much critical attention on first publication but showcased concerns that Stephenson would further develop in his later work.
Stephenson's breakthrough came in 1992 with Snow Crash, a cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk novel fusing memetics, computer viruses, and other high-tech themes with Sumerian mythology, along with a sociological extrapolation of extreme laissez-faire capitalism and collectivism. Mike Godwin would later describe Stephenson at this time as "a slight, unassuming grad-student type whose soft-spoken demeanor gave no obvious indication that he had written the manic apotheosis of cyberpunk science fiction." In 1994, Stephenson joined with his uncle, J. Frederick George, to publish a political thriller, Interface, under the pen name "Stephen Bury"; they followed this in 1996 with The Cobweb.
Stephenson's next solo novel, published in 1995, was The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. The plot involves a weapon implanted in a character's skull, near-limitless replicators for everything from mattresses to foods, smart paper, and air and blood-sanitizing nanobots. It is set in a world with a neo-Victorian social structure. Cryptonomicon followed this in 1999, a novel including concepts ranging from Alan Turing's research into codebreaking and cryptography during the Second World War to a modern attempt to set up a data haven. In 2013, Cryptonomicon won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award.
The Baroque Cycle is a series of historical novels set in the 17th and 18th centuries and is, in some respects, a prequel to Cryptonomicon. It was originally published in three volumes of two or three books each – Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004), and The System of the World (2004) – but was subsequently republished as eight separate books: Quicksilver, King of the Vagabonds, Odalisque, Bonanza, Juncto, Solomon's Gold, Currency, and System of the World. (The titles and exact breakdown vary in different markets.) The System of the World won the Prometheus Award in 2005.
Following this, Stephenson wrote Anathem (2008), a long and detailed novel of speculative fiction. It is set in an Earthlike world, deals with metaphysics, and refers heavily to Ancient Greek philosophy. Anathem won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2009. In May 2010, the Subutai Corporation, of which Stephenson was named chairman, announced the production of an experimental multimedia fiction project called The Mongoliad, which centered upon a narrative written by Stephenson and other speculative fiction authors.
Stephenson's novel REAMDE was released on September 20, 2011. The title is a play on the common filename README. This thriller, set in the present, centers around a group of MMORPG developers caught in the middle of Chinese cyber-criminals, Islamic terrorists, and the Russian mafia. On August 7, 2012, Stephenson released a collection of essays and other previously published fiction entitled Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing. This collection also includes a new essay and a short story created specifically for this volume.
In late 2013, Stephenson stated that he was working on a multi-volume work of historical novels that would "have a lot to do with scientific and technological themes and how those interact with the characters and civilization during a particular span of history." He expected the first two volumes to be released in mid-to-late 2014. However, at about the same time, he shifted his attention to a science fiction novel, Seveneves, which was completed about a year later and was published in May 2015. On June 8, 2016, plans were announced to adapt Seveneves for the screen.
In May 2016, as part of a video discussion with Bill Gates, Stephenson revealed that he had just submitted the manuscript for a new historical novel—"a time travel book"—co-written with Nicole Galland, one of his Mongoliad coauthors. This was released as The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. on June 13, 2017. In June 2019, his novel Fall, or Dodge in Hell, was published. It is a near-future novel that explores mind uploading into the cloud and contains characters from 2011's Reamde, 1999's Cryptonomicon, and other books. Termination Shock, published in November 2021, is a climate fiction novel about solar geoengineering.