I didn't realize when I bought this book that in addition to the dozen plus essays, there are several short stories. I don't think of short stories as Neal Stephenson territory, so I was pleased to get them. They turn out to be pretty good stories, too, quite enjoyable and for once not overly long.
The heart of this collection, though, is the essays, which range from a couple of pages long to over a hundred pages, novella-length in its own right. Stephenson covers many subjects here, from introducing other writer's works to metaphysics at the Royal Society, to describing the laying of trans-oceanic telecommunications cable to discussing the state of science fiction today. As one would expect from Stephenson, he writes intelligently and with humor about all these subjects and many more. I never would have thought that an essay on laying telecom cable would be interesting, but I was sucked into this article and read it in a single sitting, over a hundred pages of it.
I really liked the fact that these pieces covered such a broad range of subjects and were of such varied lengths. I didn't know Stephenson could write anything under 300 pages long, so the shorter pieces were a pleasant surprise. Sometimes I wished he would expound more on the shorter bits, such as his discussion of "Anathem", and the interviews with Slashdot and Salon were also pretty interesting and easily could have been longer.
Overall, this is a thoughtful collection that should please and reward you with chuckles and the occasional, "Huh, I didn't know that." I was particularly interested in Stephenson's take on the state of science fiction today, which he brings up in several of these pieces. I wanted to hear him talk more about his own books, though, which doesn't much occur herein, and I could have used a couple more short stories. This book is a strong work that doesn't disappoint, and it should give you a dozen hours of reading enjoyment.