The Cobweb

ISBN: 0553383442
ISBN 13: 9780553383447
By: Neal Stephenson J. Frederick George

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About this book

Clyde's life gets complicated when his wife is called up for the Army Reserve in response to a crisis in the Middle East, leaving Clyde in charge of their five-month-old daughter. Then a foreign exchange student is found floating in the lake. As Clyde investigates, he uncovers a plot afoot in his own small town that may have global implications.

Reader's Thoughts


I came across this book about a year ago in Barnes & Noble, and I'd never heard of it. Apparently this was written by Stephenson and his uncle, each using a pseudonym (Stephenson's was Stephen Bury). It's the 2nd of two unrelated novels they wrote together, this originally published in '96, and Interface in '94.This was written (and is set) shortly after the first Gulf War, and the plot is all about terrorists on American soil, subterfuge and double-dealings, etc. While this isn't necessarily enough to drag me in, their collective writing styles did. The lead characters had strongly endearing qualities to them, what I'd imagine it'd be like if Neil Gaiman wrote a thriller. Some very good characters, interesting plot twists, and an overlying network of self-slowing government agencies all made the book compelling for me.One warning though for folks who usually like thrillers. This one's a slow-burner, there's little action until the last, oh, third of the book. But for me, the slowly unfolding plot enabled the authors to spend some time developing the characters, and that made an already good book excellent for me.


El ayudante del Sheriff de un pueblecito de Iowa se encuentra con el asesinato de un estudiante de la Escuela de ingenieros agrónomos del condado. La investigación se irá expandiendo hasta llegar mucho más allá de lo inicialmente supuesto. Un único ayudante de Sheriff se las tendrá que ver con algo mucho más poderoso que él.Me encanta el estilo de Neal stephenson, que escribió esta novela, al igual que Interface, con su tío. Dos thrillers que enganchan completamente, por la historia y por el estilo con que es narrada. Altamente recomendable.

Matías Kornacher

It is a strange book, a bit confusing or boring. I didn't like it very much.

Althea Ann

I believe this was the only novel by Neal Stephenson that I hadn't read, so, in the interest of completism, of course I had to read it.Sadly, I have to admit, it wasn't that good.Being dated was part of it - it's a political thriller, and well, we know know more about Saddam and his alleged WMDs than Stephenson did when he wrote it.Stephenson's main point here is: Foreign grad students in the sciences could actually be plants working for enemy governments, using our labs and resources to create bioweapons right here on US ground.Discovering this plot is a small-town Iowa Good Cop, who (in an interesting twist) becomes friends with a Turkish militant, and seeks to foil the Iraqis.From the other side of things, a low-level CIA analyst who's a Good Mormon Girl also uncovers evidence of shady goings on - and for her efforts, nearly loses her job and any hope of a career.Unfortunately, all the governmental higher-ups are too busy worrying about politics to get things done...The characterizations in the story are really fun (love the drunken Russian pilots) - but there were too many cliches and too much random paranoia. The other novel published under this pseudonym (Interface) was better.


A mediocre Stephenson book is better than no Stephenson book at all.

Ivan Idris

I happen to like science fiction and books by Neal Stephenson. This review is about “Cobweb” written by Neal Stephenson and Frederick George. It’s not a science fiction book, but more of a political thriller. A slightly satirical thriller.Just before the Gulf War starts a brave Deputy County sheriff discovers clues of a conspiracy in the East Iowa University. The suspects are a group of Arab students. A CIA analyst in Washington finds similar clues. Senior management is, of course, not happy with this kind of theories.The FBI gets involved although it shouldn’t. And we get thoroughly informed about the responsibilities of the CIA and the FBI and their relationship. If you are not interested in U.S. politics or the way the U.S. government works, you might find these details annoying. Overall the book is well written and exciting to the end.


This is a great story about the events that may have been going on prior to the Iraq war. I loved the way Neal referenced how Washington works. Having spent some time there myself, it brought up some interesting analogies. You see, I know how the government agencies work, and Neal is dead on. I also loved the way he developed the Sheriff and his character. A very entertaining read. Who knows, perhaps the plot is plausible.

Mad Russian the Traveller

This is the second book by this combination of writers (Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George), and it is still in the category of mainstream thriller involving political intrigue. The story takes place during the run-up to the first Gulf War. The premise of the story is that part of Saddam's biological warfare production was being done at various universities in the US with Iraqi exchange students using funding from the US gov't. Much of the action takes place in the Midwest, and the characters are better drawn than the first novel by this combination of writers. Well done.

Markus Jevring

Unlike Neal Stephenson's many other books, this was just barely acceptable. I realize it's a cooperation with another author, but they made Interface together, and that was so good. By comparison, this book is garbage. It was quite well written, but the story just wasn't that interesting.


I just became aware that Stephenson also sometimes writes (or perhaps wrote) under the pseudonym Stephen Bury, and that he had too books I'd never read or heard of. It was like Christmas came early.As someone said below, a mediocre Stephenson novel is better than no Stephenson novel at all, and I'm not even sure I would call this a mediocre Stephenson novel. It's definitely an early one, and it's pure political thriller, not science fiction at all. You can feel him bursting to get all his cleverness out at once. He's still developing his writing style. What later evolved into a charming style at this point sometimes comes off as pointless details and long, boring narration of everyday tasks. However, the characters are wonderfully Stephensonian. (And from this and Reamde, we learn never to be a weaselly guy who can't handle his alcohol and is ungallant toward women in a Stephenson novel.) All that being said, I enjoyed this novel enormously. It was wonderful fun to read a novel that takes place in the Midwest, where I grew up, and Washington, DC, where I live now. The characters were well-drawn and interesting. Stephenson played with some interesting writing techniques, such as withholding key plot points but showing how characters reacted to them. If all political thrillers were this smart and funny, I'd read a lot more of them. (Or maybe I'm misremembering Clancy, and he was a real knee-slapper.)I highly recommend this book for Stephenson fans, and those who might not yet be.


This was a very interesting book, not least because it takes place around the time of George H.W. Bush's war in Iraq. The novel was written in the mid-1990s, yet manages to foreshadow certain elements of 9/11 in ways that are disturbing to see now. Although plot elements reflect common themes in the thriller genre, the authors take care to make their characters believable and sympathetic. Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks, in particular, really made the book.


"Watch out for the iguanas," Larkin had told her. Betsy hadn't understood the reference until recently. But now she saw iguanas all over Washington, people who sat sunning on their rocks, destroying anything or anybody who came within tongue's reach, but doing nothing. The book centers around several situations in the time just before the first Gulf War, detailing a few different plot lines: DC intel analysts and insiders, a smarter-than-expected deputy sheriff in a big small town in Iowa, and a grad-student-nigh-PhD in that same small Iowan town. The plot revolves around the same basic fulchrum, the secret development of a biological weapon, but takes many different vantages to how things play out. There's a lot of good DC-specific intrigue snarkiness, which is what I enjoyed most. The authors use both the agency web as well as the physical layout of the greater DC area as "characters" in a way. Anyone who lives in the DC area will be able to picture what the authors have in mind as characters live and move around the area.The book has the same feel as Interface, the other novel by Stephenson and his father. They did their basic homework on a lof the key plot points, and ones not so key: making botulin toxin, Olympic-style wrestling theory, the culture of Vakhan Turks, the plays of the CIA and FBI and all Intel groups as they jockey for positions and their own jobs, how federal-political meetings can be run, and what it's like to run a large business that is really a research group looking for more money to continue operating.

Tori Jo Lau

Much like the other book I've read by Neal Stephenson, this one took several chapters to wrap my head around, as there were several narrative threads to introduce before anything really happened. But again like the other book, the initial powering through paid off beautifully. A gripping and at times intense novel, with some really satisfying reveals. I have a feeling there'll be a bit of a Stephenson-marathon in my near future..


Great book based on biological warfare and American government; Funny, hard to put down.


A very different sort of book by one of my favorite authors.Little in the way of science fiction, but some interesting biology stuff.I just enjoy Stephenson's characters so much, it made the book fun.Also, the plot had good mystery in it, which Stephenson also does well!Not sure what to make of the politics in the book.

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