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


This novel is full of biting satire, of academia, small Midwestern towns, and government. As an academic, I guffah'ed repeatedly at the wry descriptions of university politics and corruption! As after reading other books by Neil Stephenson, I desperately hope he branches into screenplays - the imagery in this novel is equally exquisitely detailed and creative!


Cobweb is a thoroughly enjoyable Gulf War thriller that, with any other name on its cover, would have deserved four stars. But it's not any other name on the cover, it's Neal Stephenson, and placed in the context of Stephenson's other novels, some of which I rank among my all-time favourite novels, this isn't *quite* up to par, which is why I've bumped it down to three stars.

Matías Kornacher

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


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.

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.

Poetic Justice

Rarely, if ever, can a joint venture in fiction writing leave such a complete feeling at the end. One example is this one. Another is Interface, predictably enough by the exact same duo.The writing is so seamlessly forged, it's impossible to tell where one author stops and the other begins. Fast paced, flowing, genuinely funny at times, witty and sarcastic in its entirety, it's one of those books easy on the eye, but engaging enough to let the reader finish it in one go.Lots of main characters, intricately woven story threads, emotionally charged milestones, all culminating to an exhilarating end.What it couldn't come clear from though is a couple of Hollywood traits: the honest hero through hell fire and brimstone escapes unscathed, America prevails above all in the end, and life goes on beautifully in rural undertones everywhere else...

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.


This book was one of those "oh well, I don't have anything else to ready right now" kind of books and turned out to be a suprisingly great read. Great characters, good writing and a unique story that was not sci-fi related at all. I really recommend this one.

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..

Cary Ussery

This was a good book and the story was intriguing. However, this did not 'feel' like a Neal Stephenson book; not sure how the co-author collaboration worked here but this seems less Stephenson and, therefore, I assum more George. Nice, fast-paced read and thriller.


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

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.


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.


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.


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

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