Stephenson takes the idea of speculative fiction seriously. He has a bit of an explanation at the beginning and a glossary at the end, but you can choose to forgo reading either of those before reading the body of the book. (I did.) Of course, that means that for the first 120 or so pages, it took me 3 times as long to read a page as normal. I was stopping every 20 pages or so to think about what I’d just read. I needed to sort through the language being used as well as the new concepts being introduced.