Family History Sagas

One thing I kept thinking about while reading Cryptonomicon
is that the model Neal Stephenson is using for family history is really
different from the standard model in mass-market

The standard model is that you write one book describing three

  • The Grandparent Generation makes a major life decision
    (immigrating to America, starting a business…) and makes it
  • The Parent Generation is constrained in its choices by the
    expectations of the Grandparent Generation, and ends up a bit
  • The Child generation has lots of choices, because of the
    success of the preceding two generations. The plot can either
    have them striking out in a different direction entirely, or
    ending up taking over the original business with new energy and

So this model says that your personality is determined by your
circumstances, which may be very different from those of your
parents and grandparents.

Stephenson’s model is that your personality is determined by
your heredity, so if your grandfather was the sort who was a good
sergeant (the Shaftoes), you’ll likely end up as a sergeant or
in a similar role in some non-military enterprise,
too. If your grandfather (or great-great-great grandfather) was a
scientific researcher, you’ll fall into some kind of research
activity, too.

Probably neither model works very well in real life, and both
models can produce good fiction. But I have to say that for
analyzing the dynamics in my own family, I more often find the
mass-market fiction model useful.


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