Stephenson is one of the 2 best cyberpunk authors, one of the dozen best SF authors, and certainly one of the 100 best authors alive (how's that for random?)
This may not be his best book, but is the most fun, and not to be missed. If you are new to Stephenson, promise yourself to give it 50 pages. If you do, you'll read everything he has written.
I suggest reading his books in this order:
Frankly, and sadly, not much else
Okay, I'll take my own random challenge:
The two Best cyberpunk authors are
1. William Gibson 2. Neil Stephenson
For Gibson I'd read
Neuromancer because it changed everything
My top dozen SF authors (in no particular order, and not counting fantasy greats):
1. Asimov (until you graduate HS) 2. Clarke 3. Stephenson 4. Gibson 5. Samuel Delaney 6. Orson Scott Card (the Ender series) 7. Stephen King (the Dark Tower series) 8. Larry Niven (with and without Pournelle) 9. Neil Gaiman 10. J. K. Rowling 11. Greg Bear 12. Robert Heinlein
Sci Fi is one of my favs. I love just reading myself into a new time, new dimension, new planet. I would love to meet some of the great writers of sci fi and shake their hands. I wonder where their minds go to get away from it all.
Science fiction differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas". Science fiction is largely based on writing entertainingly and rationally about alternate possibilities in settings that are contrary to known reality.