The first is Quicksilver, the first book of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. This is a big book, and has more the feel of historical fiction than most of what I read. I enjoyed it, but it is a bit of a ramble. The central characters are not actual historical figures, and their exploits are sometimes a bit hard to relate together into anything like a coherent whole. This may be resolved in the subsequent books(The Confusion and The System of the World), especially the last. It is set in the same alternate history as Cryptonomicon, and has some of the same features. It's a book about people who make subtle changes to the order of the world through money and information, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. It's a book that brings up ideas worth thinking about, but not a book whose characters I connect to emotionally. It's certainly clever writing, and often witty, fittingly enough for the period (1660-1710, more or less).
The second book is Changing Planes by Ursula K. LeGuin. This is a drastic contrast to Stephenson's book, being a set of linked short stories, quite whimsical in places (certainly the premise is!), satirical in others. I always enjoy LeGuin's writing: she has a warmth and a wisdom which is very rare and very engaging. There is no contempt for any of her characters in the stories, an attitude which sits very well with me. An odd feature of these stories is that they are much more descriptive than narrative. The old writing workshop saw of "show, don't tell" got left behind here, and the results are surprisingly affecting. This may be because the stories are short enough that the descriptions and explanations don't feel interminable; her novels are usually much more active. In these stories are some ideas as profound as Stephenson's, but on totally different subjects such as society and personal development. My favorite among them was a story entitled The Fliers of Gyr, which describes a world in which one in a thousand people are afflicted with a growth of functional wings, and presents the conversations of a visitor with normal and winged natives. I won't spoil the story, but my reading of it certainly took the wings as a metaphor, and left me with some new thoughts about how I make choices.
Both are good books, but the latter is better, in my opinion. Changing Planes was over all too fast, a statement which Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books are unlikely to elicit.