Cryptonomicon (Cryptonomicon, #1)

ISBN: 0060512806
ISBN 13: 9780060512804
By: Neal Stephenson

Check Price Now


Currently Reading Cyberpunk Favorites Fiction Historical Fiction Sci Fi Science Fiction Scifi Thriller To Read

About this book

Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods--World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, crypt analyst extraordinaire, and gung-ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit's strange workings to Waterhouse. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first... Of course, to observe is not its real duty--we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed... Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious."All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day story line, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes--inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe--team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.

Reader's Thoughts


Cryptonomicon is one of those plotty books, where things happen and then other things happen, which isn't really a knock: some of the best books ever are plotty. Lookin' at you, The Count of Monte Cristo. But when you write a book about a bunch of stuff happening, it succeeds based on whether all the things that happen feel like part of a whole - whether all the threads come together. Again, Count of Monte Cristo is forever the gold standard for books like this. At their best, these books are tremendous jigsaw puzzles: a successful one is a masterpiece of planning ahead, and authors like Dumas - or George Eliot, whose Middlemarch combines the best of plottiness and the best of character analysis - take your breath away when you realize how carefully they've set up each strand of plot.Cryptonomicon succeeds at this. Stephenson throws a lot of balls in the air; the story spans sixty years, from World War II to the late 90s, and spans the globe from some made-up country near England to the Phillipines, with plenty of stops in between, and he totally pulls it off. It's an impressive feat, and I can't poke a single hole in it. Nice work, Neal!Of course, while insight into human nature isn't necessarily necessary in a plotty book, it helps to have some. Count of Monte Cristo includes some wicked heavy and smart thinking about fate and control; Middlemarch is one of the most psychologically astute books ever written. And Cryptonomicon isn't really a smash success on that front. There are some cool characters, like uber-Marine Bobby Shaftoe, but basically these are just people who do things. And it has to be said that Stephenson appears to have little or no grasp on how women operate. He clearly likes women - this isn't a misogynist book - I'm just not sure he's met very many of them.Which kinda ties into why I didn't totally love this book. It's impressively put together, but it's...well, I was reminded of David Foster Wallace very often; same conversational tone, same exceptional technical intelligence - but Stephenson is - how do I say this? - he's just not very cool. Which I know, you're like "Wait, you're comparing someone's coolness unfavorably to DFW? DFW wasn't exactly the coolest kid on the block, y'know." But he was! He wouldn't have said so, but he totally was cool. Maybe I can say it like this: DFW was a geek; Stephenson is a nerd.So this is a nerd epic. It succeeds at what it wants to be. I enjoyed it. I didn't love it.


** spoiler alert ** Arrgh! I don't remember a book that I both liked and didn't like this much!Alright, a quick intro snipped from Amazon:"Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods--World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, cryptanalyst extraordinaire, and gung ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit's strange workings to Waterhouse. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first.... Of course, to observe is not its real duty--we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed.... Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious."All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day story line, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes--inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe--team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties. "Whew!Stephenson takes 918 pages to spin his yarn and in the end I enjoyed most of the ride but I wondered what was the point. After 918 pages, that's not a good thing.Pros:1) It's a long book. If you like to settle down to a long book, this will do.2) There is a strong pro-libertarian theme running throughout.3) Some of his writing is quite good, entertaining, thoughtful, fun, thought provoking, well done.4) He puts out some ideas that are really sharp. His discussion on Athena between Root and Randy got my little hamster wheels turning inside my head. He does this a few times.5) Math. Not much but he uses actual math. And it fits with the story.6) Cryptography. He uses actual cryptography and it also fits with the story. Cons:1) It's a freaking long book. If you like your books to be in the 200 - 300 page range, give this one a pass.2) It just... ends. All the characters suddenly lose all the depth and charm Stephenson had imbued them with and it just stops. I think he should embarrassed that 900 pages weren't enough to end this in a satisfactory manner.3) Was there a character not obsessed with sex? No? Right, right, I come from a Puritan background where I was beaten for having impure thoughts, but still, sex was a constant theme for just about every single character. It got really tiresome.4) Potty mouths. The lot of them.5) Sometimes his writing just sucked. Flat out bad. I wondered if he eschewed an editor.6) Bobby Shaftoe's death. At the start of the scene where he dies, I thought "This would be the worst possible place to have him die after all the crap he went through" and, of course, he dies. Lamely.So do I recommend this book? No, not really. It has some stellar moments, mired in dross. If you still want to read it, well, caveat lector.


---------------Previously read Aug 2003It's been a while since I've had to work so hard on a book, but Cryptonomicon was well worth it.Randy Waterhouse, a computer whiz and all around nebbish, is the grandson of Lawrence Waterhouse, a math whiz and all around nebbish; the book follows their semi-separate stories. Lawrence is recruited by the US Armed Forces to break various crypto codes during WWII, while Randy works for a company that is developing a secure data storage facility in the South Seas.Their lives intersect at various points with members of the Shaftoe family - Bobby, the WWII marine who is either very good or damn lucky (or both!), and Amy, a marine recovery diver - as well as other characters, one of whom I'm slightly embarrassed I didn't see coming. I also wish I knew more about the activities in the Pacific theater during WWII - although I didn't feel it was required.The two storylines are rollercoasters - looping, curving and soaring through somewhat parallel timelines, and somehow ending in more or less the same place. This book expects you to be smart, and rewards you accordingly. There is history, humour, horror and even a couple of love stories along the way. A definite recommendation to anyone who is looking for a challenging read and is willing to get lost in its 900+ pages for a while. I'll be putting this on my ReReads shelf....


3.5/4.0This is a brilliant book.Not science fiction, really. More like history-of-science fiction. A World War II cryptography/adventure/treasure hunting story, with an overlarge dose of modern international computer corporation politics thrown in for good measure. Full of digressions, which are part of the feel of the story. If you don't like getting sidetracked, then avoid it. Unfortunately, even with all its brilliance, it has notable problems.1) The ending is poor, which is a huge disappointment from a 1,000 page novel.2) There are no good women characters. None. This is a boys-and-their-toys story, and the females have the same personality depth as cheap cardboard. Not super surprising from a war story, but still frustrating, especially given the modern day scenes.Still, it's fascinating, and absolutely worth reading. But it's not as worth reading as Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, which is (basically) the same genre but without the flaws.


I stake the claim that this novel is the "Catch 22" of the new millennium. Smacking of Heller and borrowing somewhat from Pynchon, this novel also stakes new ground and weaves an engaging yet intricate plot. There are also many asides which encompass basic cryptographic theory, History and mechanics of modern finance and economics, Hacking methods including "Van Eck Phreaking" and EMP pulses, Music Theory, and speculations upon the future and impact information will have.The novel weaves together 3 plots. 1 being the story of Bobby Shaftoe, a tough and guts marine during WWII who is assigned to be a security officer for the OSA, a forerunner of the CIA who handled US involvement with cryptography. The second plot is that of Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a nerdy un-socialized individual whose innate skill at mathematics and pattern recognition landed him a job as a cryptographer during WWII for the OSA and jointly with Brittain's MI6, their counterpart to the OSA. The third plot is of Randy Waterhouse, Lawrence's grandson who with his business partner are trying to construct a worldwide vault of information storage and exchange which if successful will land them with untold fortunes of "fuck you money." The plot eventually weaves around the infamous missing "nazi gold" and how much decrypting enemy messages led to the outcome of the war. The author's voice is very sardonic yet, mirthful. There is literally a laugh-out-loud passage on every page. The opening passage is of Bobby Shaftoe composing a haiku about a truck wheeling around a corner on two wheels just about to tip over as Bobby himself is holding on for dear life to said truck as it careens around a corner on two wheels, just about to tip over. Another humorous passage involves Randy who is signing a disclaimer for a very delicate tooth extraction which only one or two orthodontic surgeons in the country would touch: "They gave Randy a bunch of forms which he signed saying something to the effect that they could put Randy into a wood chipper for all they cared and he would have no legal recourse."All in all, a ripping good read. Stephenson actually makes data storage and finance much more entertaining than any brain candy pot-boiler we could read. I highly recommend this novel.


it took me a month to get through this book. amazing, considering my usual speed with the written word, but quite true. this behemoth refused to be devoured in my usual hours-at-a-time fashion, nope. more like very high quality cheesecake, in that it's so rich you can only take a few bites before you need to assimilate.part of the story is about a WWII GI, who happens to be so gung-ho and talented at both completing difficult missions successfully and staying alive at their completion that he gets the dubious honor of being assigned to a squad so top-secret he has no idea what he's doing there. part of the story is about a brilliant but oblivious mathematician (clearly an asperger's syndrome kind of guy) who becomes a codebreaker during the same war. and part of the story is about the computer-programmer grandson of the latter and his infatuation with the tough-as-nails granddaughter of the former. part of it is about codes (both for war messages and for computer programs) and part of it is about war (both physical and digital). all of which makes it sound very dry when it's anything but.Stephenson's typical doses of randomly-applied hilarity are out in full force here. he does an incredible job of painting the world through the individual voices of his characters...and quite often, those guys are thinking very odd things about very odd situations. the hefty book could have been trimmed by, say, 30% if it left out these random observations, sometimes comical, other times simply beautiful examples of what letters can do in the hands of a gifted wordsmith, but then we'd miss out on things like:"a red dragonfly hovers above the backwater of the stream, its wings moving so fast that the eye sees not wings in movement but a probability distribution of where the wings might be, like electron orbitals: a quantum-mechanical effect that maybe explains why the insect can apparently teleport from one place to another, disappearing from one point and reappearing a couple of meters away, without seeming to pass through the space in between. there sure is a lot of bright stuff in the jungle. randy figures that, in the natural world, anything that is colored so brightly must be some kind of serious evolutionary badass."no, i'm not recommending it to everybody. it's long and meandering and insanely technical in many places. but yes, i am gushing about it. it's lovely.


I mean, FINE, okay, this is one of the most engrossing books I've ever read. I don't really mean "best" or "best-written", necessarily. I mean, it's a messy sprawling epic that's almost too clever by half and full of hilarious characters and history just-so tweaked to accommodate them and also pure unadulterated geekiness. So it's not really for everyone but boy did I lap it up and then eat my huge slices of humble pie for everyone in my life that's been bugging me to read it for about four years.I do have a couple small tiny niggling complaints, and one of them was the massively inbred dynastic mindfuck that was the generational split between mid-century and modern. I mean, are there only five families on the planet that had any effect whatsoever on the latter half of the 20th century? Neal Stephenson seems to think so! It's clever, I mean, in an Aureliano Buendia, Great Men History sort of way to see the same quirks and traits and consequences of history revealing themselves in the microcosm of a few generations of a few families. But I didn't necessarily need to be hit over the head with it, NEAL.That said, though, I can't think of a family I'd rather find myself marooned in the seas of literature with than the Waterhouses or the Shaftoes, so. Also I had a love/hate relationship with the lectures that Stephenson felt was his god-given right to slam smack in the middle of a scene because he just feels like you HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THIS NOW and you do, so I struggled against enjoying the lectures because I'm a nerd and I like learning things and hating the lectures because I love fiction and I hate great big long swathes of explanatory text slammed into a character's mouth. It's all very Giles. But I mean, if you know the book you know these are sort of tiny complaints in the face of the awesomeness of Stephenson's humor and imagination, his passion for these, let's call them archetypes of humanity that he's wrapped around history and technology and ideas. In a way, it's what I always hated about Rand that somehow works brilliantly when Stephenson does it. Huh.

Arun Divakar

I couldn't do it ! 'It' here refers to the act of finishing the book. Beyond a certain number of pages, my mind felt like a glass full of muddy water in which the silt somehow refuses to settle down. The book is not to fault, maybe I just am not ready for this yet.Stephenson is an interesting kind of author for he knows quite a truck load about quite a lot of things. In the pages I went through, there were discourses ( through the character's mouths of course) about things as varied as the second world war, cryptoanalysis, the economic,social,political & historic statistics of Manila, gender biases and so forth. There are three different stories which Stephenson has mixed into one single cauldron to bring out this book.Maybe long after Snowcrash & Anathem , I will get back to this. For now, goodbye wrong book ! Goodbye Cryptonomicon ! (There..I knew something was wrong with the other name).

Chris McLane

One day I went out shopping for a book. My list of unread, prepurchased titles sat neatly in a stack by my disused fire-place and none of them set me alive with anticipation. I don't know what I wanted really, but I had a vague idea that there was a black book with numbers on the front that was a New York Times bestseller, and I quite fancied something clever related to code breaking or numbers. So I hopped on the subway, rode into Union Square and strolled over to B&N on 17th street and found what I was looking for on a Paperback Favourites table. I read the description, and the first few pages and decided it was good and worthy of purchase. That book was Cryponomicon. I read the first chapter or so back home on my bed, with tea and toast, and I decided the writing style was tricky, and hard to get used to in terms of rhythm, but I quite liked this tough as nails army guy in the first chapter so I stuck with it.Stephenson has a sprawling, divergent, off on a tangent way of writing, but there is such pleasure in every aspect of the subjects he explores, and his narrative ambles back over to the central plot points enough that you never feel annoyed or frustrated. If anything you feel a sense of gratitude for his skill and for his curiosity, and the manner in which he imparts complex ideas.Of all the authors I've ever read, I feel most strongly about Neal Stephenson because he has genuinely enriched my life and broadened my understanding and appreciation for history and ideas.One of the best scenes in this book follows the story of a Japanese man whose boat is blown up. His comrades are eaten by sharks and he endures hell before the end of his story. It is so vivid and alive and such a wonderful piece of writing. He took a character who could have been a foot-note in the story if he chose it to be so, and made something beautiful. That's why this is a truly great book.


Though Snow Crash will probably remain my all-time favorite Neal Stephenson novel, Cryptonomicon might take the crown as his best.[†:] As I write this review, I wrapping up my third reading of this novel.BRIEF ASIDE REGARDING THE TIMING OF THIS THIRD READING: It is probably worth noting my mental state when I cracked the spine on this one for the third time. Stephenson's Anathem had just come out and I could not quite bring myself to drop the cash on the hardcover. But I was overwhelmed with the urge to read some Stephenson. Given the the brutalizing that the U.S. economy was taking (according to the news) right about this time, it therefore seemed apropos to read something that involved economics, crypto, currency, libertarianism (and flaws of same), and safety/security.END OF ASIDE AND RETURN TO REVIEW THAT IS REALLY MORE LIKE A BUNCH OF RANDOM DISCONNECTED OBSERVATIONS: Cryptonomicon manages to do a good job of not feeling terribly dated even nine years after its release. The cutting-edge laptops in the narrative still seem pretty fancy; the issues all continue to feel pertinent and relevant; the only thing that seems to set it in a particular time is an off-hand reference to "the Power Rangers" pretty late in the story.Anyway.It holds together well all these years later and is a great exemplar of Stephenson's hyperbolic style and how well he wields that style for explanatory power as well as humor.What Stephenson does masterfully here is to create an interesting story for nerds (esp. crypto nerds) that has a thinly veiled coming-of-age sub-text lathered onto a character that we (at first) don't think needs any maturation.I am talking (of course) about Randy.If you don't figure this out by the time you get to the "Pulse" chapter then you have some explaining to do. We (the readers, the nerds) are thinking that Randy is a grown-up because we (1; as grown-ups) identify with him at the outset and (2) he has all the trappings of a grown-up such as (a) a beard, (b) a girlfriend of 10 years, (c) a business plan, etc. But the Randy we start with is little more than a bearded child running away from his commitments (i.e., his career as a university sysadmin and his relationship with Charlene (though, given the circumstances described in the prose, citing the latter is probably not fair to Randy) to play with his friends (e.g., Avi, Tom Howard) and their toys (e.g., high-tech laptops, GPS receivers). We get the first hint that this late-stage coming-of-age is going on when Randy shaves off his beard to discover a grown-ups face underneath. From there it's a pretty steady sleight-of-hand unfolding through the narrative which is really quite rewarding. (Hence taking the crown as Stephenson's best.)Granted, there's so much more going on in the novel than just Randy; we could also consider Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, Bobby Shaftoe, Goto Dengo, or Enoch Root[‡:]. But Randy is probably the best place to center.------† = At the time of this writing, there is a pretty broad swath of Stephenson unread by Y.T., namely all three in the Baroque Cycle and the brand new Anathem .‡ = Root in particular fascinates me because (if what I've heard is true an he does in fact appear in Stephenson's Baroque Cycle) he seems to share a few traits in common with Tolkien's Gandalf (doubly interesting because Stephenson's Randy calls Root a "Wizard" in the Tolkien sense), Weis/Hickman's Fizban, Arthur Miller's "Old Jew", etc. I'm thinking that there is a whole taxonomy of characters to explore here of which Root is one.------See also:• 10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them) at io9


My friend Stuart's reading this and I stupidly started spoiling one of the best lines in the book (it pops up as Shaftoe's motto) and he was mildly irritated with me. Fortunately for him, he is vastly smarter than me so while he was quite generously acting annoyed he was probably thinking to himself, "Maybe one day I will spoil math and engineering and the details of Riemann zeta functions for Conrad." Now I'm rereading it out of sympathy and it's even better than I remembered.Anyway, while I haven't yet approached the implosion that I know is coming toward the end, I am really even more impressed at the catholicity of Stephenson's concerns than I was the first time I read the book. He has insightful things to say about information theory, natch, but also Tolkein, postmodern literary criticism (OK, he's a little reactionary about this, but he's also right), the wisdom of joining the Marines, childrearing, Filipino architecture and urban planning, facial hair (can you tell I love Randy's diatribes about Charlene?), Ronald Reagan, the assassination of Yamamoto and associated dilemmas of cryptanalysis, Papuan eating habits, the 90s networking bubble...If you don't like writers who have something interesting to say about everything, I don't know why you read. If it bothers you that Neal Stephenson uses his characters as mouthpieces to voice his well-considered opinions on everything from the prospects of economic growth measured against the likelihood of revolution in the Philippines, for example, to the details of Japanese tunneldigging, then you might as well settle in with your Danielle Steele and be done with it. Stephenson knows a lot about everything, and that's unusual and should be treasured. As a stylist, he's no Hemingway. His stories have beginnings and middles but the ends are usually catastrophically bad. So what? He reveals enough about his subjects that you usually leave his books behind with the feeling that your brain is now fused in a slightly different way. And good for Neal Stephenson, and good for us.


Neal Stephenson is brilliant. Quite obviously so. And one of his strengths lies in writing books that make abstruse, convoluted niche subjects feel approachable and exciting to the average reader. His attention to detail and his playful tangents, asides and divagations are charming, witty and often fascinating.Unfortunately this does not always translate into well-written and well-structured narratives. To put it mildly, Cryptonomicon drags. It meanders. Occasionally it stops completely dead. More than a hundred pages before the end all the surprises and brilliance had been squandered and I was gritting my teeth and just waiting for it to be over.This is a very male narrative. All of the main characters are straight males, and the book (and its characters) are obsessed with male ejaculations (yes, explicitly) and their effect on the male thought process. Furthermore, Stephenson includes some facile pop psychology about the interactions of the the sexes (which made this homosexual roll his eyes) and took a few embarrassing swipes at academia, atheism and gender equality. The fact that two of the male supporting characters are homosexual does not lessen this impression of male heteronormativity, especially when you realize that both of these characters are doomed to lonely, loveless deaths.Women are cast only in the most stereotypical roles and are never completely fleshed out. They are either sex objects, sex tyrants, frigid or helpless--nothing in between. Out of all the many, many orgasms in the book, only two belong to women (or rather, A woman) and they are presented in such a way as to make them sound unnatural and almost frightening.I'm not sure what Stephenson's point was in writing such a heavy-handed, gender-unbalanced narrative, but it alienated me almost completely. Maybe I'm missing the point--I'm sure there are people who would say I am--but it just didn't work for me.So! In conclusion, Cryptonomicon was a lengthy slog that could have used tighter editing and plotting, and far less fixation on reinforcing gender and sexual norms.


Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far). Cryptonomicon is a difficult book for me to review.In many ways it’s amazing – so why not the give it the fifth star?In many ways it’s infuriating – so how did it get the first four stars?Simple answer? It’s too long! Crypto clocks in between 900-1100 pages, depending on which copy you get – and the story is a rambling beast, full of whimsical tangents, studious digressions, chatty dialogue and endearing anecdotes. It’s an absolute pleasure to read – I find Stephenson’s writing a joy – but it goes in so many directions at once that it’s too often becalmed in the midst of the telling; any sense of forward momentum is diluted by the all-encompassing approach. Often you’re not sure which way is forward! For me, this book is the perfect example of the ethos that…“The journey is more important than the destination.”I learned from this book. I learned about cryptography, maths, military tactics, history, engineering, business tactics, phreaking, currency, mining, academia, etc. But I also learned how to kick-back and enjoy the journey of a book – to stop waiting for the next plot development point to come along like clockwork.Months after reading Crypto I came back to Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, the sequel/prequel trilogy to Crypto and I loved it! To enjoy a book properly, I need to be in the right headspace – I need to know what I’m getting into and adjust my expectations accordingly. I didn’t have the right hat on for Crypto – so I really enjoyed it, but still kept having little tantrums that it wasn’t doing what I felt it should. My experience with Crypto helped me develop the right mindset to fully enjoy The Baroque Cycle, and if I didn’t have so many other books on my list, I’d be tempted to go back to Crypto a second time and see if I can now appreciate it more on the second go-around.This is the book I was mid-way through when I got married. Some people sit up nervously on the night before their wedding – I just read a couple of chapters of Crypto and sparked out. I read this on the flight for my honeymoon (between rounds of mushy newly-wed kisses). I finished it around the pool and on the beach. In much the same way that Blue Mars will forever be linked with the birth of my son, Cryptonomicon will always bring to mind, for me, wedding bells and a feeling of glorious happiness.Bobby Shaftoe, Randy Waterhouse, Lawrence Waterhouse and Enoch Root are all excellent characters – and the affection I feel for each of them is further enhanced by their association in my mind with the love I feel for my darling, bookworm wife.P.S. Don't mention the lizard.P.P.S. My only gripe with this book - and it's not even a gripe so much as an observation: Is this actually sci-fi? At all? No? Good. Just so we're all in agreement then.


I read this book and I really liked it.I liked the book a lot, but things about it have made me develop a whole speil. The story was great, interesting historical/thrill fiction. But! He could have easily cut a good 1/3 out of the book and it would have been fine. Mr Stephenson loves taking a long way around to describe things, and to compound the problem, his characters like to take the long way around to say things too. So you have this recursive loop of masturbation.For example in one chapter the characters are trying van eyc phreaking, apparently this is using an antenae to read the signal off of monitor cables and such to get an image. This is fine, but rather than having the characters do it, see it works, and have it established as plot point later, he decides to give us 8 pages of what is on the computer. An interesting piece about the origins of fetish, but it has nothing to do with the book. The whole book was full of this stuff. I just wanted to yell shut the hell up and get on with the story!Also if there is a clever way of saying something he goes out of his way to do it, for example he calls sunburns, radiation burns. While true, it doesn't come off as clever, just one of those science geek things where they wink and whisper, "Most people don't know sunight is radiation! hehe we are smart!" Granted he assumes that the reader is in on the joke, but it still bugged me.Which is all too bad, I liked the storyline a lot, it was interesting, the way he went from WWII to the present was nicely done. His descriptions of how crypto and counter crypto both then an now were interesting as well.I was talking to another friend of mine about this and he agreed only about another one of his books, Snowcrash, i think, and he summed it up as, "I get it, nanotech is cool, now move on with the story."In game terms this is like playing a game of titan, it takes forever, you have fun while you are playing but you never want to play again.


This is a book about cryptography, among other things. Lawrence Waterhouse Price is a brilliant mathematician whose peculiar talents are discovered on a routine military test. He is assigned to a very secret project known initially as Detachment 2071 until Price remarks about the unrandom nature of the group’s name, “2071 is the product of two primes. And those numbers, 37 and 73, when expressed in decimal notation, are, as you can plainly see, the reverse of each other.” Randomness is important because their job is to manipulate the decoded information they have received from the Enigma and Ultra machines in such a way so that they can achieve maximum benefit from the use of that information without giving away to the Germans and Japanese that their code has been broken. They must make sure that Allied actions maintain the appearance of randomness and ignorance. A Marine raider sergeant Shaftoe is given the task of implementing Detachment 2072 (as it became). For example, Price is stationed in Britain and there they have created machines—forerunners of the modern computer – that electrically examine the different possibilities of wheel combinations in the Enigma machine. These required large pegboards to connect the various circuits, so an inordinately large number of tall women needed to be hired as the pegboards were very high. If the Germans got copies of the personnel records, they would immediately notice a bell curve with an odd peak at one end and wonder why people working in this area were not chosen randomly, the bell curve being a random distribution. So Detachment 2072’s job would be to plant false personnel records to make sure the height distribution would be random so as not to give away any possible clues as to what they might be up to. The unit’s job is to create another layer of deception: “When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first…. Of course, to observe is not its real duty — we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed…. Then, when we come around and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious.” Price’s grandson and Shaftoe’s niece, unwittingly paired in the present, are working on a project to create a huge data haven in Southeast Asia when they discover that a sunken submarine may hold the secret of an unbreakable code that is tied in with a massive conspiracy that originated in Detachment 2072. For those who might be interested, there is a great description of how the Enigma machine worked. It was a periodic polyalphabetic system consisting of three – later four – interconnected wheels that embodied cycles within cycles. Three wheels have a period of 17576, i.e., the substitution alphabet that codes the first letter of the message will not appear again until the 17577th cycle. When the Germans added the fourth wheel, the period became 456,976. To use the same substitution letter the message would have to be longer T than 456,976 characters, a virtual uncertainty. The Germans believed their four-wheel Enigma to be undecipherable. Stephenson has a delightful sense of irony that permeates the book. Price, because of his cryptological skills, has the highest security clearance possible: Ultra Mega. The only problem is that it’s such a high security clearance the fact that it exists must be kept secret from everyone except another person with Ultra Mega clearance so he always has to be issued a lower security clearance in order to get into secure areas none of the guards or other officers are permitted to learn about Ultra Mega. Stephenson’s perception of the war is curious. The winner would be the one who succeeded in breaking the other side’s codes and then manipulated his troops’ actions so as not to reveal those codes had been broken. The plots converge on an enormous gold reserve hidden in a mine, and the ciphers hold the key. It’s a great story. Be forewarned, it’s the first of a trilogy. Stephenson has these wonderful little comments throughout the book that bring a broad grin to the face. For example, “See, you are being a little paranoid here and focusing on the negative. It’s not about how women are deficient. It’s more about how men are deficient. Our social deficiencies, lack of perspective, or whatever you want to call it, is what enables us to study one species of dragonfly for twenty years, or sit in front of a computer for a hundred hours a week writing code. This is not the behavior of a well-balanced and healthy person, but it can obviously lead to great advances in synthetic fibers. Or whatever.” Or Randy’s father dumps the contents out on a ping-pong table that inexplicably sits in the center of the rec room at Grandma’s managed care facility, whose residents are about as likely to play pingpong as they are to get their nipples pierced.” Do NOT be intimidated by the length (1000 pages) of this book. It’s loaded with fascinating detail and reads faster than 100 ten-page books.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *