Cryptonomicon (Cryptonomicon, #1)

ISBN: 0060512806
ISBN 13: 9780060512804
By: Neal Stephenson

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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

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.

Erez Schatz

Greenspun's Tenth Rule of Programming says, that any sufficiently complicated C or Fortran program contains an ad hoc informally-specified bug-ridden slow implementation of half of Common Lisp. (Including Common Lisp, added Robert Morris)Lisp, to qoute L. Peter Deutsch, can make you realise that software could be close to executable mathematics.Cryptonomicon is surprisingly similar to the previous paragraph, both as an analogy to the book, and for the useless use of computer-based qoute, just for the sake of it.To start with, this book is way.... too.... long.Just way too long. No real way of getting around it. Cryptonomicon fails to carry its own weight, even if it didn't have so much of it. It *is* a page-turner, which is good, seeing as it has so much of those, but more because there is very little actual content. Rather than drawing you in, it lets you drift over; instead of using the breadth of scope to mean something, it really doesn't. The 2 WWII parts are more of a time-line rather than a story, and the third part, the actual story, is very weak, and no real connections other than some obvious ones, that is, don't expect any last minute golden thread that will tie it all. There is a lot of fanfare around and in the book, and there's a whole lot of research thrown in for good measure, but there isn't much of a point, where you surface out of a 10 page description that is painstakingly detailed, with as much story in it, as if you took a break and went to read an encyclopaedia. Other such detailed descriptions include a 5 pager about the cars going in or out, a pornographic description of cereal eating, each of those gives the reader no added value other than to be impressed by the writer's way around words, which a good editor would've red-marked away had this been a debut piece.Characteristics is shoddy, which is amazing for such a large novel. With 1100+ pages in paperback, some character development is expected, but characters here rarely act, and mostly react, being moved from place to place by the circumstances and the background characters that appear and disappear, without any excuse than the sake of pushing the plot forward, toward a very dull and, strangely enough, rushed, ending, which is not ever partially a conclusion and is an ending simply because the book ends there, leaving many threads hanging in mid-air. The only glimpses the author allows us into the mind of the characters is when a mathematical, military, or technological problem is in need of being solved. Other than that, there is a lot of inner monologue, but hardly any glimpses into the actual "inner" parts, resulting in characters moving from one state of mind to another with little to no reasoning.This is a book that haven't decided whether it wants to be "techy" or about technology, resulting in parts "for the layman" and parts that demand some knowledge in computer tech to understand. This is a book that attempts to tell us a lot, which is basically how good is the author in finding yet another meaningless, but semantically cool, metaphor. This is a book that might've been, minus about 400-500 redundant pages and plus about 100 pages to close the remaining threads, a fun, intelligent read. At current state, its a smart-alek, overly self-important, and hardly elegant.

Kat Hooper

ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is a lengthy historical fiction set during both World War II and the late 1990s with much of the action taking place in the Philippines. In the 1940s, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, colleague of Alan Turing, is hired by the U.S. Navy to help break Axis codes. Meanwhile, Marine Sergeant Bobby Shaftoe, who's too enthusiastic and courageous for his own good, doesn't realize that his troop's job is to make it look like the U.S. hasn't broken the codes, but just happens to always be in the right place at the right time.Waterhouse and Shaftoe know each other only superficially, but their descendants, who've noticeably inherited some of their traits, meet in the 1990s storyline. Randy Lawrence Waterhouse is a systems administrator who's trying to set up an electronic banking system in the Philippines. There he meets Doug and Amy Shaftoe, a father and daughter team who are doing the underwater surveying for Randy's Internet cables. Randy and the Shaftoes eventually realize that they share a secret heritage and together they set out on a massive code-breaking treasure hunt.The plot of Cryptonomicon is clever and elaborate, sometimes exciting (e.g., most scenes with Bobby Shaftoe), frequently funny (such as when Ronald Reagan interviews Bobby Shaftoe, and when the Waterhouse family uses a complicated mathematical algorithm to divide up the family heirlooms), and always informative.Neal Stephenson's fans know (and love) that you can't read one of his books without learning a lot. Predictably, Cryptonomicon is chock full of information. If a character walks past a bank in China, you can bet you're in for a lecture on Chinese banking. If he sees a spider web dripping with dew, you'll be taught how spiders catch their prey. Character backstories are used to teach us about the history of the Jews in Eastern Europe or the familial habits of the Filipinos. In Cryptonomicon there are many pages that think they should be in a textbook on computer circuitry (and some that actually admit they belong in Letters to Penthouse). There are three pages devoted to a doctoral dissertation on facial hair and shaving fetishes, and another three pages of instruction on the proper way to eat Cap'n Crunch.These divergences interrupt the plot and make the book much longer than it needs to be, but you just can't help but forgive Stephenson (or to at least smile and shake your head knowingly as if he has some sort of uncontrollable yet endearing pathology), when you see him poking fun at himself for this very thing. In one scene, Bobby Shaftoe thinks he's in "HELL'S DEMO" when he's forced to listen to someone "explain the organization of the German intelligence hierarchy." Though the lecture causes Shaftoe to hallucinate, the reader still manages to learn something about the Wehrmacht Nachrichten Verbindungen while being thankful to realize that Stephenson knows he has this "issue."It's easy to tell that Neal Stephenson loves to do research and loves to impart the knowledge he's gleaned, or ideas he's thought up, and it's hard to criticize him for this, especially since it's all done in his clever, colorful, and entertaining style, even if it's not always relevant to the plot. And sometimes these infodumps can really set a scene. Here's a very short example:"The Bletchley girls surround him. They have celebrated the end of their shift by applying lipstick. Wartime lipstick is necessarily cobbled together from whatever tailings and gristle were left over once all of the good stuff was used to coat propeller shafts. A florid and cloying scent is needed to conceal its unspeakable mineral and animal origins. It is the smell of War."Stephenson also delights in creating quirky similes:"Like the client of one of your less reputable pufferfish sushi chefs, Randy Waterhouse does not move from his assigned seat for a full ninety minutes..."Though I skimmed a few of Stephenson's longer tangents, I was nevertheless entertained by the clever plot of Cryptonomicon. I read the novel in two formats. One was Subterranean Press's signed limited edition which was printed on thick glossy paper and embellished with new artwork by Patrick Arrasmith, several graphs, and even some perl script. My Advanced Review Copy of this book weighs 4 pounds (and it was only paperback -- the published version is hardback). I also listened to MacMillan's audiobook read by William Dufris. I'm sure Cryptonomicon was not an easy book to read out loud, but Dufris did an amazing job, even actually sounding like Ronald Reagan during the Reagan interview.Cryptonomicon won the Locus Award in 2000 and was nominated for both the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Awards that year. Pretty big accomplishment for a book that's not even science fiction. For readers who haven't tried one of Neal Stephenson's books yet, Cryptonomicon is a good place to start.

Keely

Neal Stephenson likes to throw weird shit together and see if it sticks. The more recent his book, the more likely it is to resemble a schizophrenic's curio cabinet. Your average Phillip Pullman will add a little wacky trepanning to his fantasy trilogy for that refined edge of esoteria. Meanwhile, Stephenson will have an exiled member of Italian royalty who works in 'demolition real estate' and knows Escrima thanks to an intense trepanning session with Horace Walpole, Duke Orford. Which I believe is an accurate summary of the next William Gibson book.One man's premise is another man's plot.I liked it better when Stephenson used the bizarre as a spice to flavor a driven, exciting story. Though spices may make a dish delectable, they aren't palatable on their own; you need some meat. I guess what I'm saying is: who the fuck wrote Snowcrash and when will he write something else?

Clouds

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.

Andrei Alupului

I usually roll my eyes at blurbs on books, especially when they're as reductive and simple as the ones I'm about to cite, but "electrifying" and "a hell of a read" seem like the two most fitting ways to summarize my opinion on this book. I had a tough time putting this down. It's not a challenging book, but it's also not a stupid book and I was surprised to find how "literary" it actually is. Outside of that, and really most importantly, it's an absolute blast to read.Clearly a lot of research went into the writing of this and it's unbelievably thorough and generous in its presentation of all this information. Even when it gets into the mathematics and theory behind cryptography it never stops being comprehensible and it's very clear that Stephenson had a strong desire to not dumb anything down and to simultaneously not allow himself to get too obtuse or evasive. It's a really skillfully managed balancing act. I realize that accessibility is not a virtue unto itself, but it really is favorable for this particular story, because the majority of the labor done by the reader here shouldn't be to glean the meaning of the text so much as to keep up with it and figure out its applicability.This book reminds me of David Fincher's film "Zodiac" in a lot of ways. Both of them are, as a result of the obsessive nature of their topics, obsessively structured themselves, reflecting not just the obsession of the characters within the works but also the obsession of the creators themselves. Both of them are packed to the gills with detailed information. Both of them are unusually long, although they're both so absorbing that this is a non-factor, or at least it was for me. The major difference between this and "Zodiac," however, is the fact that while that particular film zeroes in on one singular person/mystery/topic, this book seems to jump and tear and grasp at everything in its wake. The fact that it doesn't feel unfocused despite this really blows me away.

Fiona

I am FINIIIIIISHED! I thought it didn't have an ending! I thought Neal Stephenson kept sneaking to my house and inserting more pages in the back while I was asleep! I thought he would never be appeased until I begged him to stop with a deck of cards, morse code and a wide variety of pleading looks!This is a massive boy book. A MASSIVE boy book. It's got overwhelmingly male characters, and they do really boy things, like coding, and shooting things, and drawing logarithmic graphs about the last time they masturbated. I kept being surprised that I could open this book and it didn't immediately smell overpoweringly of old canvas and sweat. And I say this in the most endearing way, generally speaking - the characters in this book have no idea, none at all!, that I am not One Of Them, so I got to romp about with the best of them, messing about with submarines and mid-nineties hacker politics.I should probably tell you at this point, that two of my favourite things as a mid-teenager were vintage pen-and-paper codebreaking and rambly adventure stories, so I was in my element. This book is very exclusive in many ways and I am sure that in any other context I would get the rabbit in headlights look of someone who knows they're about to be accused of being a fake geek and who doesn't know *quiiite* enough what they're talking about to put those (wholly ridiculous) accusations to rest - but as it was, for most of the time I was reading this, it was me and my comfy chair and my knitting and the printed word of Neal Stephenson, and I could slot myself into that narrow band of intended audience and roam around at my leisure. This book is a boy book, and while I was reading it, I was a boy. Which is a cack-handed way of saying that I am a nerd and I don't get to talk about polyalphabetic ciphers you break with frequency analysis and a pad of graph paper very often, and Cryptonomicon made me feel as much at home as I could possibly have wished for. Which is nice.It's also a cack-handed way of saying I feel, in some way, like I shouldn't have felt at home? It was so chock-full of Tech Men and Soldier Men and Men Who Do Things Despite Slash For Their Womenfolk, that I genuinely felt like I was empathising on the wrong side of the divide at some points. Like I was having to sneak in and pretend I had a metaphorical moustache. Very odd. Ladies of Goodreads, is that a thing you understand? Men of Goodreads, when you read something very female led, like say Jane Eyre, or Rebecca, or whatever it is you emancipated chaps read these days, how do you feel? I've rarely felt that this strongly (*cough*Gorky Park) it was very odd. At any rate I am interested by how/how strongly this manifests itself in other people.Back to the book! It's an info-dump; there is almost more info-dump than plot. Some of it I knew already and that was comforting, some of it really fired me up for playing with numbers a bit more. While I've been reading this book, I've been occasionally meeting a friend who's teaching me the basics-and-then-some of statistics, and I get the same feeling from that of channeling my enthusiasm into something practical, something that someone else is excited about as well. I liked the info-dump.It starts off really slowly. There is basically no plot for probably the first two-fifths; certainly the first third. It is full of inside references and totally devoid of beginning, middle or end. If this bothers you, don't read it. It bothered me, for a while - that's why I put it down and came back a few months later. Or that's one of the reasons. The other reason is that it's NINE HUNDRED PAGES LONG AND NEAL STEPHENSON IS STILL TALKING.In the end, I put it aside often, but always came back. There are very few books I can say that about, and of the others they were almost entirely written by Frenchmen. This book is not like those books. If you ask me, it's worth having a go at, and if you get 60 pages in and go cross-eyed at the tiny font, don't worry. You won't have missed much, and it's a nice place to come back to. I might even read it again, but it probably won't be for a while. A long while.

Tracey

---------------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....

Coco

I'm shocked by the critical acclaim this book received in the sci-fi category but I suppose even a turd can float. Two stars is really pushing it. Maybe a star for the number of laughs I got per 100 pages. This is the work of a technically inept egomaniac. He does have some technical background (he drops Unix hints and anagrams the name of a supposed deity who dies and then later comes back w/ no explanation??) However, it's not enough “savoir faire” for any of the content to make sense. It might sound dangerous to some but just plain stupid to computer geeks such as myself. It's obvious that this is not his first book by the way that the author is allowed to recklessly abandon the main plot (or any of the 4 sporadic narratives) for 70-100 page tangents. If he hired a first yr EE student to clarify some basic principles, snipped about 500 pages and got some ritalin, this book might be tolerable. Like many technical books or movies, I was utterly disappointed. Why did I continue? First, it was a gift and I would feel ungrateful if I didn't give it a fair chance. Secondly, there are many alternating plots that the reader would naturally be led to believe that the lives of these men parallel each other in a different time and place. If you like mysteries, you can almost imagine how these people are related. This would have made the book entirely more interesting. But then nothing. I finished the book and whipped it across the room. Later, I skimmed the last half of this 900+ PAGE SLEEPER to see if there was an overlooked morsel of evidence that made all these separate lives connected which would have made all of the silent pain and suffering from that book worth something. Nothing. Exactly what I got from the book: nothing.

Krissa

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.

WK

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.

Nicholas Karpuk

This is a failure on several levels.Firstly, I did that This American Life offer with Audible so I could try it for a few weeks and get a free book out of the deal.First off, Audible isn't particularly good. Though one credit generally will get you a book a month, their definition of a book can mean the first 4th of a Stephen King novel. You also lose all access to these DRM encrypted files when you drop the service, so I doubt I'll be keeping it.The second issue is that the version of "Cryptonomicon" has a disingenuous label that you might miss if you're not paying attention. It's not unabridged, it's "unabridged excerpts", where certain chapters are summarized in a few sentences. So yeah, it's basically abridged, and severely so. It's like saying something is non-toxically poisonous.I could forgive all of these things if the book were better.My interest in Neal Stephenson springs almost entirely from "The Diamond Age" which I thought was a great, ambitious novel. His knack with science fiction is amazing. The trouble is "Cryptonomicon" is more or less set in the real world.I like many books written by nerds. I like many books written about nerds. Until now I didn't really think about the fact that I don't like books written by nerds about what nerds are into.The book is split between nerds in World War Two and nerds in the 90's, between nerds discussing cryptology and Turing Machines and nerds discussing cryptology and computers. There's an entire chapter on a character using a library to program a realistic system to deal with how many calories people burn from eating within the main character's roleplaying game. Not an aside, not a paragraph, a chapter.Of course the discussion of fantasy roleplaying, unix programming, complex communications microwave towers and router systems all take a backseat to the mind numbing discussion of cryptology. I dislike solving word jumbles, so this almost erotically detailed discussion of code breaking and the math involved left me cold and alienated.I've accepted all of these elements in other forms before without minding at all. I read Neuromancer for god sakes, but most sci fi discusses these topics while exploring a bigger issue or for the sake of advancing the plot. In "Cryptonomicon" all this nerd fodder is just sitting there posing like a centerfold for the Asperger crowd.I got about halfway through the audiobook before an extended conversation about ethics and routers ultimately killed my patience. This book is some of the most masturbatory nerd porn I've ever read. I'll probably pick up other Neal Stephenson books, but I'm going to have to start reading the first chapter to make sure it in no way resembles this.

Rob

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

Megan Baxter

Reading this book was a lot like riding in a car that steadily picks up speed and then stalls out. I wanted to like it a great deal more than I ended up doing. I would be trucking along, really getting into it, starting to get eager about turning the page and finding out what was going to happen next, and then...some reference to "hairy-legged academic feminists" or the "Ejaculation Control Commission" or "those things women always say to manipulate men" and my enjoyment would come to a screeching halt. Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

Michelle

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.

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