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Review:Cryptonomicon 153

Posted by Hemos
from the go-out-and-purchase dept.
While I'm still making my way through my auto-graphed (thanks Chris!) copy of Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, new reviewer Nathan Bruinooge sent us over an excellent review of what it appears to be my favorite fiction of 1999. Click below - it's well worth it.
Cryptonomicon
author Neil Stephenson
pages 900+
publisher Avon Books
rating 10/10
reviewer Nathan Bruinooge
ISBN
summary With Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson has made two leaps at once: from cyberpunk-informed science fiction to a modern-day technothriller, and from novels of sensible length to a 900+ page whopper. He has pulled it off, and them some -- this is a book with book with both guts and soul. It is his best novel yet.

Cryptonomicon is about crypto, which is to say cryptology, which is to say it's about codes. The title is the name of a book of code-lore which has accrued over the years, though its role in this novel is actually pretty marginal. Cryptology is the glue that holds together a plot that alternates back and forth between World War Two and the present day and focuses on three (almost four) main characters:

Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a mild-mannered midwesterner who hangs out at Princeton with Alan Turing and is playing in an army band at Pearl Harbor when it gets blown to hell. Then his mathematical mind is discovered by the military brass and he quickly becomes involved in the information war to which the actual, physical fighting is a series of inevitable afterthoughts and conclusions.

Bobby Shaftoe, the unkillable, morphine-addled China Marine who sees a vision of a Lizard at Guadacanal and ends up fighting his way through a series of inexplicable missions for the top-secret British-American Detachment 2702.

Randall Lawrence Waterhouse, Lawrence's grandson, a computer geek and crypto hobbyist who helps found the Epiphyte Corporation in the present day with some of his friends. He finds himself quickly eye-deep in data havens, underwater cabling, and buried treasure.

The other one vying for billing as a major character is Goto Dengo, a Japanese soldier. Bobby's descendants come into the mix too, as well as a motley assortment of hackers, a sultan, a U-boat commander, a Holocaust-obsessed entrepeneur, and the enigmatic, wonderful pseudo-priest Enoch Root.

So the ground is laid for a rather exciting techno-thriller, and we at least know from Snow Crash that Stephenson can deliver technology-soaked excitement with a deft hand. Cryptonomicon delivers in spades, but it goes a step or two beyond that as well. Crypto shows up again and again not just as a central element in the plots of both timelines, but as a theme that informs everything from Bobby Shaftoe's wartime haikus to Randy's attempts to decipher the love signals sent to him by Bobby's granddaughter Amy. Discovering the hidden patterns within seeming randomness, discovering the order out of chaos -- these things are not just in the book, they are what the book is. The plot works in precisely this way, following different people in different times until their lives inevitably collide and interconnect.

We also get treated to more of Stephenson's razor-sharp cultural insight. The same eye that made Snow Crash so prophetic even while it was being zany and over-the-top informs Cryptonomicon. Instead of inventing a future reality, he digs up the most unusual facts and locales of the real world, and, spinning them into his own idiosyncratic vision and prose, turns it into something so odd and scary and wonderful that we barely recognize it as our own. This is especially jarring in the World War Two scenes, probably because we are used to hearing and reading and seeing those tales in a certain mythic, grainy black & white style. Stephenson can't quite resist doing some fictionalizing of his own, as with the more-Celtic-than-the-Celts realm of Qwghlm and the South Pacific island of Kinakuta. These are fun in their own way but almost disappointments -- he is so able to bring to life the quirks of existing places that going out of his way to make up new ones is unnecessary, a frivolity.

As he was in prevous novels, Stephenson here is highly multicultural in the sense of setting his stories literally worldwide in a wide variety of cultures, and displaying a fair amount of knowledge and insight about each one. What's different and fresh (and will probably piss off some people) is that no culture is safe from his scathing observations about what is worst about it. Much of the novel takes place in the Philippines, past and present -- a cultural & economic & historical crossroads that makes a perfect setting for his melting pot plot. (He is at his best realizing and describing its complex urban & rural dynamics.) He's extremely harsh on the Germans and the Japanese, of course, and yet the two most admirable characters in the book are German and Japanese, respectively.

Cryptonomicon's World War Two subplot is timely in its arrival, what with the upsurge in interest in the period marked, for example, by Saving Private Ryan and Tom Brokaw's bestselling book The Greatest Generation. A certain amount of ancestor-worship is going on here, and this novel takes some part in it. There is a marked difference between the past and present storylines -- our WWII heroes are constantly getting into life-and-death situations, improvising brilliant ways to escape or to kill people, breaking unbreakable codes, inventing the digital computer, etc. By contrast the entrepeneurial exploits of Randy and his friends seem hopelessly mundane. Fortunately it's a good deal more subtle than that, though. For one thing, the constant juxtapositions of events past and present (a present-day corporate board meeting next to a WWII war room, for example, or the hauntingly similar sexual dilemmas of the respective Waterhouses) remind us that what separates these people is not so much essence but circumstance. And in the later pages, too, the present-day subplot gets every bit as life-threatening and globally significant. Stephenson also doesn't idolize or sugar-coat the foibles of his "greatest generation."

So what about the comparisons to Thomas Pynchon? Now that Stephenson has a World War Two novel (or at least half of one) under his belt, they are both inevitable and ubiquitous. Behind it is a larger implied question: does this novel have literary worth? (Whatever that means.) Stephenson can write well, but he's not a prose maestro in the same class as Pynchon or David Foster Wallace. You could also take him to task, perhaps, for "lack of deep character development," if you were into that sort of thing. (Interestingly, Randy is the most well-developed character in the book, probably because the others are too busy doing things for Stephenson to dwell on their inner states overmuch. It takes a certain amount -- no, a tremendous amount -- of courage to make one of your chief protagonists a nerdy UNIX hacker and ex-fantasy roleplayer who's a little soft around the middle. But he does it and it works.) What Stephenson does have is the knack for plot (in this case, an exquisitely complex one), the ability to tell a good, long story. He does it a good deal better than Pynchon or D.F. Wallace or most other big writers these days. For my money, that's the most important part of what makes good literature good, and it's what this novel does best.

Just as important, as long as we're talking about fin-de-siecle literature, is the fact that Stephenson has a flying clue about technology and computers. The world is full of modernist and postmodernist gripe about the existential dilemmas of a fragmented society and the epistemological chaos implicit in the information age. The fact of the matter is that things still seem to be trundling along pretty well -- I for one, don't feel particularly spiritually crippled because I get my news on the Web and stay in touch with most of my friends via email. Any novelist who's going to write about where we are and where we've been can only get so far as an outsider -- he or she has to have the sort of understanding of our hyperlinked world that comes from growing up inside it and around it. That's Stephenson. Bruce Sterling called him a "second-generation cyberpunk author," which is basically saying the same thing in a different context. Cryptonomicon takes us through the origins of the computer on the one hand and their fringe applications with cryptologically-obsessed hackers on the other; in both cases he knows of what he speaks. He can write about people visavis computers with specificity and circumspection.

At root and at heart, though, Cryptonomicon is a technothriller. Adventure, excitement, and discovery are its primary traits, and any status it may claim as a document of cultura insight or a novel for the end of millenium is of necessity a secondary one. This is exactly as it should be -- the person who sets out to write a "great novel" probably won't make it. The person who sets out to tell a cool story just might.

Pressing Question Number One: Does this book have any business being 900 pages long?

Opinion may vary on this one, but I think the answer is yes. We have essentially two novels here, one for each of the timelines, that eventually become fully enmeshed but each have their own arcs of development. Stephenson is not an overwriter in terms of prose -- stuff is happening all through these pages. There are certainly diversions, and maybe it's these that some people would just as soon see removed. Moby Dick had its whaling chapters; Cryptomicon has chapter-long diversions into mathematics, number theory, Van Eck phreaking, and Captain Crunch cereal. A good number of these aren't actually diversions, since you have to absorb a good bit of the cryptological theory before you can fully understand all the subtleties of the plot. Even the truly frivolous diversions are enjoyable in their own right. Sure, we didn't need to have the part where Randy meets a friend amid a bunch of collectible-card-game-playing geeks, but as a geeky gamer myself, I'm sure glad he did.

Pressing Question Number Two: Has Stephenson learned how to actually end a novel?

This question haunted me through much of Cryptonomicon's length. I tossed The Diamond Age across the room in anger when I realized, thirty pages shy of the end, that there was literally no way he could wrap it up satisfactorily. And, indeed, it didn't end so much as get dragged, half-developed, over the finish line. I didn't have as much trouble with the Snow Crash finale as others, but I could always see their points. But now, finally, he's got it right. Fittingly for a novel largely about math, it ends with an almost geometric precision, alternating timelines fleshing out the answers to our lingering questions, crucial bits of witheld information casting whole vistas of previously mysterious action suddenly and satisfyingly clear.

But this is not a novel without weaknesses. It's so big and diffuse that different people will probably be bored and annoyed by different things. My personal biggest gripe comes toward the end, when a minor character lurches onto the scene, barely justifiably, to provide an impetus of danger and climax for Randy & his companions in the jungles of the Philippines. It was, to put it mildly, a stretch. Just the sort of thing that I could imagine happening if Stephenson were desperately cranking out the final pages of the novel, stuck for just what could possibly get in Randy's way, and finally coming up with . . . this. But while a lapse of this kind completely broke the ending of The Diamond Age, here it's just an annoyance. And the annoyances that are to be found don't amount to anything more than the sum of their parts.

Word on the street is that this isn't the last big-ass crypto novel that Stephenson is going to write. There are certainly stories hinted at in here but not explored, especially regarding the mysterious Eruditorium. Yes, there are conspiracies in this novel, and even a gonzo quasi-philosophical worldview worthy of the "nam-shub of Enki." And who were the guy in dreadlocks and the Indian-looking guy, anyway? I have a feeling we'll find out in a few years. We haven't seen the last of the Cryptonomicon. I take that as a good thing.

Pick the book up at Amazon.

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Review:Cryptonomicon

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I sincerely hope that his books are more easy to follow than Pynchon's. I have tried 3 times to read Gravity's Rainbow and to date have not been able to drag myself past page 200. I agree that Thomas is a brilliant writer, but I think my IQ must be a bit too low to be able to follow where the hell he's going with his stories.

    David Foster Wallace, on the other hand, is nothing short of a genius. I was heartened to see his name in the review even though it wasn't really used much for comparison purposes. The fact that the two names can be mentioned in the same review at all tells me that I need to check this new book out.

    (Anyone who has not read any of Wallace's books should do so. Infinite Jest is a great place to start...)
  • While I was reading Cryptonomicon I got interested in reading more about cryptography and right there in the new release section of my local bookstore they had this Code Breaking book which was a history and explanation (with seemingly lots of examples) of cryptography.

    Has anyone read this? Is it good? I'm not asking for advice on whether to buy it, since I picked it up last night. But I also picked up Ralph Ellison's posthumous Juneteenth and I'm reading that first, so I want to know what to expect.

    And if anyone can recommend good crypto books, go ahead. I'm interested and I'm sure some other people are too.
  • by irishmex (496)
    My dad used to be stationed at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan, so I spent several years there. One thing it's impossible not to notice is that the country of Japan seems to keep being referred to as Nippon. So it was pretty easy to deduce that Nippon was the Japanese way of saying Japan, so it should also be correct. NEC is just one example of that, but probably the best for an international audience. I know we Americans tend to change everything to suit us, but I have no idea how the "N" got changed to a "J". Anyone know the etymology behind this?
  • While I'm completely enjoying this book, I'm not sure it'll catch a large audience. The technology (like Turing machines) aren't explained all that well for non-technical people. Same with some of the people in the book (like Turing himself). The explination of one-time crypto is done pretty well though. The ideas from present day are explained very well, and are about || close to being reality.

    My only other complaint is the Gibson-esque jumping around within sections. One paragraph a character is in a plane, the next he's on a beach being pinned down, then a couple paragraphs later he's back on the plane. I have a fairly linear mind (I could handle the rapid changes in books like the in Turtledove's WorldWar series), but I really have this thing about jumping around within sections of chapters. Writing like that would probably be better for the screen.
  • Posted by TheGrimburgoth:

    The jumping-around within chapters was made necessary, a lot of the time, by Stephenson's funky way of tracing the story -between- chapters. The following sort of technique is not just typical, it's ubiquitous in the novel:

    1. We end a chapter with Bobby & Co. leaving a crashed ship to fight their way across Sweden.

    2. We have a chapter with Randy, maybe a chapter with Lawrence.

    3. When we get to the next chapter with Bobby, he's in bed with a Finnish lady! We have no clue what happened in Sweden.

    What happens, then, is that somewhere in the middle of a given chapter, the gaps between it and the previous one with that character are filled in (through dialogue, flashback, whatever). But for a few pages there, as the reader you're doing double-time: trying to adjust to where the protag is now, but also waiting and wondering about what happened where he was.

    This made for some confusing parts. I definitely had to do a bit of page-flipping at the beginning of some chapters just to remember where we had last left this particular hero. For me, anyway, the technique -worked- in that it kept my interest: I was avidly pluging through each chapter to discover what just happened in addition to what was about to happen. For a novel that's already jumping back and forth through time, it's an appropriate schtick as well.

    There's also some interesting (I'll use that word instead of 'good' or 'bad' since I'm not sure if I like it) stuff going on in terms of which scenes he chooses to actually narrate and which ones occur in the gaps between chapters. E.g. the Sweden thing -- dammit, I wanted to read about that! No such luck. Or how we get a whole chapter about Lawrence's sexual frustrations visavis Mary, but absolutely none of the scene of them getting it on or getting engaged -- when we finally learn it it's in a chapter from another character's perspective. That one didn't bother me as much, and for the most part I suspect Neal's instincts were good as to what to keep and what to defer.

    Nathan Bruinooge
    nsb@wizard.net
  • nope, it's hiroaki not hirohito.
    btw, anyone know where i can get a cryptonomicon t-shirt? they had one in the boston book signing.

    mustapha.
  • Regarding _Gravity's_Rainbow_:

    It's a great 200 page book -- unfortunately it's 900 pages long. Way too much pointless
    stream-of-consciousness, and too many characters that start off great, but go
    nowhere. Frankly, it's overrated -- probably because after slogging through all 900 pages,
    the critics felt the need to justify the effort.

    If you're keen on reading some Pynchon, but not up to going through GR, try
    _The_Crying_of_Lot_49_. It's a fairly short book, but it's pretty good -- not as good as
    the best parts of GR, but there's far less crap.

    JRaven
  • I'm fascinated by crypto. I think that "Snow Crash" is a masterpiece of storytelling, and "Zodiac" is also damn good. I bought this book as soon as I could, and in the end I only finished it so I could say I had.

    Mr. Stevenson needs to return to tight storytelling; I mostly found his random asides about family histories and suchlike offputting. I think the "tutorial-in-novel" approach comes across as heavy handed. All the women in the book exist for the male characters to fall in and out of love with, which it's hard to ignore when he keeps putting forth his offputting attitude to sex. The plot twists aren't very twisty. The characters are all schematics. Qwyglhm doesn't sit well with the rest of the book. The ending is deeply unsatisfactory. And the appendix describing the encryption algorithm used in the book (which I read first, on Counterpane's home page) turns out to be full of spoilers.

    Don't bother. Wait 'till Stevenson writes something short again, and maybe that will reward the time to read it.
    --
    Employ me! Unix,Linux,crypto/security,Perl,C/C++,distance work. Edinburgh UK.
  • When she was busted by the Feds in Snow Crash, they give her full name, it is the same as the person in The Diamond Age.
  • In "Snow Crash", we had Hiro Protagonist. In "Crypto", we have Goto Dengo.

    I apologize for being dense but what's so funny about "Goto Dengo"? I can see reading his family name as being like the BASIC instruction GOTO but that's not too funny. "Hiro Protagonist" is pretty funny and "Y.T." funny but less so.

    In Cryptonomicon was amused by Randy's asumptions about the address root@eruditorium.org.

  • Maybe I should pick up Cryptonomicon, I've been scouring garage sales for the Big U once I realized how much it was worh (I read my roommates copy in college, thought it was mildly amusing but not earth shattering).

    When I worked at UT@Austin it was in a research library (books aren't checked out). Apparently a former sci fi club at UT disbanded or something and all their books ended up in this place. I read The Big U there. They also had 1st editions of all of Bruce Sterling's stuff (natch) but I never got around to reading The Artifical Kid, the only Sterling book I haven't read and don't own (yes, I have Involution Ocean in paperback; not so hot).

  • First, let me say I thought this was an excellent review and fully agree with the 10/10. I seem to have liked Snow Crash more completely than others but I'd already read The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind [amazon.com] so I may have been more prepared for the chunks that get into that stuff.

    If you like Stephenson's stuff you might want to check out the two books he's written with J. Frederick George (who's his uncle or something) under the pseudonym Stephen Bury. The first (and best) is Interface [amazon.com] which is a modern day-ish thriller about electing a stroked-out politician with a computer chip in his brain as President of the United States. Their second book together is The Cobweb [amazon.com] which takes place during the Persian Gulf War and is about Iraqs working on bio-warefare at U.S. universities. If you like Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon I recommend reading Interface. The Cobweb isn't terrible but there are better things to read.

    I'm really glad that Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller was reprinted after Snow Crash's success because I really enjoyed it. I've also read Stephenson's first book, The Big U, which is pretty silly but if you enjoy Stephenson's style you might look for it at your local library. It's out of print and not worth the effort of tracking it down.

  • But WTF with Enoch Root coming back from the dead (finland) to surface in the Phillipines?

    if you pay close attention, he doesn't actually die, they fake it and sneak him out the back... i missed it the first time...

    -garrett
  • I agree that Gravity's Rainbow was difficult to read if you approach it as you would approach most novels that have a very linear and well-defined plot. It took me a while to get through the first 400 pages of GR, but once I started letting the parts of the book flow and meld together and stopped trying to always keep track of each character's exact situation the reading went much more quickly and I enjoyed the book a great deal more. Granted, this approach doesn't lend itself very well to memorizing facts about the story, and I did have to page back through the book to look up things that I might have missed, but this technique seemed to work very well for me and gave me a glimpse at what Pynchon was trying to get across to his readers. I would recommend this book to others, but only if you don't mind the prospect of 800+ pages of weird and convoluted writing.
  • To further paraphrase what Stephenson said: he changed the name to "Finux" so this slashdot story wouldn't be full of people saying "Stephenson is an idiot because the Linux boot prompt _actually_ looks different from in the book, and Linux has feature x and not feature y like in the book".

    --

  • I really liked this book-- however, Cryptonomicon is not perfect.

    It seems Stephenson is at his best when describing some fascinating technical artifact or mathematical algorithm. I really enjoyed those parts of the book, but I would have enjoyed the book more had Stephenson worked more on the ending.

    The other problem was that the copy I read (1st printing) is simply riddled with typographical errors. Characters are given the wrong lines of dialog, a cypher key is wrong, and there are spelling mistakes aplenty. These will probably be rectified in later editions, but it makes me wonder if this tome was rushed to market before its time.
  • He's a cool guy too!

    Find out why Neal Stephenson Loves Linux. Check out the interview on amazon.com.
  • Well, I just got done doing some comparison shopping. buy.com is cheaper than amazon. And
    they have a low price guarantee - they'll match
    the price and give you $1 if you find it within
    7 days.

    I got cryptonomicon for $4 less, 5 or 6 dvd's
    for $3-6 less, and the only one that was more
    expensive was $0.60 more, and I submitted the
    price match, so I'll get $1.60 off.

    Pretty cool I must say.
  • Well maybe its a dual mode handset, unfortunately the book's not out here so that i can't check that possibility :-)

    C.

  • In my copy she's always referred to as Y.T., and her mother is just "Y.T.'s mom".
  • by acb (2797)
    Goto is an actual Japanese name. Or at least it's a name seen in anime credits among other Japanese names.
  • In "Snow Crash", we had Hiro Protagonist. In "Crypto", we have Goto Dengo.

    "Hiro Protagonist" is much funnier than Goto.

    Are their any more humorous names further into the book (I'm circa p. 100)? A Stephenson book without them... Well, it just wouldn't be the same.

  • I apologize for being dense but what's so funny about "Goto Dengo"? I can see reading his family name as being like the BASIC instruction GOTO but that's not too funny.

    See, that's my point entirely. It didn't make me chuckle at all. :/

  • Goto is an actual Japanese name. Or at least it's a name seen in anime credits among other Japanese names.

    So is Hirohito. Shortening it to "Hiro" (e.g. "hero") and adding "Protagonist" didn't make it not funny just because it's a real name.

  • i am wondering if some translation of cryptonomicon will be available? especially french :)
    any info on this?
    --
    http://www.beroute.tzo.com
  • i find strange noone has provided the URL of the book, it's http://www.cryptonomicon.com/ [cryptonomicon.com]
    also you can read the beginning_print here [be.com]
    --
    http://www.beroute.tzo.com
  • I'm surprised no one else has commented on the Cryptonomicon as an Open Source manifesto.

    IMHO one of the fundamental theses of this novel is that before crypto became an open-source project in the late '40s it was heavily unbalanced in favor of the cryptoanalysts. To put it in the terminology of the book, cryptographers before that point were usually dilettantes who came up with good ideas they thought were unbreakable and cryptoanalysts were non-dilettantes who (by working really hard) could almost always break the codes.

    When cryptographers started publishing their ideas in the late '40s, those ideas started getting critical review. The result has been the longest period in history when crypto has surpassed analysis.

    All of this has pretty obvious implications for the security of Open Source OSes and other programming projects. And those implications probably go far beyond security to stability and speed.



    SPOILER ALERT!

    I do have one question about the plot of this book: Didn't Enoch Root die in Sweden in 1945 and get buried there only to reappear in a jail in the Philippines in the late '90s?

    Was there some explanation of this resurrection that I missed?

    Of course, all the discussion about the real purpose of this book misses the point which should be obvious: The whole 900 pages was just an excuse to tell a really bad pun. (The title of the final chapter)


  • If you look carefully, there's one point in Diamond Age where Matheson makes a refrence to Chiseled Spam and her past. In Snow Crash, Chiseled Spam is in an advertistment that Y.T. sees desrcibing what skaters become without Smartwheels on their planks. It's slightly tenuous, but I'll go for it.
  • The plotlines in Cryptonomicon didn't intertwine nearly so much as I would have liked. For the most part they were separate stories; so, the relentless jumping from plotline to plotline was irritating. The scene jump from plane to beach to plane was a hallucination or daydream, and I thought that was pretty obvious. Shaftoe unintentionally responded to Big Lizard stuff near Reagan and The General, so the situation left its mark on him.

    The reviewer made some putdown on D.F. Wallace; I thought David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" was well constructed, with the same relentless switching between plotlines. Hey reviewer: did you notice that it's meant to be read in a loop, over and over again? It makes a _lot_ more sense. Different perspectives are brought up, and they add to the earlier parts of the novel.

    But then I assume other people notice a large DFW influence on the structure, themes of, and approach to irony of "Cryptonomicon".

  • If you haven't, check out Snowcrash and Diamond Age instead. They're examples of how good Stephenson can be; Cryptonomicon is an example of how good and how bad he can be, at once.

    I bought Cryptonomicon the instant it came out and was amazed at how bad it was. It's wildly uneven -- there are parts that really make the book worth reading, but there are huge chunks of it that are just baaaaaad. Pages on pages on the frequency of masterbation, masterbation v. sex. A long, pointless trip on the West Coast. The parts that are awesome are dwarfed by the overwhelming badness of the rest of the book.

    It seemed to me to be so far below Neal's usual quality that I was shocked he'd put his name on it.

    But what really disturbed me was the women. They don't ever do anything more than lay the men, frustrate them by not doing so. Shaftoe's women is disfigured so he kills himself. Amy Shaftoe is the big romantic interest of the book; the climax of the relationship is when she climbs into a jeep, screws the big guy, and leaves.

    And I've heard that he's just presenting women as they're seen by the men, and I'm probably the most relectant person to bitch about this stuff, but he's handled it so well in the past I'm amazed he fails so totally here.

    It's worth reading, if you don't have any other pressing needs, and I'm inclined to let Neal stumble because he's so obviously talented, but this is his worst effort since the Big U. If you can borrow it, that's probably the best way to go.
  • Yes, in fact there are going to be several
    loosely related books in the same vein...
    and the second book is well underway, according
    to Stephenson at his book signing in Pittsburgh,
    PA (I had the pleasure of attending and talking
    with him for a few moments after the signing)

    This is an excellent book well worth the cost
    and time to read...
  • Beyond all that was mentioned in the review, one thing was omitted. At points this book is inceredibly funny. Its been some time since I've read a book that has had me laughing out loud (terry pratchet's diskworld excluded). Though I'm sure that the members of the ECC wouldn't find it quite so.

    locust

  • The character Avi was portrayed as being obsessed with the Holocaust and other evils. Part of his motivation for creating a data haven and digital currency was supposedly to prevent those things from ever happening again -- in fact, he appears to convince Goto Dengo to help them on the basis of this argument.

    So what is it about unrestricted data and digital cash which protects humanity against inhumanity?

    This is supposed to be the first of a series; maybe he'll explain this more in a future book.

    I did enjoy Crytonomicon; best I've read in a long while. Made me go out and buy his others; I'm reading Snow Crash now.

    BTW, Anyone know why Stephenson chooses to call Japan "Nipon" and Japanese "Nipponese"? Even in the historical (1940s) plotline -- it's like he's using it as an alias -- ala Finux == Linux.
  • Sort of an ultimate guerilla warfare manual.

    I can see how the offshore data haven could facilitate that. Not sure how a digital currency fits in, though...
  • Talking way jaggeed edges similar to the cheap hard cover editions I used to get from the SciFi book club when I had time to read several books a week.

    Yeah, the copy Amazon sent me is ragged-edged too. I stopped into a Barnes & Noble during a recent visit to Seattle and the copies on their shelves were the same way. (BTW, I was also a member of the SciFi book club a couple decades ago and I made the same connection!)

    Neal should find himself a quality publisher.
  • Cryptonomicon is not, in fact, a real book. He just made up the name.

    And this should be the first book in a trilogy, although trilogy should be loosely interpreted, as I believe no character reuse will occur, it will be only thematically a trilogy.

    I also have to take issue with the reviewer's comment that "Any novelist who's going to write about where we are and where we've been can only get so far as an outsiderAny novelist who's going to write about where we are and where we've been can only get so far as an outsider". Gibson didn't know a whole lot when he wrote neuromancer, which arguably was the first book of it's genre, or at least the one that really kickstarted it.

    What I don't disagree with is that the book was great. I was worried a bit, after reading the diamond age, that hen was going down hill... but he really didn't.

    And, for those of you who haven't looked yet, try http://www.eruditorum.org/

    felix
  • My impression of this jumping backwards and forwards, especially in Bobby Shaftoes storyline, is that he was skipping between his present and his daydreaming about his traumatic experiences.

    I think your confusion about whether you were still in the present was meant to reflect the character's. I think it worked quite well.
  • I do not think the renaming was randon. By and large the things he changed the names of played a major role in the plot (with the possible exception of 'Finux' which still got lots of mentions), and he said various things about them which are not true or only somewhat true and which could be considered libellous and/or were just dramatic embellishment.

    The things he left were either not that important (Windows) or are so conspicous (Windows, Alan Turing, GPS) that it would be pointless to disguise them. He also largely limited himself to historically verifiable statements about these things.
  • By the way, did anyone else catch that Miss Matheson in Diamond Age was Y.T. from Snow Crash?

    I thought it was likely, but I could not find anything very solid to back up my feeling with

  • ...or near enough it doesn't matter. Someone asked Stephenson about this at a reading in Boston, and Stephenson said that it's certainly okay to think so.
  • In _Cryptonomicon_ there's a crazy lawyer who is always suing Avi and Randy over lost potential income, starting from when he collaborated with Randy on ways of meeting the nutritional needs of characters in fantasy role-playing games. He disappears from their lives for a while, then turns up founding a ``one-mind/one-consciousness'' cult (which, ironically, keeps splitting over doctrinal disputes). What I wonder is, did one of the branches go on to form the Drummers in _The Diamond Age_?
  • I've been watching the sales position of _Cryptonomicon_ at Amazon.com since before it was published. It started out very strong (it was in the top ten for a couple of weeks), started to drift downward, received a boost from the _New York Times Book Review_, and then resumed its downward drift. This morning it was #30. This afternoon it's up to #11.
  • ... and will grace the halls of the underworld in the afterlife.
  • You absolute legends. I've been trying to get Stephenson fans to confirm whether there was a carry over character since I read DA and SC two years ago. I'd only heard it as a rumour in an online review of the book, and have since tried to find out whether it was true. You absolute legends :) Thankyou and goodnight!
  • '...he changed the name to "Finux" so this slashdot story wouldn't be full of people saying "Stephenson is
    an idiot because the Linux boot prompt _actually_ looks different from in the book, and Linux has feature x and not feature y like in the book".'


    And does Stephenson have any idea about what the GPL actually means? Why did Windows get a mention - that's not GPL! Personally, I think Stephenson's books should all have to be Open Source, because that would make them better, and he'd sell more, plus he could advertise support. Where does that Stephenson guy get off making his hackers eat that sort of food when everybody knows that they really eat pizza, as is proven by the sky being blue and Gates a bastard. QED.
  • I have yet to read C., but I've found in other books that character development is ... not as well done as everything else, dissapointingly. I found this particularly in Interface.
  • I've always just had the strange feeling that the character closest to Stephenson's heart was the protagonist of Zodiac. This is a completetly njustified comment, and I expect it to be moderated down accordingly :) But that character had the most spelt out and believeable values.
  • NOTE: Somewhat off-topic, and definitely rambling...

    Thank God! This is the first time I've seen any indication anywhere that anyone but me thinks Wallace is up there with the Really Big Ones. Not that I've gone looking for it, though... perhaps there's an underground Wallace cult somewhere that I'm not aware of.

    Anyway, certain types of geeks are sure to love Wallace. In particular people who like complex plotting, some off-the-wall experimentation, and any writer who can make you see things the way he sees them, even after you've put the book down.

    I would have to say, though, that Infinite Jest is not necessarily the best place to start, unless you're accustomed to reading insanely long, absurdly complex, and purposefully difficult books. A rough length/complexity benchmark: Cryptonomicon took me three days to read, IJ took nearly two months. I'd say Girl With Curious Hair (a collection of relatively short stories) would be a better introduction to the world of Wallace, along with possibly The Broom of the System, although I thought that one had some seriously Stephenson-esque ending problems. Come to think of it, IJ kind of did too.

    I'm reading his new one now (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), and, well, hmm. It's different, that's for sure. Much more experimental that anything else I've read, by him or anyone else for that matter. It's impressive to note that he does manage to carry off most of the stories, which few other writers would be able to, given the level of formal weirdness that's going on. I want him to write Infinite Jest II though.
    ----------------------

  • *contains spoils*

    I must disagree. We must have very different tastes in literature.

    I bought Cryptonomicon the instant it came out and was amazed at how bad it was. It's wildly uneven -- there are parts that really make the book worth reading, but there are huge chunks of it that are just baaaaaad. Pages on pages on the frequency of masterbation, masterbation v. sex.
    I thought these comments were really funny, and actually a really good insight to just how geeky/mathematically inclide Waterhouse was. Throughout the book you are given glimpses of how Waterhouse perceives the world, and the masterbation graphs, etc are just another way to really see how different Laurence really is then a "normal" person. This helps to explain his "super" abilities (crypto, inventing the digital computer, etc).

    A long, pointless trip on the West Coast.
    This could have been handled better, but Neal took this time further develop the relationship between Amy and Randy, and to tell his readers that some of the simplest seeming problems (dividing up the heirlooms) are in fact exceeding difficult mathematical problems. (Which helps to explain crypto).

    But what really disturbed me was the women. They don't ever do anything more than lay the men frustrate them by not doing so.
    I think that you have to give some slack here. As you mentioned, the book was told from a male perspective. Thus, since all males are insensitive, boorish, sex fiends Neal's portrail of women from males viewpoint isnt to far off :)

    Ok, I don't really buy that either.

    I agree that the women are not the major characters in the novel, and spend relatively most of their time engaged in sexual pursuits, but I don't think Neal has a sexist attitude towards women. Some examples:

    Shaftoe's women is disfigured so he kills himself.
    Wrong. Shaftoe kills himself because he knows he's deadman anyways (the wounds from the landing were fatal), and just wants to get it over with. If thought he could surive he would have made a herculean effort (for his son).

    Also remember the Glory was a rebel leader, not just a love interest.

    Amy Shaftoe is the big romantic interest of the book; the climax of the relationship is when she climbs into a jeep, screws the big guy, and leaves.
    Perhaps Randy's climax was then, but the books? I enjoyed the Amy character; she reminded me of some of my open minded neofeminist female friends. A nice mix between tough, tender, thoughtful, and brash.

    In any case, the setting and topic of the novel suggested a mainly male point of view (unfortunately). UNIX hackers typically come in only one flavour (male), as did the soldiers in WWII. I think Neal did an excellent job portraying their side of the story.

  • My business partner and I have started reviewing books by describing them as foods. We both independently described Cryptonomicon as a Napolean. Large, tasty, artfully constructed and quite enjoyable, but somewhat lacking in nutritional value (although some of us have metabolisms that require a lot of empty calories ;-))
  • On the random renaming: At the book signing I attended in Boston, someone asked Neal about the renaming of Linux to Finux. He responded that he probably didn't have to do it, but it was an "old writer's trick" to rename objects in your story so you were not bound by the actual abilities of their real-world counterparts.
  • Written by Stephenson under a pseudonym, I believe, and set around now.

    Anyone?

    The Dodger
  • read it again. I wish i had my copy around, but her name is mentioned. Look in the loogiegun clink scene.

  • Stephen Bury has written a few books. They are Stephenson and his Uncle.

    Political thrillers, technologically bent.
  • I think this book might be able to gain mainstream appeal despite its tech/math-intensive subject matter. Geeks are definitely going to love this because it's the first time I can remember that a NY Times bestseller has had a clue about tech stuff. But what makes this book better than just an esoteric tome for the digerati is how Stephenson breaks down the tech stuff in bite-sized chunks that anyone with half a brain can understand.

    I think that what makes a novel great is the ability to bestow knowledge on the reader -- I came away from Moby Dick with what seemed to me an insider's knowledge of whaling. Cryptonomicon adopts this technique as well. Most people who buy this book (non-tech people that is) will be familiar with e-mail, computers and maybe even cryptography from a users point of view, but this book augments a user's perspective with the details of what goes on "behind the scenes." But unlike a textbook or manual, there is actually a highly engrossing story to keep you turning the pages and wanting more.

  • I've not read anything of Stephenson's other than Cryptonomicon, so my judgements are based entirely on the one work.

    This. Book. Blows.

    Comparisons to Pynchon are totally unfounded: Pynchon can write. I think a much more accurate comparison would be to Tom Clancy, another drum-thumping polemicist who can't write a convincing character to save his life. Stephenson appears to believe that, by aping the literary tricks of his betters, he becomes something more than he is.

    What is exceptionally galling about this book is that it reads much more like an audition for the much coveted role as Piper to the Anonymous Cowards than a thoughtful, funny, or interesting work of anything. The one-dimensional strawman enemies! The Techno-Correct sloganeering! The sheer awe-inspiring awfulness of the technical aspects of writing! This is a book so inelegantly plotted that, far from integrating the disparate plotlines into a satisfying whole, it shakes itself apart in the hands. Which is too bad, in a way, as Stephenson's obviously a smart cracker (and on the right side of many of the things he "writes" about), but his intelligence is much more in the perpetually masturbating (and feeling sick guilty after) 14yr old boy vein, than in that of, say, TC Boyle or Pynchon.

    I understand that some people will see themselves in Randy or Doug or Avi or any of the other 'characters' that Stephenson poops forth -- and this is sad; they're not people, they're Pirates of the Caribbean golems, robotically spouting the puerile and self-congratulatory mantra of the self-identified ubermensch.

    The females in the book are so laughably bad, so freakishly homogenous in their character, so divorced from any kind of reality, that it doesn't seem unlikely that we've finally encountered a writer /worse/ than Clancy at understanding and transcribing women.

    Bah, humbug. I'd trade a mountain of Cryptonomicon for a page of Jack Vance.
  • >As for Cryptonomicon, I actually had it in my hand the last time I was at a bookstore,
    >but balked at the price.

    So did I, being disinclined to pay for hardcover simply based on liking the author's previous works ever since I nearly threw Niven/Pournelle's The Gripping Hand across the room for being so indescribably awful.

    I was by B&N to purchase a hardcover of the LotR trilogy, and went looking for the Stephenson. No luck in Best Sellers, New Fiction, or SF. Then there was one forlorn copy on a discount shelf. The clerk said it wasn't discounted, but I wasn't about to pay full price, since it had been pawed through and the pages had a strange warp to them. He offered a 30% discount ... which I took! And the warp disappeared. The slipcover isn't in pristine condition, but it wouldn't be after I finished anyway.
  • I agree. The Deliverator totally hooked me.

  • Amen to the Deliverator. Hooked TOTALLY. I loved that book, and Diamond Age. Working on the big C right now (about page 456).
  • The stereotypical white-male-bashing-feminist-liberal-type portrayal is so one-dimensional, it only makes the inclusion of her character feel reactionary and childish on Stephenson's part. The same can be said for the emasculated colleagues she is surrounded with...It seems like a cheap shot.

    These people DO exist, I've met them. I don't have any problems with feminism or liberalism, only with those who use them as a substitute for empathy and personality.

    Post-modernism might be popular with a few Unix weenies after Larry Wall's popularisation thereof, but it's not going to move the wheels of industry or stop the war in Kosovo.

    It's a novel, for Chrissake. PC is IMHO the enemy of good literature. Neal S is telling a story, not shoring up the last bastions of male chauvinist hegemony. Jeez, I'm starting to talk like Charlene ...
  • Neal Stephenson makes a reasonable effort to get the technical details in his stories right. However, he seems to be far more interested in the social aspects of technology than the technical details, so he makes some mistakes. A lot of his audience consists of the type of people who do know the technical details, including many who look down on anyone who knows less about their particular technical specialties. I'm sure he caught a lot of grief about the "Built In Operating System" mistake in Snow Crash. If Stephenson had written about Linux rather than Finux, and gotten one detail (however minor) wrong, what would have happened? A bunch of Rabid Linux Advocates would have been flooding him with hatemail (a la Mindcraft) and badmouthing him all over the net. Writing about Finux is a reminder that Cryptonomicron is Only A Novel.
  • I got the book about a week ago, and I've been pretty busy, so I'm only up to page 116, but never before have I thought, "Hey, this is written for me!" I bought Snow Crash because of "In the Beginning was the Command Line". I liked Snow Crash, but I still thought "In the Beginning" was better (completely different genres, I know). Cryptonomicon is even better! Of course, I can't make too much comment from the first ~100 pages, but it does seem very good so far. How many other books have Alan Turing as a normal character in the first 20 pages? It has all that subtle (and not-so-subtle) humor that Snow Crash had, but it has a lot more of it. I've actually laughed out loud a lot, and I really don't do that when reading books much (Dave Barry, though, can do that to me). But somehow he manages to be hilarious without being flippant. There's a scene (being really vague to avoid any spoilers, but I don't think there are any here anyway) where sailors are walking by and see their babies by local women. That was a really well-written passage that has nothing to do with sci-fi and isn't really humorous. It was just inciteful. I second that 10/10, and I haven't even finished!
  • Insightful, not inciteful. Maybe both . . . nah. (My girlfriend's going to see this and rag me about it; she stalks me on Slashdot!)
  • He was mean, though! Seriously, the sig was a bit old and needed replacement; that was just my excuse. If you want to see it again, by all means [duke.edu].
  • If I remember correctly, 'Japan' comes from Marco Polo and his travels. Somehow, the Chinese word for the country mutated into Japan when brought back to Europe.
  • The best book on cryptography is Bruce Schneier's Applied Cryptography.

    The Puzzle Palace by James Bamford is a pretty good history of Crypto and the NSA.
  • I believe he states somewhere along the line that "Nippon" is more common among those who have actually spent time in the far East. I have no idea whether this is actually true or not.
  • Bleh. I finished "Infinite Jest", but there's no way I would start it over again soon; it's just too freaking huge. Any humor the book had rapidly got tiresome, which makes me wonder how many of the reviewers who called it a "comic" novel actually read the whole thing.

    I'll admit it's well constructed, and well written, but ultimately unsatisfying. Books need to have endings so that you know when to go on to the next one. :)
  • If you were going to be turned off due to technical glitches, it might as have well been at the "factoring large primes" mention--- no need to get all the way to Japan. :)

    My understanding was that Rudy could break the one-time pad not just because of the nonuniform key distribution, but also because some of the members of unit 2072 reused the same pads. He didn't break out _all_ the messages, just enough to figure out what they were up to.

    The biggest logical flaw I found was that all the encrypted messages (except for one example) were in English. Is this really accurate? Wouldn't Randy have to know German or Japanese to decrypt their messages? I'd have a hard time believing they'd choose English as a common language.
  • I'll probably get flamed to death for what I'm about to suggest here, but before you begin lighting the torches let me state for the record that I've been a huge Stephenson fan since Snow Crash and have read(and loved) everything he's written with the exception of The Big U, so I'm not trying to slaughter the sacred cow of geek literature. Overall, I really liked Cryptonomicon and hopefully I'm just reading too much into certain things here...

    Having said all that, here's my problem with the book:


    The character of Randy's wife seems like a big troll for feminists...Stephenson has had a long history of strong female characters in his books, and that's why this character is such a letdown: The stereotypical white-male-bashing-feminist-liberal-type portrayal is so one-dimensional, it only makes the inclusion of her character feel reactionary and childish on Stephenson's part. The same can be said for the emasculated colleagues she is surrounded with...It seems like a cheap shot. The restaurant scence seems particularly set up to inflame liberals and feminists. Although many of the points he makes are valid, it could have been done in a more mature manner. This treatment of women seems to be a recurring theme in the book. The female characters are either there to provide sex(Glory or Mary for example) or are stereotyped butch feminists(Amy, whose character is pretty thinly developed, and Randy's wife)...I realize the opinions of the author and the characters in his novels are not necessarily one and the same, but if this is how Stephenson really feels it would be a big disappointment....

  • I don't think people are necessarilyexpecting that characters have to be "models", I just think it's legit for readers of an author of Stephenson's caliber to expect him to create characters that are less stereotypical and derogatory.
  • Any English or Women's Studies department is chock full of people who match this description, and the classes contain many larval-form Charlenes.


    I know of this first-hand, my partner is a Women's Studies grad....but it still smacks of feminist-baiting and stereotyping. Not every feminist is a man-hating/technology-hating freak. :)


    but Stephenson has written excellentfemale characters before


    I know, and that's exactly why these characters are such a disappointment. It makes me wonder if he was really trying to appeal to the Clancy school of techno-geek, as has been mentioned elsewhere here. I wouldn't immediately categorize this as a "downward slide into misogyny", but some explanation may be in order, at least to clarify his intent.

  • P.S. I'm not at all trying to say that being offended by this reaction isn't a valid female perspective. It's just that the book was written from the perspective of a socially inept man.


    Well, as a socially inept man, I find myself a little disturbed, for a couple of reasons....first off, not every geek is a guy(although, yeah, yeah...i know, most of us are...)and why should only women be offended by these things? Second, the book's written in the third person...so technically it's not written from his perspective.


    Just picking nits here, but it's important to make these distinctions.
  • You'll see a lot of the same politically in-correct, anti-postmodernism attitudes reflected in the Victorians in "The Diamond Age," another great book.

    This is true, however, unlike Cryptonomicon, Stephenson's critique of postmodernism didn't sink to childish and offensive levels, which was my original point.

    A book on cryptography, soldiers fighting in WWII, and hacking is going to be a male-oriented book if it wants to be realistic.

    This may also be true, but just because it's male-oriented doesn't mean it has to be offensive. I'm a male, I enjoy crypto, I'm a computer geek, and I've got a number of WWII histories on my bookshelf, but that doesn't mean I view all women as either sex-toys or ballbreakers. That's a one-dimensional view, in my opinion.
  • I never said Randy was derogatory...
    My response was that the book's attitude towards women was.
    Sorry if that wasn't clear.
  • This is actually typical of Stephenson's story's--My favorite line from Snow Crash was "fromm there it was just a chase scene"--to me, it seems that he only describes things that are relevant to a charecter's further development, and fills in the story where neccesary
  • The jumping around that you mention is Shaftoe having a flashback to an earlier fight. Stephenson uses this device several times with Shaftoe, I think it is a wonderful way of approximating to the reader just how disorienting flashbacks could be to a shell-shocked soldier.
  • There seem to be 2 books written by Stephenson with I believe his uncle under the psuedonym Stpehen Bury, Interface, and The Cobweb. I thought that Interface was great, the premise blew me away about half way through the book when it came together what was about to happen. Interface was more enjoyable and memorable than Diamond Age. I'm still amazed that Diamond Age was able to win a Hugo. Working off another post the opening scene with the deliverator in Snow Crash is my favorite first chapter in any book I have read. I miss the word play in Snow Crash, "like crampons through a room full of puppies" still has yet to be matched as a great analogy. It may not be a pretty thought but it sure did get the idea across.
  • I love the reverse timeline Stephenson Employs.

    Cryptonomicon to Snow Crash to Diamond Age..

    From 1945 to ~2145(?)

    - The Crypt is obviously what is referred to when Stephenspon said in "Snowcrash" that strong crypto brought down the old governmental structures.

    By the way, did anyone else catch that Miss Matheson in Diamond Age was Y.T. from Snow Crash? Or is it just me...

    Ah well, apparently I'm just rambling, need more coffee
  • Just looked it up. You're right.

    THANKS!!!
  • Neal, are you reading this? I know you're a regular.

    Could you clear this up for me/us?
  • Yep, it's credited to 'Stephen Bury' and is Stephenson and his father-in-law, who's apparently something of a name in the thriller market. There's also 'Cobweb' under that name, a sort of CIA procedural which is pretty cool.



  • Its interesting. This was almost the review I was going to write about the book. I finished it yesterday, in an attempt to get it out of my system. Its one of those books thats so good, as you read it it starts to affect your outlook, and you continually muse over the characters and scenes.

    I've been a diehard Stephenson fan for a while. What makes him cool, beyond being an excellent storyteller - action, humor, tech - is that he really does his homework, and he tries to present ideas that he's been working on for a while. This was obvious in snow crash, diamond age, etc.

    The most interesting thing about this book, for me, was that it was a nice merger from some of his shorter writings he's done in the last 3 or so years.

    Modern Crypto ideas were in Spew [wired.com]. And he clearly knows the underseas cable world, from his lengthy journal ("the hacker tourist"? With GPS signatures?) in Mother Earth Mother Board [wired.com].

    Perhaps his best writing on the points of the modern thread of Cryptonicon (the Crypt and digital currency backed with cash) was in a fictional story in Time (thus, why all of his modern bios [zdnet.com] give "one of three authors ever to write a fiction piece for Time magazine") of such a bank, called Simoleon [hk.net]. I envision it takes place about 2-3 years after Cryptonomicon I ends... He also has an interest ing non fiction article [pathfinder.com] on the subject in Time.

    Anyway, definately worth the time and money. Then read Applied Cryptography and Kahn's Codebreakers. I'm off to track down some Pynchon, as this is now the third book he's been compared to.
  • Super friends?

    I thought that 'The Deliverator' was one of the finest intros of any book I have ever read!

  • Stephenson created a book that not only expands on the past and future of cryptology, but serves as encouragement for hackers everywhere. Using skill and craft to thwart powerful, but technically inferior, forces (i.e. governments, multinationals, militaries).

    Neal is the anti-Clancy. Instead of encouraging world domination, with the United States as global judge and jury, Stephenson projects a world where power is deseminated. It only takes a small percentage of like minded individuals with the right tools.

    I agree with the politics and have a overactive imagination so I can look past some of the faults. Just use your imagination to picture the future of Epiphyte and the crypt. That ending doesn't need to be written.

    Moose
  • I think it is a wonderful way of approximating to the reader just how disorienting flashbacks could be to a shell-shocked soldier

    I didn't think of it that way before. I just thought that that particular section was a little clumsy. Now that you mention it, the way it is written is actually very well done (assuming of course that Stephenson was actually going for that effect...)
  • This is true, since in reality, the country itself should be called "Nippon". I don't remember the whole story, but that is also the explanation behind the name "NEC" ("Nippon Electronics Corporation"). "Japan" is just an Americanization, "Nippon" is the correct name.
  • Neal Stephenson understands media. This is a book for a certain audience: it is an audience seeped in new forms of media, and it is, without too much powerful argument, all about the power of different media in different situations. Encryption's effects on media is an obvious theme, and his views on money as a medium are obviously crucial as well. For more on this, check out Marshall McLuhan's 'Understanding Media.' It's a brilliant book that's outdated now, but its ideas are only growing in importance. The 'digital revolution' or 'information superhighway' or whatever is going on now is basically just the fact that our culture is waking up and throwing all of their energy into media development. 'The Medium is the Message,' might or might not be a true statement, but the implicit assumptions of digital media are growing in importance geometrically. Stephenson understands this extremely well, and he has an organized worldview that will make only make more sense.
    If there's one criticism of the book, it has to be the scale. But the scale of the book is one of its most important aspects. This book presents a remarkably unbiased picture of the information of real life: he spends nearly equal time on Randy's pc and his cereal-eating habits. The book's scale will turn off a lot of readers, but the scale is one of the work's most fundamental aspects.
    Stephenson digs pretty hard into academia and college life. Is his polemic deserved? Dunno. But his worldview obviously includes the idea of the breakdown of the academic system. And I think that he makes a pretty good case, even if it's a subtext. 'In the beginning' has a lot of this too. I agree with some of his ideas, and I'm not without perspective on this, since I have a certain amount of familiarity with a few college departments. He's stuck on the idea that the educational system has to change, or so it would appear. That's fine, but I'd like to see a constructive idea as well-developed as his take on money with the Crypt. (I've only read this, and I'm halfway through Snow Crash, so if he addresses this in another work, somebody please steer me that way.)
    My verdict is that this book rocks: it's alive, and the issues in it are the big ones. The right ones, if you ask me. Neal knows what's up, for sure, and that's his biggest asset as a writer.
  • To each his own, I had to force myself to finish Infinite Jest in a reasonable pace, while I have trouble putting Gravity's Rainbow down, and continuing in a pomo vein, I've never finished the very thin "Carpenter's Gothic" by Gaddis.

    I don't know if it requires a high IQ to get through Gravity's Rainbow or just a strange, paranoid worldview with a warped sense of humor and a love of puns.

    Maybe I should pick up Cryptonomicon, I've been scouring garage sales for the Big U once I realized how much it was worh (I read my roommates copy in college, thought it was mildly amusing but not earth shattering).

    George
  • My favorite parts are all the crap that Goto Dengo had to go through and still come out on top.

    I liked it when Randy, who was afraid someone was tapping into his computer, instead wrote code in Finux(Linux) using Morse code on the space bar and the caps lock lights on his keyboard as the interface! That was pretty wild.

    I was a little confused about the guy at the end that started shooting arrows at everyone before stepping on a land mine. They didn't really explain WHY he was so obsesed as to follow them all out in the jungle....in his business suit no less. Sure, he was flaky, but they didn't go through his flakyness to total insanity.

    But it was a good read, if a little dis-jointed at times.
  • Yes, I know who the guy was at the end that sort of lost it and went after Randy and Amy, but they didn't explain fully the guys trip into total madness like that. I mean the scene before we see him in the jungle with his leg blown off by the land mine, he was standing in front of the offices of Ordo trying to serve a search warrent.

    Also, I haven't read any of the other books, but I'll have to check them all out now!
  • In Japanese, Japan is pronounced "Nippon," or "Nihon" nowadays. "Nihon" is an alliteration of "Nippon" -- Japanese sometimes soften a double p sound into an h sound.

    Haven't finished yet, but it's a great book.
  • This is Stephen's best book yet. It's a book about men, and their perspective's on women, but so what? A book on cryptography, soldiers fighting in WWII, and hacking is going to be a male-oriented book if it wants to be realistic. We might wish that there were equal numbers of female/male hackers-math-geeks-etc., but the fact is most of them are men.

    You'll see a lot of the same politically in-correct, anti-postmodernism attitudes reflected in the Victorians in "The Diamond Age," another great book.

    ------------------------------------------



  • Where is Randy derogatory??
  • That was a strongly worded reply!!

    Have you ever hung out in a University English department (I have)? There are lots of Charlenes. Anyway, what makes caricatures of post-modernists so sacronsat? Most of post-modernism is mumbo-jumbo that deserves to be satirized. Satire and characature have a long and respected history in literature, going back to Jonathan Swift, even the Eripides, and it has a useful corrective effect on public opinion.

    Would you have been more happy if Stephenson satirized Microserfs, or Bill Gates instead? Or maybe Repulicans? Why are po-mo feminists taboo?

    -----------------------------------
  • Bring this guy back for more reviews! Much more substantial than some of the Slashdot reviews.

  • "...doesn't mean I view all women as either sex-toys or ballbreakers. That's a one-dimensional view, in my opinion."

    It certainly is, but that's obviously not Stephenson's view.
  • That's what Cryptonomicon is: the ultimate nerd book. As you can guess from my choice of username, I am quite fond of this thing. :)

    What worked for me was not just the techno-nerdism like the whole Van Eck freaking episode, but also the math-nerdism. I'm surprised no one mentionned the mathematical model of Lawrence Waterhouse's libido. I've never laughed so hard over mathematical equations before.

    Does this book mean Stephenson has stepped away from sci-fi? I doubt it. He said the sequels to Cryptonomicon would take place in multiple timelines. I'm already guessing we'll see a medieval thriller at some point (and see how the Cryptonomicon was written.) I'm also suspecting we'll see just where the events in Cryptonomicon will take humanity next.

    Side-note: anyone read An Instance of the Fingerpost? In one of Life's weird sequiturs, I read Cryptonomicon immediately following An Instance.... One character is a cryptographer under Cromwell, in 1660. I could almost picture him as the author of the Cryptonomicon...

    Also: I'm grateful this review was filed under "Cryptography" here on Slashdot. I hope Cryptonomicon gets many techno enthusiasts to pick up Schneier's Applied Cryptography [counterpane.com] .

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • The point of storing the information on the data haven was that it was the only way to make sure that it would be accessable to people. If they put it on a server that was any less essential, oppressive governments would simply cut off access to the offending server. If, however, a major data haven and the cornerstone of the world's financial system happened to have that information freely available off of it, there would be little that anyone could do to prevent the information from being available without shooting themselves in the foot in the process.
  • This book has proved to be a great investment of time. Its slow and rather pedantic beginning almost turned me off.

    Note to Neal: "Please, do not introduce your characters as if you were introducing the Super Friends. Everybody does not have special powers, nor do they need them. You eventually settled down with human-like people, but you came very close to giving them Clancy-like super-abilities that, had they not had them, the book would be bunk"

    Neal does one other thing that irks me, but does not detract from the book. While gladly using the names of Alan Turing and Winston Churchill, etc etc, he then decides to create new names for existing people (Commander Schoen, for instance). He also does this for companies (ETC, i.e. IBM/Motorola), software (ORDO, i.e. PGP) and for certain operating systems we all love (Finux...well, I get the pun here, but Linux would have worked fine). Microsoft Windows gets no modifications, interestingly enough.

    Well, I needed a place to say this. These are minor things and come mainly from having been a Clancy junkie in high school. The rather predictible and annoying introduction of "super" characters gets old.

    One big positive: This is very fresh and original for me and probably a lot of people my age who did not cut their teeth on Ian Flemming and Dean Koontz spy novels.

    Jesse

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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