900 pages of geeky fun. Sure, 900 pages is a bit much, considering at least a third of it is technical tangents about ejaculation-related work efficiency or Van Eck phreaking, but wow, what a ride.
I started Cryptonomicon a long time ago, and it’s taken me this long not so much because of its length or density (both of which are, to say the least, prodigious), but because I read about ten or so other books at the same time. I did this because, as I said, 900 pages is a lot to slog through, voracious reader or not, and I needed the breaks.
Cryptonomicon is something out of a geek’s wet dream. Cryptanalysis, *nix operating systems, high-tech security stuff, and long rants about the sort of things that geeks tend to rant about (female conspiracies, number theory, blah blah blah). All of this is window dressing on a larger story that is comprised of two interrelated timelines: one, that of Bobby Shaftoe and Lawrence Waterhouse, is played out during the early 1940s, all over the world; the second, that of D.M. Shaftoe and Randall Lawrence Waterhouse, is played out mostly in the Phillipines in the late 90s. Add in German cryptography, information theory, a grumpy Finn, U-Boats full of gold bars, a fair amount of shooting, ejaculation, and complicated formulæ, and you’ve summed up the book. But of course it’s not quite as simple as that, because damn, Stephenson can spin a good yarn.
I was impressed at once both by his rhetorical abilities and his technical prowess. A surfeit of one or the other would have made getting through the book’s entirety near impossible, but thankfully it’s the correct mix to garner the author a lot of worthy praise. I was a little disappointed in the ending, which seemed to end on a precipice, but I hear—I don’t know—that it’s only the first in a series. Maybe those rumours had it confused with his Baroque cycle, whose characters share surnames with those from this book.
If the length doesn’t turn you off, read it. Seriously.