Saturday, December 10, 2011

Book review--Cryptonomicon

CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson
During World War II, Lawrence Waterhouse is assigned to military Detachment 2702 commanded by Marine Bobby Shaftoe.  Their mission is to keep the Nazis from learning that the Allies have broken the infamous Enigma code.  This involves a mathematical cat-and-mouse game between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, all while Shaftoe sees to the combat action.
In modern times, the grandson of Waterhouse and the granddaughter of Shaftoe are involved in another form of cryptography in The Philippines.  Waterhouse is a hacker, working with his partner to create a "data haven" on a Pacific island while also attempting to salvage a sunken Nazi U-boat that might have the key to the unbreakable code known as Arethusa...and the pathway to conspiracy and fortune.

To read this book is a mammoth undertaking.  I am embarrassed to admit just how long it took to me to complete this tome.  In my defense, I only have time to read maybe three pages or so every night before passing out, so do dedicate longer blocks of time to reading the book if you wish to finish it with any amount of expediency.  Cryptonomicon will demand patience...and will never fail to reward it.
This not science fiction per se but rather a text of post-cyberpunk fiction.  More than that, it is a fine example of postmodern fiction.  Stephenson manages to deftly weave in between two intertwining plot lines that take place in entirely different eras, even at times branching off into two or three subplots, while never once losing the reader.  One moment you'll be learning about life on a Nazi U-boat, the next you'll be hacking C++ code, and Stephenson's acumen will make it all seem natural.  There are numerous digressions, such as a discourse on the perfect way in which to eat cereal or exactly how a spider constructs its web and I do hope you enjoy mathematics because there are ample page lengths of number theory.  Each one of these digressions, while tedious at times, serves a greater purpose.  If read through the prism of the books main theme, cryptography, these digressions become apparently purposeful and even necessary.  Plus if you're the type of reader who disdains "all that talking," there will eventually be kickass military action to whet your appetite.  Real-life people are characters within the narrative.  Appearances by Ronald Reagan, Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, and especially Alan Turing only add to the pleasurable experience of this book.  As I said, Stephenson's lengthy novel may seem as a sort of intellectual adytum at first blush, but press on.  You will be glad that you did.

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