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Cryptonomicon Mass Market Paperback – November 5, 2002
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About the Author
Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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This is a good introduction to Stephenson. It's set in current times (actually more turn of the century, being published in 1999), with parts also set in WWII. It deals with interesting issues of war, computing, and economics. It ties together disparate story lines so that they come together beautifully in the end.
There's action, characters you'll root for, intrigue, and prose that's magnificent. Stephenson is one of the few writers that makes me sometimes stop and re-read a sentence just because of its sheer artistry.
If I had to make a criticism, it's this: as brilliant a writer as Stephenson is, he tends towards abrupt endings that feel like he just got tired of the story and wrapped it up in a hurry. But this is a tiny price to pay in a book this good.
The other thing I like about this story is the fast paced, adventurous, and far-fetched situations the characters get into. One character is introduced by way of a survival story, where over the course of a couple days or weeks he survives against the most ridiculous odds, over and over again... and yet Stephenson manages to suspend your disbelief the whole way through.
There is also lots of humor.
There is very little sexual content in one part of the story, developing one of the characters. It is not graphic.
The violence is sprinkled in here and there, mostly in the WWII part of the story. It is not central to the story, but certainly serves illustrating the intense situations you might find yourself in in wartime.
If your interests tend toward tech and history and adventure, you'll love this book.
I am now reading Stephenson's prequel Quicksilver (written after Cryptonomicon), set in pre-revolutionary Boston and the European Enlightenment. The same entertaining style but in a more slowly moving story loosely including a cast of giants (Ben Franklin, Isaac Asimov, etc.)
A couple of years ago, he penned a “thriller” titled Reamde, which I felt was an abysmal failure. I put it off to a departure from his sci-fi/cyberpunk roots, unaware that he had written a prior novel outside the genre, Cryptonomicon.
This work is a real doorstop, clocking in at about 1,140 pages. It follows two distinct timelines involving generations of the Shaftoe and Waterhouse families, World War II crypto-analysis, modern day (at the time it was written) telecommunications technology and search for hidden treasure centered in Indonesia/Southeast Asia.
Unlike Reamde, which I felt involved absurd and ridiculous scenarios and activities, the events in this novel are extremely realistic, inasmuch as they are based upon actual code breaking activity that took place in World War II. While there are sections which get a little deep in code theory, they don’t go so deep as to completely swamp the novice reader.
While the first couple of hundred pages act to set the stage, what follows is quite simply magnificent, both with respect to the quality of the writing and the educational value of the contents. Around the 2/3 mark of the book, you begin to see the threads coming together in a fascinating manner.
This is quite simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read.