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Cryptonomicon Mass Market Paperback – November 5, 2002
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Neal Stephenson enjoys cult status among science fiction fans and techie types thanks to Snow Crash, which so completely redefined conventional notions of the high-tech future that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if his cyberpunk classic was big, Cryptonomicon is huge... gargantuan... massive, not just in size (a hefty 918 pages including appendices) but in scope and appeal. It's the hip, readable heir to Gravity's Rainbow and the Illuminatus trilogy. And it's only the first of a proposed series--for more information, read our interview with Stephenson.
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, cryptanalyst 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.
Cryptonomicon is vintage Stephenson from start to finish: short on plot, but long on detail so precise it's exhausting. Every page has a math problem, a quotable in-joke, an amazing idea, or a bit of sharp prose. Cryptonomicon is also packed with truly weird characters, funky tech, and crypto--all the crypto you'll ever need, in fact, not to mention all the computer jargon of the moment. A word to the wise: if you read this book in one sitting, you may die of information overload (and starvation). --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Computer expert Randy Waterhouse spearheads a movement to create a safe haven for data in a world where information equals power and big business and government seek to control the flow of knowledge. His ambitions collide with a top-secret conspiracy with links to the encryption wars of World War II and his grandfather's work in preventing the Nazis from discovering that the Allies had cracked their supposedly unbreakable Enigma code. The author of Snow Crash (LJ 4/1/92) focuses his eclectic vision on a story of epic proportions, encompassing both the beginnings of information technology in the 1940s and the blossoming of the present cybertech revolution. Stephenson's freewheeling prose and ironic voice lend a sense of familiarity to a story that transcends the genre and demands a wide readership among fans of technothrillers as well as a general audience. Highly recommended.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
I am NOT a mathlete, by any stretch of the imagination, but I found the cryptology fun to follow and for the most part could follow, except when two of the main characters would go off on brain tangents and even for instance, break down the random mathematics of their McDonald's order. There are only a few of these sections in the book, but some of them go on for pages.
As for the OVERALL story, plot, characterizations, I give this book a 4.5. It was worth the 900+ pages. You truly get to know each and every character, except one, the enigmatic Enoch Root, which I desperately wish there had been more explanation about, and his organization.
Having read a lot about WWII, and seen a bunch of documentaries on the topic as well as interviewed surviving vets myself, I find his characterization of the war -- on both fronts to be highly realistic and in tune with what was actually happening as well as the state of mind of the solider/sailors/grunts on all sides. I rate this a 5. Bravo.
I was afraid that it would be far too textbook-like to be entertaining, but I am currently enjoying it immensely. The frequent expositions are well worded and as much fun to read as the actual plot of the story, which moves between the second world war right up to a few years ago, with engaging, well developed, characters.
I don't know how it ends, yet, but so far, at about 40 percent through, it is a delight.
Cryptonomicon takes place in two time periods - World War II, and "present day" (late 1990s/2000s). A great deal of fiction (and virtually all Hollywood products) has to have a 'romantic' element to the storyline. Cryptonomicon does have romance, but to a modest degree. The characters and the development of cryptography in the 20th century drive this story. If you are a "techie" and want a break from manuals and tutorials, or you are a non-techie that wants a novel that brings some of this obscure topic to light, Cryptonomicon is sure to reward. As it probably would for many others!
The only caveat to this endorsement is that it is rather long [not sure how to express the length; I read it on a Kindle!]. The book was so good, that was not an issue for me.
Most recent customer reviews
Long but well worth the read