0174 | Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson


Context: Started to learn to play the piano at some point in the months I spent reading this.

Many of you know that I’m pretty fixated with the 1001 books list because it makes me read stuff I would have no idea of. This is usually a good thing and the reason I picked this up in a charity shop.

Mixes history and fiction in the way that Don DeLillo did in Underworld.

…it said on the back. Any reference to DeLillo’s waste of timber almost had me running for the shredder. And to cap that comment the TLS reviewer then said:

Stephenson’s book is more successful than DeLillo’s and much funnier.

Mmmm… not hard. Your average telephone directory would achieve about the same effect I feel.

Stephenson’s novel features the role of codes and cryptography from WW2 up to the modern era (well, the 90s anyway.) It features a range of characters (aka nerds) all of whom, either through choice or otherwise, are caught up in this elite and secretive society. To say he writes a complex plot with a panoply of characters spanning decades better than DeLillo is, in fact, superfluous (see my review of Underworld). But does he do it well enough?

It’s is a tome of a novel at just over 900 pages but, thankfully, you don’t need any help decrypting the plot as Stephenson has written that pretty clearly considering the challenge he set himself. He’s also got a way with words in terms of his metaphors which had me laughing out loud at times.

But I’m pretty sure that he himself got caught up in the writing of this book much like the nerd programmers he describes would get caught up in writing computer code: because they could. Stephenson tends towards verbosity at times. I think he could have told a much richer novel in perhaps two thirds the space. Someone called him “the hacker Hemingway” online. Er no. Obviously… not… read… Hemingway…

It’s a good bedtime book: you probably wouldn’t want to pack this on your commuter route unless you were building your biceps. At times page-turningly provocative and at other times technically dull. You just have to time the dull bits for when you need to nod off. Mind you, if you’re a nerd like Stephenson, you might differ as to which pages are provocative and which are dull. If you’re a nerd married to a normal, you should both like it sinusoidally out of phase.

I liked the way the novel ranged all over the world as the characters travelled in war and peacetime through all sorts of far-fetched and mundane experiences. I liked the descriptions of how code-breaking was carried out and how it influenced crucial wartime decision-making.

But I just thought parts were long-winded and could have done with cutting down. I was also a bit irritated by his insistence on using the word Nippon and its derivatives in preference to the word Japan. No explanation given either. Ah well, I can forgive him. He is USAnian after all 😉

Two tires fly.

This is a bit revealing, so if you want to see it click show

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