52 Books a Year: #39 - Cryptonomicon

Posted by Brian Sun, 20 Dec 2009 21:24:18 GMT

By Neal Stephenson


Cryptonomicon weaves a fantastic historical mystery that bounces between several story lines in both WWII and modern times that all come together into a coherent whole at the end. Stephenson has said that there was another set of stories set into the future as well, but those got cut due to size. The hardcover version I read is 910 pages so I can see the need to cut whole story lines.

Stephenson’s writing is superb as usual. The views of WWII era characters have not been modified for modern ideas of racial sensitivity, giving a more authentic feel. Each character has a distinct voice and viewpoint. As a programmer I was drawn to the Waterhouse’s (both WWII, Lawrence, and modern, Randy), who are portrayed as having a very logical thought process to the point of having a complete lack of social grace. Chapters centering on them also have the most complex mathematical explanations, but is not essential that you follow these in detail to understand the novel. The most amusing of these describes Lawrence Waterhouse’s production as a function of sexual satisfaction.

The only seeming hole in the book is the reemergence of Enoch Root in the modern story. He pretty clearly dies during WWII, but then reemerges with no explanation in modern times. It’s hard to believe that such an enormous plot hole was unintentional (or maybe an explanation was in the cut future story lines) and this has led to much speculation. Some interesting ones involve the Philosopher’s Stone and the Book of Enoch, but there is no hard evidence in the book to justify this, only indirect.

Be prepared for a long read. With all of the separate story lines it takes about the first 1/3 of the book before things get moving, but everything merges together beautifully at the end. Ancestors of many of the characters here are used in subsequent Stephenson novels, so it looks like I have some more reading to do.


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