52 Books a Year: #39 - Cryptonomicon

Posted by Brian Sun, 20 Dec 2009 21:23:00 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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52 Books a Year: #38 - Snow Crash

Posted by Brian Sat, 19 Dec 2009 19:29:00 GMT

Snow Crash By Neal Stephenson


Snow Crash was Neal Stephenson’s breakthrough work and is a must read for any self-respecting computer geek. I won’t waste time rehashing details you can easily find elsewhere, so I will just focus on what I liked and didn’t like.

It takes serious balls to name your lead character Hiro Protagonist, but Stephenson pulls it off by never once dwelling on his name in a heavy-handed fashion. Hiro captures the psyche of a great number of programmers better than any other author I have ever read. Y.T. is a resourceful D.I.Y. punk in a world descending into anarchy. The story is wonderfully paced and most of the side characters have a point. Raven is a pretty well-developed villain and you even get to see his more human side with a clear explanation of his motivations. Initially presented as a caricature he ends up evolving into a character whose motivations you can identify with to at least some degree, despite their destructive consequences.

I can’t decide if I liked the ending or not. It ends very abruptly with some seemingly loose end, but I think you are supposed to piece together those loose ends from clues dropped throughout the book. The biggest example of this seems to be the fight between Uncle Enzo and Raven. Previous events lead the reader to only one logical result, but you are never explicitly told what happens. The only other problem I had is the heavy handed use of explanatory monologues to explain Sumerian mythology. It comes across as very unnatural, especially near the end of the book when Hiro is explaining everything to the other power-brokers.

Overall, this is a fantastic read. I am a sucker for cyberpunk and dystopian worlds and this one is excellent. If you are at all into the culture of computer programmers than this book is for you. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a lot more Neal Stephenson to read.

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