Neal Stephenson
Cryptonomicon Cover



I bought Cryptonomicon a year and a half ago, knowing that Neal Stephenson was going to be signing at the National Book Festival. I had been interested in his books for awhile, curious, so it was not a stretch to buy one for the event. But I have used the NBF to become acquainted with new authors, so I also, almost immediately started reading the book.

Now I have a philosophy, that if a book is going to require the investment in time and attention of War and Peace, it should attempt a similar payoff. Crypto does not deliver.

It does deliver a cast of interesting characters Waterhouse and his grandson, Shaftoe and his son and grand daughter, Goto Dengo. Even the profiles of Turing and MacArthur are not overly offensive, though MacArthur is terribly characatured. The plot is bewilderingly complex as a cryptosystem. Though the shift between settings and characters is a time honored novel technique, and Stephenson uses it with skill, I found it difficult to keep my attention riveted on the action, knowing that I was leaving these characters in the lurch for an indeterminate period. Also, I never did figure out some of the situations, especially those involving the current day entrepreneurs.

The situation surrounding the end of the book was especially bewildering. I cannot figure out how things turned out as they did. I cannot figure out how anybody else could have known enough about what was going on for things to develop.

So in the end, maybe the whole book is a code. I liked it, but I did not love it. Perhaps after it simmers in my mind a little, I will appreciate it more. I know some people think Stephenson writes like a guru, and maybe I'm missing something. The same thing happened to me with Gibson's Neuromancer. Maybe I'm just too old to understand the cyberpunk riffs. I bought Quicksilver, and I want to read it, but I won't be investing that time soon.