Cryptonomicon

By Neal Stephenson

I finally found an edition of Cryptonomicon that was actually luggable. I’ll be waiting a few years for Quicksilver and other, more recent Stephenson books to come out in a similarly handy format. I really hate the big trade paperback format. But I’ll probably buy more Stephenson books, something I wasn’t so sure about after finishing Diamond Age. But when I found Cryptonomicon I knew I had to give it a chance, if only because of the unanimous recommendation of my colleagues at Tryllian.

Diamond Age was in a sense a weird experience because the technology my company makes is a precursor of the networking technology that created the Diamond Age world. Cryptonomicon is in the same way interesting, but even closer to the skin. Operating systems from Finland, hacking in a variety of languages on network stuff and related security things are my daily bread & butter. And Stephenson does an absolutely admirable job of showing the mindset, introducing the technology and the issues and the possible (or probable) consequences.

Where Stephenson goes wrong, I feel, is in the more mundane things. I cannot believe for one moment that it’s possible to discover a great cache of WWII gold without it getting claimed by a) the government of the country where the cache is located, b) the governments of the countries where the gold was stolen from, c) the governments of the countries that had done the stealing, d) the descendants of the people who were the real victims of the war. There
are other places where I simply don’t believe plot elements, like the emphasis on some aspects of the prostate. Yes, you can get into prostate trouble from drinking too much coffee, but not from not having enough sex. That must be a fable so obscure not even Google knows about it…

Oh, and Stephenson apparently cannot write endings. That explains why his books are so fat, of course — but it’s a quite apparent in Cryptonomicon. The ending may, for all that I know, be highly symbolic, but it also falls flat. Which is a pity since the rest of the book was so intense that I frequently read four threads at the same time. Every time pov switched, I would put a bookmarker and thumb through to where the old pov continued. Of course, given my chaotic reading habits, that meant I was following all of them at the same time, only not in the order the author intended.