Megan Baxter's Reviews > Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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May 19, 14

Read from July 03 to 26, 2012

Reading this book was a lot like riding in a car that steadily picks up speed and then stalls out. I wanted to like it a great deal more than I ended up doing.

I would be trucking along, really getting into it, starting to get eager about turning the page and finding out what was going to happen next, and then...some reference to "hairy-legged academic feminists" or the "Ejaculation Control Commission" or "those things women always say to manipulate men" and my enjoyment would come to a screeching halt.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
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Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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message 1: by Bud (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bud Megan, I'm curious what you think of this book. I've tried to read Stephenson and he's so popular, but I get bogged down in all the slang. Maybe I should give it another try....


Megan Baxter I am finally getting closer to the end than the beginning, so hopefully a review will be on the way in the next week! I do get bogged down in some of the math sections, but there is enough else there to keep me reading.

It has felt a bit like a slog at times, though.


message 3: by Bud (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bud Thanks! I'm going to at least download the sample, no big risk there. So many books, so little time.


Megan Baxter I have a t-shirt with that on it! It's one of my most cherished possessions.


Terry The ironic thing is that "self-indulgent masturbatory writing" could validly describe most of what comes out of Neal Stephenson's pen.


message 6: by Simon (new) - added it

Simon I couldn't finish this one! Just got bored about half-way through. It did, however, supply me with a spectacular passage I'll be using as an epigraph in a book.


Megan Baxter I had times when I thought about not bothering anymore, but I'm a fairly fast reader, and very stubborn, so I kept at it. :)

Besides, I wanted to write this review having read the whole thing.

I am unsure whether I'll give Stephenson a second chance. Probably eventually, but not in the near future.

What was the passage?


message 8: by Simon (new) - added it

Simon The passage is for a book about ontology in which the importance of artifacts, and the role of intentions in their production, is central:

“How can he walk across a field salted, by the retreat of the last glacier, with countless stones, and pick out the arrowheads? Why can the human eye detect a tiny artificial form lost in nature’s torn and turbulent cosmos, a needle of data in a haystack of noise? It is a sudden, sparking connection between minds, he supposes. The arrowheads are human things broken loose from humanity, their organic parts perished, their mineral forms enduring – crystals of intention. It is not the form but the lethal intent that demands the attention of a selfish mind.” (pp. 287-8)

Btw, I liked "Anathem" much better than "Cryptonomicon". However, I think I've had my fill of Stephenson for quite a long time.


Megan Baxter I'll keep Anathem in mind when I feel ready to try another, one of these days.

That is a great passage.


message 10: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten I have not had the fortitude to take on "Cryptonomicon" and it takes up several inches of shelf space to not be used. I agree with Simon. I liked "Anathem". Great review Megan! I hope you get a chance to discuss this with Stephenson in person some day.


sckenda Jeffrey wrote: "I have not had the fortitude to take on "Cryptonomicon" and it takes up several inches of shelf space to not be used. I agree with Simon. I liked "Anathem". Great review Megan! I hope you get a ch..."

I picked up Anathem because I liked the premise, which sounded like Canticle for Lebowitz, only from a science angle. Scientist Monks. I need Jeffrey to help me through it because it had all these make-believe words, like in Clockwork Orange. I put aside after 70 pages but I plan on picking back up again.


message 12: by Ian (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian I'm not a huge Stephenson fan ... I gave Cryptonomicon three stars also. But Anathem is a completely different sort of book, from writing style to genre to ideas to characterization to, well, everything. Most of Stephenson's work I place somewhere on the spectrum between boring and just fine and dandy, but Anathem is one of my all-time favorites by any author, any genre.


Megan Baxter Well, these are some strong recommendations! I'll have to check out Anathem someday. Not right away, though. I need to let Cryptonomicon fade from my memory so I'm not taking that baggage into the next book by Stephenson.


message 14: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "I have not had the fortitude to take on "Cryptonomicon" and it takes up several inches of shelf space to not be used. I agree with Simon. I liked "Anathem". Great review Megan! I h..."

Definitely a book you have to settle in to, but worth the journey.


message 15: by Ian (last edited Jul 30, 2012 06:20PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ian "Since I'm a feminist, and an academic, who sometimes has hairy legs, depending on whether I remember or care on any given day, this was less than fun. It was frustrating as hell to have a story I was enjoying interrupted about once every two hundred pages for a little diatribe on how feminists/women/the PC police were ruining the men they encountered."

Those things would have bothered the shit out of me, too, had I taken them the way you did. Feminism is not limited to women, you know, and I'm certainly not too macho to consider myself something of a feminist ... I think I owe it to my wife and daughter and all the other wives and daughters who live with asshole men. In any case, the things you mention didn't bother me because I didn't take them to be representative of Stephenson's own thoughts on the issues, but rather him commenting negatively on men who do think that way. You say in your review you saw no trace of satire; I thought I saw a trace and more. I don't know which of us is right or even if there is a "right" answer here, but there you go.


message 16: by Megan (last edited Jul 31, 2012 04:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Megan Baxter There probably isn't a right answer - it's one of those things that, once you start noticing it, it's hard to put aside. Other times, it might not have bothered me.

If it had seemed to be a commentary on one particular character, with a bit more self-awareness, that would have been one thing. That it was several of the main characters, and no opposing viewpoint provided, I found it hard to take.

And certainly the vitriol about feminist academics, which is mostly in the first section of the book, was pretty extreme. It seemed much more like Stephenson was satirizing how dumb they are ("look how they theorize about the Internet without knowing how to use a computer!") than making a commentary on Randy.


message 17: by JF (new) - rated it 5 stars

JF Quincy The only stephenson I haven't read is Reamde and his victorian stuff (Baroque cycle). Everything I've read by him I've loved. However, I have to admit his female characters have always seemed a bit, well, two dimensional. Some more than others. I never really noticed the feminist digs, but that's probably because I was reading him more for the technofetishism than deep characterization. Also, it seems to me there are certain strains of feminism that lump all men into the "macho raping sexist" category. Or that appear to be inimical to general male sexuality. Perhaps I felt he was commenting on that.


Megan Baxter If it hadn't jarred me so badly the first time, I might not have been sensitized to it, and not been as aware of it the other times it happened. Unfortunately, that was not my experience. And when I write reviews, I try to write them from my extremely subjective point of view - that is to say, what I was thinking and feeling as I read the book.

Side note: And what was that about academics hating the internet but theorizing about it without knowing anything about it? The people I know in the digital humanities tend to be thoroughgoing geeks.

That's certainly the public perception of feminism these days, lamentably. It is a gross mischaracterization of the whole, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find a whole school of thought dedicated to that, instead of a few people.

But more than that, some of these digs were at women in situations where feminism was not a factor. Some took place in the World War II sections, long after first-wave feminism, and well before the resurgence of second-wave feminism. In those sections, the references were to women in general being hostile to men and male sexuality. Lawrence, who never had a run-in with a feminist as far as we know, is the one who expounds at length on women trying to control men's ejaculations.

Heck, even Amy, the one female character who is given the backhand compliment that she's "not like other women" is accused by Randy (in his thoughts, anyway), of visiting him in jail in order to emasculate him, make him weak, and manipulate him, instead of, oh, wanting to visit her boyfriend in jail to give him moral support.


Andrea Megan, I've read Cryptonomicon twice and didn't notice this - I'm intruiged enough to go back for a third read.
And I too write reviews as my personal experience - there are enough plot summaries and wrting style commentries already - plus the GR reviews are my own personal journal. Your review certainly made me rethink my assessment of this book.


Megan Baxter Thanks, Andrea. I do intend to read more Neal Stephenson, and see what I think of his other books. It was just one of those things that once I started noticing it, I couldn't stop noticing it.

That's certainly most of the way I write reviews too. I find of late I include a paragraph or two of plot summary, but it's primarily my reaction to the whatever I've read.


message 21: by John (new) - added it

John I've been slowly making my way through this book (I'm about 165 pages in right now) and your review closely describes how I feel about the book so far. The story is engaging, the writing is funny (if a little labored and excessive at times, especially the descriptions of scenery), and I love the detailed mechanics of pipe organs, cryptography, information theory, etc. - but the disdain for women I've seen so far is really bothering me. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed.


message 22: by Paul (new)

Paul great review! rather a predictable comment I'm afraid, but I tells em like I see em.


message 23: by Neeuqdrazil (new)

Neeuqdrazil It's been long enough since I read Cryptonomicon that I had forgotten the feminism digs. I'm now wondering if my remembered pleasure at The Diamond Age and Snow Crash isn't masking something.


message 24: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto I don't know when I'll get around to reading Stephenson, but I think I'll start with Anathem rather than this one.


David Cryptonomicon is one of my favorite books, but it's been many years since I read it. I remember the digs at academics, but I don't remember them being particularly directed at feminists, just that extreme academic feminism was kind of lumped together with all the varieties of extreme academia. One of these days I'll have to reread it; maybe I will see things I didn't notice then.

I've read most of his other books (except the Baroque Cycle and Anathem) and he's got fairly strong female characters in them, but his books are all very much geekfests for boys.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship It saddens me how much misogynist crap you see even in popular books, and how few people notice.


Althea Ann As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the book, I saw the comments mentioned as being in character for the times and people described; not as Stephenson's own opinions...


Megan Baxter Perhaps, but I saw them coming from pretty much every main male character, which tends to take it out of "this is an attribute of this person in particular" territory.


Sosen I felt like this book was basically an explication of Stephenson's personality (I'm not sure if I'm using that word correctly, but it's the only one that seemed to fit). Everybody's a walking talking encyclopedia; everybody goes for massive amounts of time without sleeping (and not all of them are nerds); speaking of nerds, they are all depicted as stupendous badasses (I'M REALLY NOT SURE HOW HE CAME TO BELIEVE THAT BUT I'VE MET MANY, MANY NERDS AND IT'S SIMPLY NOT TRUE); I don't even want to touch on the political leanings and gender roles, as many other reviewers have.


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