tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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Welp, I was about halfway thru writing the review of this when a storm caused a power outage & since I can't afford a battery for my computer, instant review disappearance. Like you need to know that, right? Let that be my excuse for the following review's being unenthusiastically (re)written.

It's a good thing that I read Stephenson's "Quicksilver" 1st b/c that convinced me that he's a major writer. It was astonishingly well-researched. Alas, after that I read his collaborative "Interface" wch was conventionally well-written but nothing to write home in code about. "Zodiac" followed. That reminded me a bit of Thomas Pynchon. Given that Pynchon's one of my favorite writers this similarity cd lead to my thinking that Stephenson's a cheap imitator (it didn't) or that he's living up to high standards (he is).

"Cryptonomicon" also reminds me of Pynchon, specifically of his "Gravity's Rainbow". Like "Quicksilver" it's very well-researched but the WWII subject puts it a little precariously close to an overdone subject. As such, I'm not as impressed by the research as I was w/ "Quicksilver".

"Cryptonomicon" is an epic w/ a wealth of impressive detail & a panache of novelistic connective tissue imagination. Alas, though, it came a little too close to being an intellectual's Dean Koontz novel at times. That sd, what the fuck, it's way better than any novel I'm ever likely to write (esp considering that I'm not likely to write one in the 1st place) so kudos to Stephenson!

Stephenson names one of the characters Marcus Aurelius Shaftoe - presumably after the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Given that I've actually read the writings of sd Emperor (in translation) when I was in my early 20s, this was an interesting bit of trivia for me. According to the introductory note in the Harvard Classics edition I read, it's claimed that Marcus Aurelius was one of the only 2 "Roman emperors who can be said to have ruled with a single eye to the welfare of their subjects."

On pp 611-612 he describes a character getting hypothermia as a result of being transported in the ball turret of a fighter plane. Given that my father was a gunner in one of those & that he got frostbite &, later, gout as a result of the heater going out in the ball turret, I appreciated Stephenson's attn to detail here once again.

Starting at p 624, there's a humorous section about dividing the furniture between relatives after someone's death. I figure Stephenson must've had a similar personal experience in order for this to've been written w/ the humor & insight that it was. Once again, I was reminded of family matters: my stepbrother robbing the rest of us of my dad's inheritance. Ha ha!

Stephenson's references to music on p 820 were sadly mediocre. It's always an extra thrill for me when a writer refers to music in a way that shows some substantial knowledge but, here, it was a no-go.

But these latter 4 bits of trivia are just that - things too far afield from the main narrative to be important to it. More importantly, perhaps, were the commentaries on gold made by his Nipponese character, Goto Dengo:

p 858: "Gold is the corpse of value"

p 861: "Wealth that is stored up in gold is dead. It rots and stinks. True wealth is made everyday by men getting up out of bed and going to work. By schoolchildren doing their lessons, improving their minds."

This reminds me of the reasoning behind my own: "Rare Idea Money backed by Rare Ideas rather than by gold".

In the encryption Appendix, it's noted that Stephenson novels might very well be read by secret police as well as by anyone. &, indeed, I can believe this easily enuf. Stephenson appears to be incredibly popular. Even in lousy bkstores like Barnes & Noble his bks are present in large quantities.

In fact, "Cryptonomicon" is listed on the cover of the edition that I read as a "New York Times Bestseller". The story I've been told is that bks that attain this status do so b/c they're heavily shipped by distributors to chain bkstores. In other words, it's my understanding (& I cd be wrong) that "New York Times Bestseller"s are prefabricated as such. It's decided to heavily promote the bks, large quantities are sent out, these quantities become the statistics supporting the "bestseller" status - regardless of whether that many readers actually buy the bk & read it.

Hence Stephenson joins the honorable ranks of Douglas Hofstader's "Gödel, Escher, Bach" & George Perec's "Life A User's Manual". What I mean is is that I seriously doubt that any of these bks are really 'bestsellers' b/c, if they were, the intellectual state of humanity wd be far better off than it seems to be to me.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 13, 2011 – Finished Reading
July 18, 2011 – Shelved
July 18, 2011 – Shelved as: literature

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Artnoose McMoose I'm glad to read your review. Despite its "best seller" status, I don't know that many people who have read it. And yes, it's a mammoth book--- the longest novel I've ever read--- and not for many people's attention span. Still, I enjoyed it immensely, more than I expected to.


tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE Ha ha! Yep, great novel. The funny thing about my 'review' is that one barely learns ANYTHING about the bk by reading it. As for long novels: at the same time that I was reading "Cryptonomicon", I've been reading Joseph McElroy's "Women and Men": 1192pp. I'm going to have to be very, VERY stubborn to finish this one. Stephenson's bks, of course, are 'fast-paced' & 'engrossing' &, therefore, not really THAT hard to get thru (despite length). McElroy's quite different.


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