Artnoose McMoose's Reviews > Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
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's review
Apr 19, 2010

it was amazing
Recommended to Artnoose by: Moxie Marlinspike
Recommended for: people with some grasp of math/computer/science
Read in October, 2010

When I first started attending the Dystopian Science Fiction Book Club (in the house that I now live in, but I didn't then), Stephenson's Snow Crash was highly recommended, but it was loudly proclaimed to be his only good novel. "Don't even attempt Cryptonomicon," someone said, "It's terrible." My then-housemate however, vehemently disagreed, and though he has many faults, his taste in fiction is not one of them.

I had finished the book I was reading while I was out of town and thought that maybe this was the time to attempt the epic journey that is Cryptonomicon. I have the small paperback, so it's almost as thick as it is wide. I began reading it in California, and read it all day long on the day I flew back home. It was absolutely engrossing, and I now might even list it in my top 5 novels.

I liked it so much, in fact, that I'm going to write Neal Stephenson a letter. I've never done that before. I might even make it a practice--- writing living authors when I finish reading their books.

The book is almost like two books in one--- alternating almost every other chapter between the sagas of American and Japanese soldiers during WWII working around the cutting-edge cryptology of the time (Enigma machine, etc.) and a contemporary hacker-turned-businessman trying to find a lost treasure while solving a family mystery. I'm surprised that I liked this book so much, because I don't often enjoy books that are this butch (for lack of a better term). War stories and other sausage fests are not usually my cup of tea. Stephenson's story-telling however is captivating, and how he's able to dove-tail several disparate narratives into one tidy-ish ending is impressive.

Along this note, I often don't like books where the only female characters are love interests and/or prostitutes, and this book definitely has that element. The character of Amy Shaftoe however, is pretty redeeming. She's smart, tough, and armed to the teeth. I have no real fault with her at all. My one complaint with this book--- and for 1000+ pages is not that bad of statistics--- is that the climactic sex scene is terribly written. I think I even said, "Oh you gotta be kidding!" out loud when I read it. In my disappointment, I remembered how the sex scene in Snow Crash was also horrible. And I don't mean horrible as in abusive content--- I mean really poorly written. While Neal Stephenson is certainly the better novel writer, I assert confidently that I can write better sex scenes than he does.

There's a lot of science and math in this book, so it's not for the faint of heart. You don't have to be a mathematician to appreciate the book, but I think it might get boring or confusing if you don't have some background. For example, I don't know exactly what a zeta function is, but I kind of know what neighborhood it's in, and that's good enough.

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09/14/2010 page 91
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