BOOK REVIEW of CRYPTONOMICON
by NEAL STEPHENSON
Since Neal Stephenson is probably my
favorite author, I went nuts when I saw his new book in the store: big
and black, called Cryptonomicon. I was up to page 133 before I could even
pronounce it. I also found a bunch of typo's that some lame proofreader
trusted SpellChecker to find: 'simulate was 'stimulate', '4069' was '4096',
'is' was 'if', you get the idea. But they disappeared after the first 100
pages or so...I'm hopin it's a contest...you know: WIN a JetSki Party with
Neal Stephenson if You Find the Most Typo's contest.
Like William Gibson, NS has written three books in one, and
intertwined them, chapter alternating with chapter. What helps it
stay original, is that the characters are grandchildren of other characters
in the book, and the later generation, while never meeting the elder characters,
find their lives gradually illuminated and pivotally affected by the elders'
actions. The locales: World War II and the present in Manilla. A
U-Boat carrying plundered gold from the Nazi conquests to be buried as
a hedge against defeat. Inside a totally spaced out American cryptologist's
head in England and Australia. (Crypto is codes, and code breaking. . .
I guess the author found it a rich enough topic because 1. Our Crypto superiority
over the Germans and Japanese arguably won the war, and 2. In today's Web-World,
Crypto is a big threat to Governments interested in collecting taxes, and
using information-police to limit our freedoms.
Although it's not my favorite NS book, I must say it has a few
extremely powerful moments; they deal with lost love. Bobby Shaftoe, man
of much honor and few words, third generation Marine from Tennessee, loses
the bravest, most beautiful woman in the world, and a life in a world he's
helped make safe for his son by that woman. And yet Stephenson still manages
to inspire us, to make his life some kind of Victory. Other colorful characters
include a gay Nazi crypto-genius, a hedonistic U-Boat commander, a strange
hippie Priest, a noble Nipponese (NS doesn't use "Japanese" or "Jap" in
this book, prefering their name for themselves) who undergoes the most
torturous experiences in surviving the jungles of New Guinea, converts
to Christianity, and goes on to extreme wealth and the most unselfish use
of his power.
The pluses: great description of Gen. Douglas MacArthur....as
an eccentric who knew he couldn't be killed.
The minuses: lapses into extremely detailed descriptions, e.g.,
of the mathematical behavior of a cloud of wind driven snow in the US Northwest.
(was NS reading David Foster Wallace?) ....actually, there were times when
I forgot where I was, and thought I had decided to reread Gravity's Rainbow.
It's ironic that having transcended Thomas Pyncheon's groundbreaking style
in his earlier works, Stephenson only now seems to fall under its influence.../Not
only in the WWII flavor and life. The detail thing was different here than
in Snow Crash or Diamond Age, and I did miss the earlier books' total lack
of familiarity. That strangeness is gone in Cryptonomicon, replaced by
the confidence of a writer who knows that he has 900 pages to express himself
and that people WILL stick around to listen.
But Cryptonomicon was still a compelling enough
reading experience that I practically wrote off a friend who missed two
appointments to return my copy, (I was on P.466), which I had left at his
loft in Brooklyn. I took to spending spare hours at my local public library,
reading it there because it was too new to be checked out of the building.
to the books