Review of Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Tongue Twister Title

Cryptonomicon is probably just about easier to spell than to say! And some of the maths concepts are pretty difficult to get hold of too. I am quite in awe of how Stephenson can be such an obvious maths and computer geek, yet still have a beautiful hold over the English language. This is some of the best, meatiest, vivid and evocative writing out there. Cyptonomicon is a great achievement.

Meaty Prose Examples

For example take a look at some of these:

“Someone has dumped brown dust into the Pacific, made a great pile of it. On the edge of the pile is a city. The city swings around them, comes closer. Warmer and warmer. It’s Brisbane. A runway streaks ups and he thinks it’s going to take his ass off, like the world’s biggest belt sander. The plane stops. He smells gasoline.”

Different Folks, Different Strokes of Style

Stephenson does a great job of altering the narrative style of each chapter based on which of the three POV characters is at the centre of things.  The three characters are:

  • Randy Lawrence Waterhouse – a modern-day computer geek, and grandson of Lawrence
  • Bobby Shaftoe – a US marine serving in WWII
  • Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse – a math expert serving as a code-breaker in WWII

Losing the thread in the minotaur’s maze

At some point about 2/3 of the way I did feel the story lost the plot somewhat. I became bored and the story seemed to be veering into territory that was unimportant and had slowed the progression of the characters.

This lasted maybe 1-200 pages, but then the last quarter really picked up again. But I suppose you have to expect that sometimes in a book over 900 pages.

Showing Off Knowledge, but We Like to Be Taught

Stephenson likes to tell us stuff: about codes, computers, Greek myths, lots of geeky stuff. If like me you’re into knowledge, you will love it. Stephenson never gets boring with this, there’s always a fascinating twist and a good connection to the narrative as well.

Oh! What is this book about? Well you’ll just have to start reading to find out!

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