Review of Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon

CryptonomiconNeal Stephenson
[rate 5] Definate definate desert island book. Gar!

To say that Cryptonomicon is as important as Neuromancer by William Gibson isn’t, in my view, an understatement. Both books share themes that are genre busting and, like Neuromancer, Cryptonomicon has suffered because no one knew how to really market it. How do you classify a book that, amongst other things, is a historical detective story spanning 8 decades, a book about the invention of the computer, about code breaking, the birth of the CIA, Nazi gold, the Japanese invasion of Manilla, has mention of D&D, Imelda Marcos, crosses three generations, and has a love story intwined in it as well?

As might be guessed from that rather broad spectrum of themes, Cryptonomicon is not a small book (918 pages including appendixes and footnotes) *1* Whilst this is a book coming from a base of cyber-culture, it isn’t science fiction. It steadfastly does not go beyond technology as is now, rather looks back to how we got here.

Stephenson is an author who’s work I always enjoy reading, but who has improved with each book. There are recognisable characters from his other works in this book, and he continues his love affair with Far Eastern culture first detailed in Snow Crash, but unlike that work he doesn’t loose it in the last quarter of the book. The tension remains till the very last page and what I love is that it just ends with no attempt to indicate what happens to the characters.

Pretty much the entire cast of Cryptonomicon’s characters appear in Stephensons next work, the Baroque Cycle, which explores the same themes of power, information, secrecy, money, and war, but in the 17th/18th centuries. Stephenson doesn’t do things by halves – the Baroque Cycle comprises three books all over 900 pages long – but I challenge you not to like an author who gets a ‘Lawrence Prodding Stick’ into a book essentially about computers, or the word ‘bop’ into a historical novel set in the 1700’s.

*1*Got to love a novel with appendixes and footnotes 😀