For some unfathomable reason, Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon has been sitting on the shelves of my apartment for years, patiently awaiting my attention. And as inexplicable as it may sound, I read the author's epic The Baroque Cycle beforehand, for I believed that going through the prequels would make reading Cryptonomicon an even better experience. Though it does give you some background information on certain events and characters, let me emphasize the fact that one should not feel obligated to read Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World to fully enjoy Cryptonomicon. It reads very well on its own.
If you relish big (900+ pages) and complex novels, then Stephenson's Cryptonomicon might be your cup of tea. And my sources indicate that it's child's play compared to the author's forthcoming Anathem (Canada, USA, Europe), so consider yourselves warned! Convoluted doesn't begin to describe the plot and subplots. As was the case with Quicksilver, some portions of the book get technical to a degree I'm not sure I understood in its entirety, but it doesn't prevent you from following the storylines. Still, I'll admit that I did skim some parts pertaining to mathematics and the equations involved for the decryption of German and Japanese secret codes when my head began to spin.
I particularly loved how Neal Stephenson linked the events occurring prior and during World War II with the explosion of the World Wide Web and all its ramifications. Cryptonomicon is an absurdly ambitious endeavor, and Stephenson finds a way to deliver the goods!
This doorstopper novel is comprised of three principal storylines. The first one focuses on Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a mathematical genius in the U. S. Navy. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Waterhouse will be assigned to the secretive outfit known as Detachment 2702. Their mission is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that the Allies have cracked the Germans' Enigma code.
The second storyline features another member of Detachment 2702, one crazy Marine named Bobby Shaftoe. If you've read The Baroque Cycle, then I'm persuaded that the name rings a bell. Needless to say, Shaftoe's gung-ho style makes for a lot of action-packed and hilarious scenes.
The third storyline centers on Waterhouse's grandson, crypto-hacker and would-be businessman Randy. He and his partners are attempting to create a data haven in Southeast Asia, but they are besieged on all sides by foreign governments, multinationals, and shady individuals, all of whom are trying to prevent them from accomplishing their objective. To Randy's dismay, he will unearth the makings of a conspiracy which dates back to WWII and Detachment 2702, and which is also linked to yet-to-be-broken Nazi code named Arethusa.
Cryptonomicon is extremely vast in scope, and I got the feeling that the author at times sort of "got lost" along the way in this sprawling novel. Indeed, some chapters are little more than ramblings that don't move the plot forward. And yet, Stephenson's witty writing style is such that most of these, though they contribute very little in the overall story arc, will have you cracking up. The Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse ejaculation management program immediately comes to mind!
Ambitious, complex, funny, wild, fascinating, insightful -- Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is all that and more.
The final verdict: 8/10