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.

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

15 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Hey Pat, Andrew Wheeler thinks you're shit and I agree with him.

Larry Nolen said...


That wasn't what he said at all. The focus was on his preference in reviews/writing style and not on the person. Big difference.

Anonymous said...

I've just been given a proof of Anathem - 20 pages of glossary, 24 pages of what appears to be mathematical explanations including diagrams....

Now I'm feeling a little intimidated by it!

IlyaP said...

Anon: It's a rather cowardly act to insult someone on a website anonymously. Furthermore, what does Andrew Wheeler have to do with the review?

Anonymous said...

Larry, have you read the post? I have to wonder because it's obvious Wheeler doesn't hold Pat in high esteem...

Ed S. said...

For those who want to read the comments from His Crankiness:

Scroll down to the July 31 post.

Anonymous said...

Umm, who the heck is Andrew Wheeler, and why should anyone really care?

Back to the actual topic at hand - I loved Cryptonomicon, but the ending felt kind of abrupt and unsatisfying. I've noticed this with other of his books too like Snow Crash, so much is happening that he has trouble resolving all the plot threads.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Not that it does matter what I think, but I never said I think Pat is any expletive, and I don't actually think so.

I do admire his energy and zest for life, even on the occasions when I might disagree with him.

(I haven't read Crytonomicon in close to ten years, so I don't remember what I think of it.)

I'm Andrew Wheeler, and I approve this message!

Anonymous said...

@ Nate

Stephenson likes to slowly build up his books and purposefully lets for everything go down in a confusing, quick and chaotic matter. I see it more as a question of style than a question of organisation, but tastes differ. There are people out there who read Jane Austen and like it! So anything is possible.

Larry Nolen said...


Wouldn't I have to have read the post if I responded in it? ;)

Heath said...

I like Stephenson in general and actually like Cryptonomicon much better than The Baroque Cycle, but he really, really needs a better editor. Speaking as someone with a fairly heavy background in math and computing, I have no problem with technical material in fiction, but I still don't think Stephenson has figured out how to weave it in without spoiling his pacing and taking the focus away from characterization and plot. He's a tremendous talent and his writing style is great, but this for my tastes anyway this problem has actually gotten much worse with every successive book. Hopefully, Anathem will different, though.

Janet said...

He named a character Bobby Shaftoe? That's hilarious.

Bobby Shaftoe's gone to sea
Silver buckles at his knee
He'll come back and marry me
Pretty Bobby Shaftoe

I can still hear the fake British accent on the cassette of nursery rhymes my kids listened to ad nauseum.

Patrick said...

Anonymous: It took you this long to figure it out!?!

No but seriously, any time you go "public" doing something like the Hotlist, some people will like what you do, and others will hate you for it. It's the name of the game, and I don't expect everyone to like/respect my blogging.

Andrew: You admire my energy and zest for life!?! Haven't heard that one before!;-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks @ Janet; always good to have another reference revealed! :)

Btw, is Cryptonomicon sci-fi/fantasy, or not? I believe it's not.

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) said...

Enjoyed your review! Just read the comments now -- you get very interesting ones. I just read and reviewed Cryptonomicon. I have Anathema in the house, but the library's going to want it back for I get around to reading it. Maybe I'll tackle it this summer.