Perhaps, various parts of this review may not sound like a positive
review. Let me start by saying the writing style was well suited for my
tastes and the story kept me interested (perhaps with some exceptions here and
there). That the story did not keep me dazzled through every sentence is
understandable. Within its context, maintaining my interest mostly was an
impressive feat. For some readers, that last sentence will amount to
damning with faint praise - because the context that makes it impressive is the
fact the book is over 1100 pages long.
Now let me get out of the way all of the faint praise and other issues.
Some readers will then be able to decide the book is not their cup of tea and
they need not read the rest of this review. Cryptonomicon is a work of
fiction and science-related elements play crucially in the story.
Therefore, one might call it "science fiction". However, in
half of the book the science is codes, code-breaking and other technology from
WWII. In the other half, the science is undersea telecommunications cables,
internet routing, data encryption, secure data storage and the like in the
1990s. There's not much in terms of extrapolating what might happen
scientifically or socially in the future.
Also, while I liked the writing / narrative style, I wasn't as fond of the book
structure. It keeps jumping back and forth between the 1940s and
1990s. Not in the sense of a few flashbacks. It's a bit like you
wrote a book with one chapter for each of the following years: 1941, 1942,
1943, 1944, 1945, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 - but you published the book
with the chapters in the order: 1941, 1995, 1942, 1996, 1943, 1997, 1944, 1998,
1945, 1999. And within each of those ten chapters you had flashbacks to
various other years or months in the same year that had been previous skipped
over. I'm sure this is fine with some readers, but not all.
For those of you who are still with me, I found the story interesting.
The significance of codes in WWII, the breaking of codes and the efforts to act
on the information without letting the other side know you'd broken their code
was fascinating. So much so I wished I knew more about just which bits
were real historical facts, which were mostly accurate and which were entirely
Stephenson's inventions. Readers with more interest in these particular corners
of history or with fewer items on their to-do lists may end up delving into
these questions. Unfortunately, I am a bit too preoccupied with other
The other half of the story, that takes place in the 1990s, was also
interesting - but not in a way to tempt me to research into the details.
There's a West Coast technology start-up company trying to take advantages of
opportunities in the region around the Philippines. They begin dealing
with established technology. In the second phase of their operations they
start moving towards something actually new - an electronic currency
independent of any government. But that doesn't turn out to be a major
part of the book. We are actually being led to something other than
technology - once one gets very far into the book. On the way, some
incidental events complicate matters by bringing secretive and heavy-weight
forces into action.
Only much later in the book do the 1940s and 1990s threads start to show signs
of converging. Saying much more might spoil things.
One of the aspects I generally found enjoyable was periodic rollicking /
surrealistic narrative rambles reminiscent of parts of Gore Vidal, although to
my taste some got too much of a life of their own. Similarly, there were
numerous explanations of technology and math, some presented in terms of
analogies, which some readers might find too extended.
There are a lot of pieces of information on various technology, math, codes,
history, different countries and so on. It's a bit of a sampler of
diverse ideas. Those who either like to learn a little about everything
or who would like to get a taste of a number of things so they can decide which
they'd like to look into more deeply may find this book is what they're looking