Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review of "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon is an imminently enjoyable, complex, multi-layered story buoyed along by  sparkling wordplay, crackling with energy from the first page to the last.  As a novel, the book also represents a major step in Stephenson’s career as a writer.

Maturing greatly since Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon is an examination of the importance of cryptology to both the birth of the modern computer and information security in the late 90's dot com scene.  And so while Snow Crash was set in a near-future hyper-capitalist version of the USA, Cryptonomicon remains rooted in familiar settings, the narrative split between the Pacific theater of WWII and the world of international business at the turn of the century.   Those who are expecting action-packed cyberpunk will need to switch to a lower gear to appreciate not only the more sublime storytelling but the wealth of insight and research Stephenson has injected into this 1,100 page tome.  Though digressions on such matters as cryptology and mathematics feature strongly, Stephenson has not lost any of his wit and style, metaphor  taken to a whole new level of whiplash accuracy and zany creativity.  Though not a posterized example of science fiction, the technical elements maintain such presence that it is difficult for the work to be considered anything but, ciphering, decrypting, and the intricacies of our computerized business world featuring strongly.  Who else would make Alan Turing a character in a techno-adventure?

For those who have heard good things about Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle but would like to try something a bit easier to digest prior to digging into that massive eight book work should give Cryptonomicon a try. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a techno-historical adventure rooted in cryptology and computer coding, check this book out, you won’t be disappointed.

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