Monday, September 06, 2004

Stephenson: Cryptonomicon - Hidden Treasures

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson is a marvelous roller-coaster ride through code-making and breaking, with a side order of treasure-hunting, twenty-first-century style. Stephenson has a powerful way of including the reader in some pretty abstruse stuff, making us feel, not just as if we might understand these topics, but as if we do.

This is not a weekend read for the beach, unless you're willing to stay in a darkened hotel room, geek-wise, ignoring the volleyball competition in favor of the effort. The reward is a generation-spanning hunt for meaning in the signal, value in the data. Richly designed, with Innis-mode-like shifts in time, place and POV, the story itself is signal-laden.

Stephenson says Cryptonomicon is not prerequisite for his Baroque Cycle (beginning with Quicksilver), but I think you miss more than one flavorful nuance by jumping straight to the hefty code-and-signal involvement of Quicksilver. This is science fiction in the same way that the early James Bond novels were, speculation wrapped in current events, then tossed just over the line into next week. Look for investment in data havens.

An excellent review by Wes Unruh can be found at The Green Man Review site.