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Showing 11-20 of 69 reviews(3 star)show all reviews
on November 9, 2000
This ambitious novel starts out as a totally gripping story, but slows markedly towards the end. The politics become tedious, the portrayal of the NSA as evil is naive, and Randy Waterhouse's growing adolescent preoccupation with sex is annoying. On the positive side, it is a deft interweaving of a historical novel and techno-thriller, knitting together a multi-generational set of characters into a combination of coincidence worthy of Wodehouse.
Aside from the overt political agenda, the technical foundations are accurate and the idea of a third-world country hosting a data refuge is totally credible. The depiction of the social ramifications and technical underpinnings of such a facility are believable, but what could have been a profound commentary on the cyclical nature of history degenerates into something of an indulgence for sexually unsatisfied nerds.
Taking "Cryptonomicon" on an extended out of town trip with some extra reading time, I was completely sucked into the story for the first week--I didn't want to stop reading. Stephenson crafts a wonderful turn of the phrase, and I came close to underlining passages (my ultimate measure of 5-star books). By the third week, I was struggling to finish. Either the author ran out of clever allusions, or I was no longer in the mood to be entertained in that way. I found myself highly interested in the fate of the historical characters, but the contemporary characters are shallower, and I stopped caring what happened to them. Personally, I think this book could be improved by cutting at least 100 pages.
Certainly the audience of this book is not limited to those who work in the field of information security. On the contrary, this book is carefully crafted to be educational--without being intrusive about it, and it is much more successful in its technical agenda than its social one.
If you provide technical services or engineering for the Internet--especially in the infosec field--you may find this book irresistable. It isn't every day that someone in your field of employment has the chance to be the protagonist of a major literary work.
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on October 3, 2000
The twists and turns in this book kept me coming back for more. Stephenson's mixture of historical and fictional characters left me wondering who was real and who wasn't. The details he left unexplored I think were by design and left to our own imagination.
I was very intrigued by the relationships between the WWII characters and the present day characters with out any awareness of that by the latter. Particularly interesting is the relationship between the Waterhouse family and the Shaftoe family. Also amusing is the minor presence of G.E.B. Kivistik, the son of Julieta, and any of three men one of which was Bobby Shaftoe and his interaction early on with Randy Waterhouse in a heated debate. That Randy's ex-girlfriend Charlene ends up with this guy is subtle hilarity.
Now the "but..." There was no need for a writer of this caliber to use so much profanity in his writing. He could have conveyed everything he needed to say without constant cussing and sexual references. If it weren't for that, this would probably have been my favorite novel of all time.
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on August 15, 2000
First off, I want to say that I have really enjoyed Neal's previous works, his articles in Wired magazine and especially Snow Crash. However, this one fell a little short of my expectations. It all starts off well enough, and it really held my interest for a long while. But I think it would have been well enough if the book had been about 200 pages shorter, maybe more. Neal's technical explanations as usual are excellent, but I think there was a lot of rehashing of old material, and maybe too much focus on technical matters, and less on action. Neal provides neat graphs and examples of cryptographic matters, but I think there was a definate lull by the middle of the novel, where not much was happening. I kept turning the pages, hoping for the story to pick up again. There are some valuable points in the book however, and certainly reading this book made me wonder about the future of privacy, the Internet and the usual subjects of Neal's writing. In conclusion: Thought provoking, great starter, a bit long, and lacking action gives this book a 3 star from me. Still looking forward to Neal's next book!
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on August 14, 2000
Bummer. The first two-thirds of this book is big and funny and gutsy. The four major characters (three of whom fight WWII in various ways while the fourth helps launch a present-day startup) glance off each other just frequently enough so that you can't wait until Stephenson pulls the whole schmeer together.
Then along comes page 600 and you get that crummy feeling that maybe he never WILL pull the whole schmeer together. But hope springs eternal.
Page 700 ... Stephenson is still introducing new characters and ideas. Your hopes fade. Might this be another potentially excellent novel that sinks because editors lacked the guts to tell the writer to quit jacking around and write a great finish?
Page 800 ... the protagonist is stuck with a Yoda character, having some sort of impenetrable Platonic dialogue about Greek gods. This scene would be rotten in the first 100 pages. Falling this close to the end of a book that could have been great, it's an utter disaster. And you realize that yeah, this is just another book by a scifi guy with a great imagination who wouldn't know pacing if he tripped over it. Too bad.
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on July 19, 2000
I had lukewarm expectations for this book and wasn't let down. Unlike his earlier books, which I think will remain timeless, imaginative, inspiring, and thoughtful (the Mouse Army in Diamond Age is one of the most inspiring and meaningful concepts I've read and made me believe again that computers may do something good and revolutionary for this world), this one reeks of second hand knowledge, macho robotic characters, and cliches. The writing is also not great, reading more or less like some casual email (too many paragraphs starting with "Anyways," among other things.)
Stephenson was trying too hard and some of his examples sound clever but are very one dimensional in that especially irritating geeky way; the self-righteous geek arguments in this book (IE the "information highway" vs TCP/IP [a transport protocol that is irrelevant when considering the effects of the net]) contrast poorly with Stephenson's earlier wide vision views and is along the lines of pointless techno name-dropping. And while I'm hardly an expert on history or cryptography, some of the information presented in the book is wrong (Turing did not invent the Bombes) or even laughable (excuse me, I have to boot up BeOS now so I can view some JPEGS.. yeah right).
If you glorify geeks and don't have that much technical knowledge then perhaps you will really enjoy this book but otherwise I think it is simply a sign that Stephenson is no longer a inspired writer and must now move on to the "career" stage where he is compelled by publishers to write the equivilant of current events mini series/travelogues full of content dictated by his fans. Not the end of the world because I'm sure he still has lots to say but I hope he finds a way to move in a different direction or at least drops the geek romanticism because he can be truly an inspiring writer.
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on July 18, 2000
I had lukewarm expectations for this book and wasn't let down. Unlike his earlier books, which I think will remain timeless, imaginative, inspiring, and thoughtful (the Mouse Army in Diamond Age is one of the most inspiring and meaningful concepts I've read), this one reeks of second hand knowledge, macho robotic characters, and cliches. The writing is also poor, reading more or less like some casual email (too many paragraphs starting with "Anyways," among other things.)
Stephenson was trying too hard and some of his examples sound clever but are very one dimensional in that especially irritating geeky way. While I'm hardly an expert, some of the information presented in the book is just wrong (Turing did not invent the Bombes) or even laughable (excuse me, I have to boot up BeOS now so I can view some JPEGS.. yeah right).
If you glorify geeks and don't have that much technical knowledge then perhaps you will really enjoy this book but otherwise I think it is simply a sign that Stephenson has passed his prime as an inspired writer and must now move on to the "career" stage where he is compelled by publishers to write the equivilant of mini series full of content dictated by his publishers and fans. I hope he finds a way to start again because he was truly an inspiring writer.
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on May 7, 2000
First of all, let me dispel something straight from the start. An awful lot of people have been making some rather shocking comparisons between this book and the Illuminatus! trilogy. I want them to stop right now. Stephenson is not above trying to achieve the same vibe, but it falls deadly short. In Illuminatus!, when a piece of the puzzle fell into place, you leapt up and down and shouted "yes! yes! yes!". With Crypto, it's more like, "oh... well, yeah, I guess". The one or two trippy scenes do more to detract from the story than add to it. Never mind the fact that comparing anything to the Illuminatus! trilogy is like trying to find a poster to compare to an original Picasso... it ain't gonna happen any time soon. Stop with the Illuminatus! comparisons!
Now, as for the book itself: It's good, but you have to commit to it. For the first half - yes, half - you may suffer under the burden of a plot that goes nowhere - heck, isn't even a plot! - and really really two-dimensional characters. But by halfway through, the two stories - WWII and sorta-present - start to converge and things start happening and the characters start evolving and you sigh heavily in relief. From there on out there are few problems. It gets pretty hilarious in places, and some parts started music action pounding in my head - which is good.
Careful however. This book is decidedly lacking in twists. Oh, it LOOKS like there are twists, but they really aren't twists because when the twists are tied off it is always in some mundane and rather obvious manner. Then again, some twists are just left hanging. Why the heck does that guy turn up in the jungle? So does this guy die or what? Why put those in if you're just going to ignore them later? Stephenson could have written juuuust a little more and left me much more satisfied over all.
And don't let the crypto-babble make you think this is a book that is about crypto! It ain't. The technical rants are about as complex as a four-piece puzzle. You won't learn anything about number theory, cryptoanalysis, heck, nothing even about maths, from reading this book. The book description might try to convince you this book is actually about a code called Arethusa. This code comes up and is practically ignored as a plot device and eventually rendered obsolete.
However, where the book his HEAD ON is with its skilled depiction of some very contemporary struggles, and with its wonderfully lush WWII scenarios. This might as well be a primer for fighting a Big Brother-esque information-society, and what makes it even more creepy is that almost everything that happens in this book is happening RIGHT NOW, although the places they're happening in have some more realistic names ;-)
All in all, this is a fine read, but not for the faint hearted and not for those actually seeking to get a whole lot out of it. This is an odd criteria, to be sure, but as truthful a one as I can manage.
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on May 7, 2000
First of all, let me dispel something straight from the start. An awful lot of people have been making some rather shocking comparisons between this book and the Illuminatus! trilogy. I want them to stop right now. Stephenson is not above trying to achieve the same vibe, but it falls deadly short. In Illuminatus!, when a piece of the puzzle fell into place, you leapt up and down and shouted "yes! yes! yes!". With Crypto, it's more like, "oh... well, yeah, I guess". The one or two trippy scenes do more to detract from the story than add to it. Never mind the fact that comparing anything to the Illuminatus! trilogy is like trying to find a poster to compare to an original Picasso... it ain't gonna happen any time soon. Stop with the Illuminatus! comparisons!
Now, as for the book itself: It's good, but you have to commit to it. For the first half - yes, half - you may suffer under the burden of a plot that goes nowhere - heck, isn't even a plot! - and really really two-dimensional characters. But by halfway through, the two stories - WWII and sorta-present - start to converge and things start happening and the characters start evolving and you sigh heavily in relief. From there on out there are few problems. It gets pretty hilarious in places, and some parts started music action pounding in my head - which is good.
Careful however. This book is decidedly lacking in twists. Oh, it LOOKS like there are twists, but they really aren't twists because when the twists are tied off it is always in some mundane and rather obvious manner. Then again, some twists are just left hanging. Why the heck does that guy turn up in the jungle? So does this guy die or what? Why put those in if you're just going to ignore them later? Stephenson could have written juuuust a little more and left me much more satisfied over all.
And don't let the crypto-babble make you think this is a book that is about crypto! It ain't. The technical rants are about as complex as a four-piece puzzle. You won't learn anything about number theory, cryptoanalysis, heck, nothing even about maths, from reading this book. The book description might try to convince you this book is actually about a code called Arethusa. This code comes up and is practically ignored as a plot device and eventually rendered obsolete.
However, where the book his HEAD ON is with its skilled depiction of some very contemporary struggles, and with its wonderfully lush WWII scenarios. This might as well be a primer for fighting a Big Brother-esque information-society, and what makes it even more creepy is that almost everything that happens in this book is happening RIGHT NOW, although the places they're happening in have some more realistic names ;-)
All in all, this is a fine read, but not for the faint hearted and not for those actually seeking to get a whole lot out of it. This is an odd criteria, to be sure, but as truthful a one as I can manage.
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on March 7, 2000
I liked this book. The plot kept me turning pages, the local lore was fascinating, the cryptanalysis is intriguing, and Stephenson has a way with words. This book was more absorbing than another ambitious and huge novel, DeLillo's Underworld (which is a snooze after the first chapter).
So why only three stars? Well, first, I was much more taken with the World War II story than with the present-day story. Maybe war is just intrinsically more interesting than business and technology. But I think it's more than that. The main present-day character, Randy Waterhouse, is dull; he's a clueless geek, and it's hard to see how anyone could fall in love with him. And I do not want to read several pages describing how Randy eats his Cap'n Crunch!
Another thing that rubbed me the wrong way was Stephenson's occasional lapse into a smarty-pants, overly precious narrative voice. His omniscient narrator sometimes comes across as having all of the nerdy superficiality of a Circuit City salesman. It's like Pynchon at his most annoying.
Finally, a complaint about Avon Books. They should fire the proofreader for this novel! There are hundreds of typos, including plenty of grammatical mistakes, inconsistent spellings, and bad punctuation. (I volunteer to proofread Stephenson's next novel for a mere 1% of the gross!)
OK, rant over. I still recommend this book, and look forward to reading the next novel in the series.
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on February 15, 2000
Hmm..Seems that my review was lost so here I go piecing together what I remember.
First, the novel is good. Think of it as Eco's _foucault's Pendulum_ meets _Treasure Island_ on benzedrine.
The handling of the complex plot was done well. The tone was not as breezy as _Zodiac_ and more reminiescent of _Snow Crash_. Defintely for the geek and in particular, a techno geek who will find that the book has a high "cool" quotient. Some things will be lost if you are not part of that circle familiar with terms and technology. For those who are there are some very funny moments.
Now on to the unpleasant part. I was sorely disappointed that the female characters got very short shrift. I had high expectations because _Diamond Age_ surprised me by having complex female and male characters. Stephenson has consistently improved his writing and ability to handle characters. Unfortunately, in this book he has lurched back to female developement level of _Zodiac_.
My evidence is as follows:
Amy Shaftoe (tough, but tender love object) Glory (Lost love) Charlene (hostile, academic girlfriend) Mary Waterhouse (ineffectual wife not concerned with everyday matters) Julietta (Finnish gun toting femme fatale) Assorted hookers and nameless rape victims; oh yes one Waterhouse aunt (Nina) and Virginia Howard (Devotees of Elmer Bolstrood furniture);
The dialogue of the women were very limited and what was there did not serve them very well. The characters end up being very flat and only as complements to the men. Never as individual characters with unique voices or thoughts.
Since Stephenson has decided to take the risky path of sequels I hope that he will have better development of female characters. Otherwise, I will actually consider the Cryptonomicon as a decline in character development
In essence it is Fun but not too deep.
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