Most helpful critical review
900 pages but still not enough space for an ending
on February 8, 2004
I wanted to like this book. I enjoyed Stephenson's earlier books and was looking forward to this one. Sadly the book's virtues did not outweigh its lame ending so that I can only give it a mediocre 3 rating.
Like his previous books, Stephenson creates a fascinating web of storyline and characters. I loved Bobby Shaftoe. I could totally relate to Randy. The characters are bold and heroic. The storyline is intricate and funny. The WWII story kept me wanting to read more and the history of cryptography was very interesting.
But like a lot of books today (Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, Michelle West), this one suffers from its own length. While only mediocre at 900 pages, it could have been excellent at 600 pages. These prominent authors seems to have no editors, and they ramble on and on, weakening their own stories. Since this is a one of a kind book, it does not suffer from sequelitis (yet) but lots of the 900 pages were taken up by stream of consciousness irrelevancy in the Infinite Jest vein. If you enjoy these passages, you will like the book more than I did. I felt that they wasted ink that was sorely needed for a good ending.
In addition to the many, completely unnecessary pages about ejaculation and the like, I was stunned by the ending. After reading 900 pages, the book just, well, ends. The story wasn't tied up at all! I kept turning pages looking for more content but in the end just had to accept the fact that the book has a sucky ending.
Books today have become a lot like politics. The product just doesn't seem to be as good as in the past but you have to pick someone, so you keep going back to usual, albeit disappointing, suspects. I will continue to read Stephenson's books (for a while) but the publishing game today offends me; it seems to be about big names, big thick books, and never-ending sequels. The industry is pushing quantity over quality and these three factors are clearly designed to part you from your money... I miss the days of JRR Tolkien, when an author could write a great beginning, middle AND ending.