Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

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Book Information  
AuthorNeal Stephenson
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Cheryl Fillekes
(Apr 17, 2001)

Cryptonomicon has been compared to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in book blurbs, but it would be nice to see this line of analysis taken a few steps further. For example, in Gravity's Rainbow there is the theme of the arc of the supersonic rocket, developed throughout. What goes up, must come down -- and this rather crude metaphor is applied to just about everything, including the sexual act and the structure of the book itself. In Cryptonomicon, the theme is coding/decoding. Like Pynchon, Stephenson explores his theme at many levels -- the puzzle of several families across the generations, the puzzle of each man's emotional life and his relations with work and women, pretty much in that order. Each is encoding his future and decoding his past. It has been said that Cryptonomicon fails as a true literary work because the character development isn't "deep enough." Yet, if you look at Gravity's Rainbow, the characters aren't characters at all--they're charicatures! Having spent years writing code, immersed in scientific pursuits, and in the company, primarily, of scientists, engineers and programmers...I have to say that Stephenson actually gets his characterizations just right. When lost in the pursuit of the solution to a problem, it is this quiet moment that defines her. Stephenson captures this moment like no other author I've ever read. The moment, for me, was when Randy had to pretend to decode a message as intelligible but incorrect information for his captors, while decoding the message in a format only he would have acceess to for his own benefit. He had to figure out how to get one message would show up on his screen (which his captors could see) while also decoding the real message in such a way that it would be known only to him. He used shell scripts and the command-line interface to his "Finux" system. This is no shallow techno-thriller with cartoon characters: what Stephenson is saying here is a lot deeper than the literati are giving him credit for.

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