Friday, November 05, 2004


It's 1:30 in the morning, and I plan on being at work by 8AM, so I'll just throw out a quick book review before I buzz off to meet the sandman.

Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is the only book I managed to finish out of the three I took with me to Bicol. And I actually started reading it about a month and a half earlier.

In a word, the book is wordy. Stephenson has a lot to say, and it takes him 1100+ pages to do it, whereas if I were writing this story (or weird amalgamation of stories, such as it is), I would probably do it in around half that amount.

There are two stories actually, not three as the book's back cover suggests. But those two stories actually start off in around fifty separate threads that start to come together only halfway through the book. This is one of the reasons why it took me a month and a half to get through the first half of the book; once the plot started to get going, everything went a bit faster.

Cryptonomicon is basically about a slick hacker-type dude named Randall Waterhouse, or Randy for short. While reading this book, whenever Randy's name is mentioned, I always visualize young Randy Orton, legend-killer and youngest ever WWE champion. This is the second reason why I was able to read the second half faster. Once I started to imagine it was Randy Orton, there was always the possibility of a book-ending RKO in the next page! Anyway, the first (and main) story arc is about young Randy's involvement in an ambitious startup setting up operations in Southeast Asia. Lots of stuff about finance, cryptography and politics finds its way into young Randy's story.

The secondary story arc is about World War II. Unlike the modern-day Randy storyline however, this one has more than one main player, so the WWII story is a lot more fragmented. The most important players are Lawrence Waterhouse (Randy's grandpa), who works for the Allies as a top-notch codebreaker, boasting such friends as the famous (to computer geeks at least) Alan Turing; Bobby Shaftoe, a US marine who seems to have accomplished more during the war than Douglas McArthur himself; and finally Goto Dengo, a Japanese miner whose role in the story is not readily apparent until the halfway mark. (A lot of things improve around the halfway mark.)

Now, here's the main problem with the novel. There are all these POVs, and it jumps around a lot, so there's a tendency to get confused, and every so often Stephenson pulls out a chapter that doesn't have anything to do with any of the earlier chapters, so you're like "Crap! Another subplot I have to keep track of!"

But I digress. And so does Stephenson. Not only do the POVs jump around between chapters, but each chapter is liberally interspersed with a short discussion of the weather, Asian cultures, corruption at the NAIA, cryptography, mathematical analysis of horniness, military idiosyncrasies and a bajillion other topics; enterprising high school students looking for a term paper could simply copy one of the book's chapters, find-and-replace some names, and get at least a B. Normally it's okay, but there's simply a lot of stray tangents in this book, and not all of them I found interesting, and were simply glossed over. Not surprisingly, I liked the parts about cryptography.

I really hated this book at the start, as I found it a very hard read, but after I got past the halfway mark it got a lot easier. I guess my main problem with the start was I had no idea why all these random, seemingly unrelated subplots were coming out; I wasn't sure if there was a point and it was all going to come together later, or Stephenson just lets his mind wander. Luckily, it did all come together later, in a somewhat plausible way.

All-in-all, the book is okay, but I wouldn't recommend it to a non-geek, or to someone faint of heart.

Yes, that was a short review. :D

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