Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review: Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

CryptonomiconCryptonomicon is Neal Stephenson's technothriller about cryptography and is a precursor to his baroque cycle. Like many of Stephenson's novels it uses multiple points of view to tell the story weaving them together into a single narrative, or in this case two narratives from the 1940s and 1990s.Stephenson does manage to keep the narrative moving despite the frequent changes of focus by interrelating the sections and leaving cliff-hangers on each narrative fragment.

For any reader who has read the Baroque trilogy there are many familiar family names for the characters, with a number of famous historical figures making cameo appearances including Alan Turing and General Douglas MacArthur.

One common feature for Cryptonomicon with many other technothrillers, even those written byTom Clancy who I'd not particularly associate with Stephenson, is the frequent infodumps. These are less common than in the later Baroque Cycle and do not detract too greatly from the flow of the novel, helped by Stephenson's humour and attempt to make them appropriate in context.

Cryptonomicon is an exciting read though as an alternative history does not have the levels of invention that characterised Stephenson's earlier work like the The Diamond Age or Snow Crash. It can clearly be seen as a transitional work between his briefer earlier SF work and the lengthy alternative history series of the Baroque Cycle.


Patrick Hudson said...

It's been a while since I read this one, I have thought I should give it another go. Does still seem relevant, a decade on, or has technology moved on?

I actually got a signed edition of this at an event in Books Etc (as it then was!) on Oxford Street.

Dave said...

It has dated a bit in terms of obviously computing power is far greater at a given cost, but the principles of cryptography are still pretty much the same. And those principles will hold up probably until quantum computing becomes a reality.

I'd say it is worth a reread even as being a tech person myself I think I would have been annoyed by the IT side being unfeasable or too outdated.

About the only real gotcha I had was Stephenson talking about Daniel Waterhouse on a Northern Line train, but mentioning the line going close to the surface between central London and Euston. Which really is nit picking level stuff..