Monday, December 15, 2008

In the Secret World of Neal Stephenson

For the last couple of weeks or so, I have been traversing the truly science-fiction world of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. Describing the plot of this mammoth book is a futile attempt for a meager blogger like Yours Truly ... but I'll try anyway. It is set in two different periods: World War II and the late '90s. In the WW2 parts, which occupy the bulk of the narrative, we have three main threads of stories: a Math genius, is drafted into the military, and is assigned to break the secret codes of the Germans and then the Japanese; a Midwestern marine sergeant is sent all over the globe for stupefyingly mysterious missions; and a Japanese Judo fighter given the task to dig a vault in the jungles of Philippines. In the present-day story a start-up IT company is about to strike a deal that would enable them to build a data haven in the fictional kingdom of Kinakuta and control the data transactions in the South East Asia.

It is an audacious book and more often than not you begin to wonder if it is at all going anywhere. I have roughly a hundred pages left to go and I continue asking myself the same question, even though a lot of the connections have been made between the storylines. This was also evident in Stephenson's latest book, Anathem, but I have a feeling that Cryptonomicon will not leave me with a sense of void once I'm done with it. In fact, this rather chaotic undertaking is mystifyingly beautiful and elegant. It is a laudable achievement of Stephenson that at no point in this 1100-plus-pages novel I found myself bored or distracted. In fact, I sort of wish it wouldn't end. Oh, well. I think I will go and finish it off tonight ...

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