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Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

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Manda Scott
Posts: 81
Joined: July 2010
Location: Shropshire, UK

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Post by Manda Scott » Mon September 10th, 2012, 2:13 pm

One of the fragments of silver lining to emerge from beneath the black cloud of the Kelmarsh washout, was the chance to spend a long, lazy lunch at the hotel with the super-keen members of the HWA who had turned up the night before.
In the course of a conversation, Imogen Robertson recommended, 'Cryptonomicon' and I can't thank her highly enough. It's almost worth the Festival of Hist Lit not having happened to have found this and I can't quite think how it passed me by, but no matter; we're here now...

Cryptonomicon, like Stephenson's other work (I'm devouring REAMDE as we speak) is a vast, experimental, sprawling wonder of a book. This one covers different time frames: one is contemporary, but most of the others are set in WWII (that's world war two for the slow of thinking, not world war eleven as a school teacher recently told his class. I despair) and revolve around the outstanding mathematicians who make code-making and breaking their business at Bletchley Park and elsewhere. Codebreaking is becoming something of a fashionable topic recently, but I can't imagine anyone delving deeper, or more effectively, into the sheer, towering genius of the men on all sides of that conflict who bent their intelligence to the matter of ciphers. It was this that really held me: Cryptonomicon (and REAMDE after it) are vastly, outstandingly intelligent books written by an intelligent man who expects intelligence of his readers. This is the kind of thing Hilary Mantel could write if she didn't have idiot editors telling her to dumb down and make sure the reader knows who is speaking (really, if they didn't work that out in Wolf Hall, they're not going to buy "Bring up the Bodies' and if they did, you're insulting their intelligence. I stopped reading 6 pages in and can't go back). Stephenson never insults intelligence. But he does educate, and it's the startling moments of education, as much as the occasional startlingly gorgeous moments of prose that kept me hooked. I learned more about the evolution of computing - and where it's going soon (Is anybody actually building a Data Haven? Are the world's governments as scared of it as they should be?) - than I have ever done by reading texts, or other fiction.

In the end, of course, it's the people that make it. The central characters are all inter-related, tho' the marital and genealogical links are not always apparent from the beginning. And perhaps because the War was so fundamental, so life changing, the characters who populate the past, from Bobby Shaftoe to Lawrence Waterhouse, are more compelling than America (Amy) Shaftoe and Randy Waterhouse, but that doesn't stop them being better than most writers can manage at their best.

You'll notice I haven't reviewed the plot. I can't. It's too big, but it's about codes and code breaking and code making and love and computers and politics and gold, and friendship, and intelligence and love. And sex. Not enough to make the mummy porn-festers come to read it, but it isn't written for them. You need a brain to read this.

Bestselling author of
Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.


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