Guest post by Adam.
Holy crappers that was a long-ass book. 900+ pages. I was going to use Long Leisurely Reads for a tag, but I instead went with a new one. Hefty Tomes.
In spite of that, the book is an easy recommendation to make. I’ve been a fan of every single Stephenson book I’ve tried and this one was no exception. Stephenson’s books aren’t long because he’s wordy. They’re long because he’s got a lot of story to get out.
Cryptonomicon is really two alternating semi-related stories. The first is set in and around World War II and follows the exploits of Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse and Bobby Shaftoe. The second is set in the late 90’s and is told from the perspective of Randy Waterhouse, Lawrence’s grandson. Oh, and some Shaftoe descendants take part in the 90’s story arc as well.
What surprised me was how much I enjoyed each character’s perspective for very different reasons. Lawrence is a Sheldon Cooper-esque nerd who had me rolling on the floor as he graphed his mental clarity as a function of his recent self-gratification. Bobby Shaftoe is a no-nonsense marine who hates micromanagers (i.e. he prefers to determine exactly how he is going to destroy an enemy installation instead of being told how to do so). Randy is a quintessential modern day Linux nerd.
As I mentioned earlier, Stephenson has a lot of story wedged into this book, so a succinct plot summary is no easy task. But as Taryn doesn't want me to "totally cop out on the plot summary" I guess I'll give it a go.
Waterhouse is an unlikely find for the Navy's codebreaking group. Initially enlisted and relegated to the role of a member of the Navy band playing the glockenspiel aboard a battleship, Waterhouse's genius is eventually discovered. He is placed in the joint Allied top secret group working alongside real life badass Alan Turing. At the same time, Shaftoe gains notoriety in the Pacific as a war hero and is transferred to a special group whose sole role is to help hide the fact that the Allies have broken the German Enigma code. This takes him all across the European theatre setting up fake sites where spies may have intercepted German intelligence that was actually gathered via decoding Enigma encrypted messages.
Shaftoe handles the action while Waterhouse geeks out. The codebreaking details are just specific enough to be interesting but not so much that I felt like I needed to check out additional reading from the library to understand it.
Randy Waterhouse is a UNIX admin working at a local university. His longtime friend and occasional business partner calls him with a new opportunity and Randy takes off for the Philippines in the midst of his relationship with his girlfriend melting down. Once there, the business plan quickly morphs into an opportunity to set up a data haven on a small fictitious island nation called Kinakuta. One would think that the 1940s plot would have all the interesting parts, but Randy's story holds surprising interest. Lost gold. Love interests. Digital currency. Something for everyone.
So if you’ve got a few weeks to dedicate to reading this book I strongly recommend it. Nerdy discussion about crypto, whizzing bullets, and the birth of digital computers. Stinks. Like. Awesome.