2008 September 14

At last, I have finished Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon.” If They Who Must Not Be Named were not so callous and had not forced me to work so much in the last few weeks, then I would have been finished long ago. I don’t know why they can’t seem to grasp my priorities. Pleasure then work. Seems pretty simple to me.

In an earlier post, I was ready to declare “Cryptonomicon” a masterpiece, even though I hadn’t finished it yet. Now that I am done, I think I’ll revise my opinion to “as damned close to a masterpiece as you’re likely to get these days.” Okay, what the hell, it’s a masterpiece. Superb. Brilliant. I just wish the ending had been a bit fuller, but then I think that of pretty much every modern novel. No one ends books anymore like they used to in the good old days (1800s), where you get to know what happens in the long run to all of these fake people you’ve gotten so invested in. Oh well.

“Cryptonomicon” is part historical novel (World War II) and part contemporary (published in 1999). It’s neither an easy, nor a fast read. The book is some 1,000 print pages long. There are large sections which discuss intricacies of cryptography, mathematics and computers. The good news for those of us who are not whizzes in any of these subjects (which includes me), is that you don’t have to understand these intricacies to enjoy the novel. So this is a book you’d best be prepared to spend some time with, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy every minute of it. I won’t post a synopsis of plot or anything since you can find those all over the net.

Back to the masterpiece business. I have this rule about what makes a great novel: it must have a great story first and foremost. This story must be engrossing, meaningful, grounded in humanity and revealing of its age. Some people say “Moby Dick” is the greatest American novel. When I finally broke down and listened to it on audiotape last year, all I kept thinking was “someone please poke out my eardrums so I don’t have to listen to another moment of this ungodly boring crap.” See, “Moby Dick” failed my big test. Yeah, yeah, Ishmael, Captain Ahab, big white whale. But you could have boiled the story down to one cassette tape if you’d left out all the other junk. I understand there’s all this symbolism, blah blah blah. But I don’t read a book to puzzle out its references. Which is why I hate James Joyce.

I’m off topic. Back to the point. “Cryptonomicon” passes my great story test. It also passes my humor test. And my style test. And my character test. And my relevancy test. And so on and so on. It’s kind of a man book, in the sort of way that Tom Clancy’s novels are man books, I guess because so many women readers aren’t all that interested in spies and war and computer security, etc. Sounds damned sexist. Still, it’s kind of a man book in certain respects. I think this shouldn’t deter female readers from this novel. Even if you don’t normally like man books, you might well like this one, because it’s universal in it’s honesty and humanity.

I’ve already bought Stephenson’s next four novels. Can’t wait to get into them, though I have to read more mandatory non-fiction first (right now it’s David B. Cohen’s “Stranger in the Nest: Do Parents Really Shape Their Child’s Personality, Intelligence or Character”). And I still haven’t finished Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” This broadening of my horizons is hard work.

3 Responses
  1. 2008 September 15

    Thanks for dropping my site and reading my crazy blog. It sounds like you have a very interesting job. I use to love to read 1000 page novels… now I can’t hardly concentrate enough to read the prologue. Well, maybe that will change one day.

  2. 2008 September 22
    john permalink

    Sounds like a great one. I’ll have to look for it and give it a try.

  3. 2008 September 23


    I hope you do. The hilarious 20 page description of the meticulous method that one character uses to eat a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal is alone worth the ticket price, IMO.

    I have been trying to get Hedon to read the book so I would have someone to laugh with over it, but she’s all distracted right now and can’t spare the time.

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