Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, William Morrow, 1999, 1130 pp
Sometime last year I began to hear about this author. I believe it was when the third volume of his trilogy, The Baroque Cycle, came out. From all the reviews and blurbs he sounded almost hopelessly cool. Well he is. In my usual way I started with his early books. I have read Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, both great. Cryptonomicon is even better. The trilogy comes next.
So we have a bunch of computer nerds in the 90s who work together in start-up companies. They are based in San Francisco naturally, but their current venture is located in the Philippines. The book opens with a Prologue. It is 1941, Shanghai. Bobby Shaftoe, American Marine Corporal, and his squad are headed for the Yangtze River. The Nips are coming. Meanwhile, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, descendant of a South Dakota Congregational preacher, has found himself stationed at Pearl Harbor, playing in the Army band. Being an unconventional math whiz, he winds up doing cryptanalysis for the entire war.
In the present day, Shatoe's granddaughter and Lawrence Waterhouse's grandson are on a collision course towards each other's affections. I am a fan of historical fiction, from James Michener to Margaret George. One of the great things about reading bestsellers from the 1940s, is that about half of them were historicals. But Neal Stephenson tops them all. In any other historical fiction I have read before, it is either all swashbuckling testosterone driven or bodice ripping romance charged, but Stephenson somehow combines both in a perfect mix. His heroines are feisty, smart and liberated and his heros are of all types.
During World War II, the Japanese and the Germans colluded to hide all the gold they could round up on a Philippine island. It is still buried there in the 1990s and the computer geeks have found it, but to avert total financial disaster they have to decode a wartime code which even Waterhouse, the grandfather could not crack.
That is just the bare bones. It is a huge, sprawling book with a lot going on. Plenty of WWII history, action and adventure, hilarity, insight into today's information age and financial insanity. Highly entertaining and educational at the same time. It was easy to read 150 to 200 pages in a day, which is a good thing because this book is LONG. Can't wait to get into the trilogy.
(Cryptonomicon is available in paperback and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it at your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)