Monday, May 19, 2014
Binge-reading some thick stuff
I'm working on a theory here, and it involves reading a tremendous amount of hilarious fiction written about cryptography and general sciencey-type-stuff. It's more fun than you might expect but it can be a little daunting.
Cryptonomicon is one of my favorite books. The first time I read it I made the tactical error of leaving it on the black dashboard under un-tinted windows on a 110 degree Southern California day. The glue in the spine of the book broke down into its component elements and left me with about 200 5-page sections of book to read; I carried it around wrapped in an overextended hairband, dropping it a few times and having to furiously reshuffle the mess to make sense of the story. Maybe that's why the book sticks with me so much, but I'm guessing it has more to do with the fact that it's a really cool book.
The novel follows (primarily) three storylines - those of Lawrence Waterhouse, Bobby Shaftoe, and Randall Waterhouse; Lawrence and Bobby's stories take place during World War II, Randy's story takes place in the nineties and all of the stories get mixed together and create an interesting temporal landscape.
This has a lot to do with the theory that I'm working on (that most of Stephenson's novels take place in the same universe and are actually telling the same story over the landscape of centuries in a way that can be tied together with admirable neatness and that leaves the reader staggering in the wake of the author's foresight) so I had a lot of fun tracing some of the more obscure parts of the book than most people probably will. While doing so I still got to enjoy Randy's fumbling attempts at interacting with other human beings and the adaptable attitude of the family Shaftoe.
It's kind of hard to get into what goes on in the story without giving away really amazing parts that you should read on your own. Let's just say that there's a lot of action, some really cool history, and an appendix that will teach you an utterly bitchrod cryptosystem if you have the patience to sit down and learn it (I don't, but I can appreciate that it's rad).
It's not hard to get me all gushy over a Neal Stephenson book, but this one is full of some of my favorite descriptions ever. The way that Stephenson writes Lawrence's interpretation of English manufacturing is completely brilliant and utterly hilarious. The brief but memorable tangent about Randy's search for an orthodontist is sure to tug on the heartstrings and turn up in the nightmares of anyone who has had their own experience with wisdom teeth.
If you're feeling up to reading 1100 pages that take place on five continents and have about 100 distinct and interesting characters then Cryptonomicon is a book to add to your list.
Stephenson, Neal. Cryptonomicon. Avon Books. New York: New York. 2002. (1999)