This book is a marathon, not a sprint. I listened to the audio version, which was something like 48 hours long. It did take about eight or nine hours to really grab my attention, but once it did, I was hooked!
“Unfortunately, this category of secret is itself so secret that it’s very existence is secret, and he can’t actually reveal it to anyone.”
Cryptonomicon takes place in two different eras, with a collection of kind of related people occupying each. In the 1940s, we have mathematician/codebreaker Lawrence Waterhouse, a Marine named Bobby Shaftoe, and a Japanese lieutenant/mining engineer named Goto Dengo. Then, sometime in the 1990s, we have Lawrence’s grandson Randy (a network administrator) and his business partner Avi Halaby, as well as Bobby Shaftoe’s son and granddaughter (Douglas and Amy). In true Stephenson fashion, these names represent about 10% of the vast population of people in this novel.
The reason is takes a while to get hooked by this one (for me, at least) was that it takes a while for the storylines to come together. We alternate from Randy working in the Philippines to Bobby in Japan to Lawrence hanging out with Alan Turing at Harvard, and after a while, it’s kind of hard to figure out what the hell is actually happening. But once the lines begin to intersect, it becomes fascinating. The basic plot boils down to a treasure hunt, but that’s really only a small part of what’s going on.
The 1990s Shaftoes — Douglas MacArthur (yes) and his daughter America (Amy) — stole every scene they appeared in. I want a whole book of D.M.S., as Randy calls him. He cracked me up. I also loved Stephenson’s random and often very silly explanations of things, like the effect of one’s masturbatory habits on work ethic or the roles of various gods throughout history. They appear at the oddest times, and before you know it, you’ve spent 30 minutes listening to a rant about how masturbation will clear one’s mind, but only up to a point.