Cryptonomicon is one of those plotty books, where things happen and then other things happen, which isn't really a knock: some of the best books ever are plotty. Lookin' at you, [b:The Count of Monte Cristo.|7126|The Count of Monte Cristo|Alexandre Dumas|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309203605s/7126.jpg|391568] But when you write a book about a bunch of stuff happening, it succeeds based on whether all the things that happen feel like part of a whole - whether all the threads come together. Again, Count of Monte Cristo is forever the gold standard for books like this. At their best, these books are tremendous jigsaw puzzles: a successful one is a masterpiece of planning ahead, and authors like Dumas - or George Eliot, whose [b:Middlemarch|19089|Middlemarch|George Eliot|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309202283s/19089.jpg|1461747] combines the best of plottiness and the best of character analysis - take your breath away when you realize how carefully they've set up each strand of plot.
Cryptonomicon succeeds at this. Stephenson throws a lot of balls in the air; the story spans sixty years, from World War II to the late 90s, and spans the globe from some made-up country near England to the Phillipines, with plenty of stops in between, and he totally pulls it off. It's an impressive feat, and I can't poke a single hole in it. Nice work, Neal!
Of course, while insight into human nature isn't necessarily
necessary in a plotty book, it helps to have some. Count of Monte Cristo includes some wicked heavy and smart thinking about fate and control; Middlemarch is one of the most psychologically astute books ever written. And Cryptonomicon isn't really a smash success on that front. There are some cool characters, like uber-Marine Bobby Shaftoe, but basically these are just people who do things.
And it has to be said that Stephenson appears to have little or no grasp on how women operate. He clearly likes
women - this isn't a misogynist book - I'm just not sure he's met
very many of them.
Which kinda ties into why I didn't totally love this book. It's impressively put together, but it's...well, I was reminded of David Foster Wallace very often; same conversational tone, same exceptional technical intelligence - but Stephenson is - how do I say this? - he's just not very cool. Which I know, you're like "Wait, you're comparing someone's coolness unfavorably to DFW? DFW wasn't exactly the coolest kid on the block, y'know." But he was! He
wouldn't have said so, but he totally was cool.
Maybe I can say it like this: DFW was a geek; Stephenson is a nerd.
So this is a nerd epic. It succeeds at what it wants to be. I enjoyed it. I didn't love it.