Cryptonomicon: No, I think you’ll find that I’m right.

Take this, Shamus!

It proves something.

You may recall, if you’re one of my three regular readers, what I had to say about Cryptonomicon. In fact, if you’re one of my three regular readers, you’ve already responded to it, either internally or on your own site. Mark bit first, and now Shamus has had a crack at it.

It’s nice to see that not everyone thinks that Cryptonomicon is the greatest book ever, but I never set out to dispel that; what I particularly like about this is that everything I stated is actually in the text proper – and liking it is simply a matter of interpretation. What makes it the best ever to some people makes it unfathomable for others. It’s an interesting examination of opinion, because it ultimately proves that one man’s novel full of digressions is another man’s novel full of digressions – but that Man A might be allergic to that while Man B bathes in it, and Woman C thinks “Dangit, Snow Crash was so compact, what went wrong?”

Which brings me to my next point (wait, I’m making points here?). Twenty Sided Reader dishuiguanyin states the following:

Even Snow Crash, while it has a wonderful racy plot, great ideas, and ancient near-Eastern mythology … also contains terrible dialogue and huge great infodumps from the librarian. So, yeah, tis a pity, but still hugely enjoyable.

The Librarian is great because the internet is reduced to goggles, and Hiro Protagonist can be doing whatever – speeding through the vast blackness of cyberspace, because they didn’t bother putting addresses on those bastards; fighting Raven; raving with avatars that all look alike – and he can still be being fed exposition! Snow Crash is awesome not because it’s got equal opportunity rapist pirates in it, but because it’s the literary equivalent of this comic:

Hacking revealed!

Sometimes all we require in life is goggles and fishnets, rather than eight page treatises on stockings and furniture. Goggles and fishnets delivered at HYPER SPEED while BYPASSING THE COMMON MAN to fight an ALEUT (like you’ve ever heard of them) with MAXIMUM HARDCORENESS. EXTREME!
Perhaps Snow Crash differs from Cryptonomicon in that it’s not afraid to be silly, whereas Cryptonomicon equates graphs with silliness. I think it hinges on Stephenson’s use of “badass”. You can see it in Snow Crash and say “fuck yeah!”, but you get a rather different, more selfconscious vibe from the later work.

Finally, as to XKCD:

Hacking revealed!

I think that says it all! Wait, it doesn’t. I just thought it was funny if you know the original strip.

Graph provided by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
XKCD parody courtesy Nobody Scores

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7 Responses to Cryptonomicon: No, I think you’ll find that I’m right.

  1. Wavatar dishuiguanyin says:

    Hello Alex,

    I clicked over from Shamus, and discovered that you’d quoted me. As a pretty much professional lurker I’m still in slight shock.

    Ok, I’m going to try to clarify. I love the goggles, love the swords, the motorbike battles, when Hiro turns into a gargoyle and can coexist to two worlds and thus prove his mastery through greater access to information. I love the book in all its incredibly cool and incredibly silly posturing. I am aware that in real life when researching a topic on the internet the information will arrive in one great infodump. But. I just don’t like it in my literature. It breaks up the tone and pacing and plot, and, well, breaks my willing suspension of disbelief by reminding me that I’m reading a novel and the author is force-feeding me a huge amount of exposition. I really feel that the librarian could have popped up more frequently but for shorter periods of time…Thus, I’m not complaining about the plot, ultra-cool geekiness, or anything like that. I’m complaining about Stephenson’s literary craft.

    (Side note: I discovered Snow Crash sometime in late ’93 or early ’94. My then boyfriend (who loved his cyberpunk) was reading it in bed. I leaned over, and caught the name of my university tutor in the text. Honestly, I had just been in a tutorial with Nicolas Wyatt that week. Of course, I had to read the book.)

    Cryptonomicon: I read it for the WW2 story line rather than the ‘modern day’ part.

    Are you up for a discussion of the Baroque Trilogy, or the Diamond Age?

  2. Wavatar Alex says:

    I was revelling in the clumsiness, don’t worry. Clumsiness can be read a few ways too, and across different books!

    As for Baroque Trilogy and Diamond Age, I haven’t read them yet. I will probably do Baroque sometime this year and look into Diamond Age but they’re not yet on the horizon.

  3. Wavatar DavidRM says:

    I read “Snow Crash” back in the early 2K’s and really enjoyed it. I loved the dark tone and the snappy use of language. I agree about the “literary craft” issues and the overabundance of information gouging through my eyes. But, overall, I loved the book and have recommended it to a handful of my friends.

    I read “Cryptonomicon” because I liked “Snow Crash”. Or rather, I *tried* to read the book. I got tired of it very quickly and gave up on it. I remember almost nothing of what I read, except a tour guide of a post-war Phillipine Islands city, and a bit about pre-war China. And what I eventually figured must be the crash of the Hindenburg.

    I wanted to like the book. I came into very positive and willing to work with the author. But the author exhausted my positive bearing and willingness to see it through very quickly.

    I *still* wish I could say I liked the book. Geek culture peer pressure?

    Ah, well. A homogenous culture is a boring culture. ;-)


  4. Wavatar Patrick the Malcontent says:

    As Shamus’s more socially inclined but far less intelligent brother, the two of us have, for the most part, always agreed on just about everything from politics, entertainment, video games and literature. Neal Stephenson is one of the rare exceptions.

    While I admit I enjoyed his ealier cyberpunk-esque novel ” Snowcrash” ( which incidentally was part of the inspiration for Shamus’ employer) I find his books too be self-indulgent and long winded. He has, at best, run-on sentences and overly verbose analogies that take up entire paragraphs. At one point in one of the first few chapters ( I forget where exactly) Neal describes his main character randomly stumbling across the wreckage of the Hindenburg. On one of these pages he has 3 paragraphs. These 3 paragraphs totaled to my recollection over 500 words. There were only 6 sentences.

    He tries waaaaay to hard to be verbally clever, he instead sounds like a pompous college professor who uses his lectures to demonstrate his mastery of the english language by dropping fifty cent words just because ‘he’s just that much smarter than you’. I found myslef having to re-read pages because I wasn’t entirely sure what the hell he was talking about. Mind you, I am not a novice reader. I was reading Lord of the Rings when I was 13, so it isn’t me.

    Personally, I think he gets paid by the word, and not by gross sales. But thats’ just me…..

  5. Wavatar Alex says:

    I’m glad that you guys are leavening the pressure; now I don’t feel like I owe Cryptonomicon my blood, sweat and tears to make it something that I find more worthwhile.

    I know what happened to Shaftoe, but I still don’t know what happened. It’s like that.

    Patrick: never read Faulkner. That might mark me as a philistine, but seriously, don’t do it.

  6. Wavatar Jakkar says:

    A randomer, fresh off googleimagesearching up illustrations of Snow Crash characters – I highly recommend this artist, the ONLY one I can find who remotely grasped what he was reading and managed to convey it – dropping in to clarify that much of Snow Crash nailed me much the same way.

    Around halfway, the book cuts into a different gear and burns the reader out on speculation, vague research and boring fiction about ancient Sumeria, religious history for entire pages. I believe the worst of these crimes had to be Hiro’s 3-5 page monologue to Enzo and Lee summing up the everything we’d already been eyeraped by for the last hundred pages.

    When this change came over the narrative I broke, my interest waned and the book sat under my desk for around two weeks before I managed to get back into it. Very glad I did, but.. Ouch.

    I don’t know if he’s gained some self-discipline in the last eighteen years – (I was four when it was published – my word), but he certainly lacked it in the nineties..

    He -almost- spoiled a very good book.

    I’ll approach his later works with caution.

  7. Wavatar Alex says:

    Cryptonomicon is basically 900 pages of that.

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