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A decidedly mixed bag - but well worth it.
am 8. Mai 2000
First of all, let me dispel something straight from the start. An awful lot of people have been making some rather shocking comparisons between this book and the Illuminatus! trilogy. I want them to stop right now. Stephenson is not above trying to achieve the same vibe, but it falls deadly short. In Illuminatus!, when a piece of the puzzle fell into place, you leapt up and down and shouted "yes! yes! yes!". With Crypto, it's more like, "oh... well, yeah, I guess". The one or two trippy scenes do more to detract from the story than add to it. Never mind the fact that comparing anything to the Illuminatus! trilogy is like trying to find a poster to compare to an original Picasso... it ain't gonna happen any time soon. Stop with the Illuminatus! comparisons!
Now, as for the book itself: It's good, but you have to commit to it. For the first half - yes, half - you may suffer under the burden of a plot that goes nowhere - heck, isn't even a plot! - and really really two-dimensional characters. But by halfway through, the two stories - WWII and sorta-present - start to converge and things start happening and the characters start evolving and you sigh heavily in relief. From there on out there are few problems. It gets pretty hilarious in places, and some parts started music action pounding in my head - which is good.
Careful however. This book is decidedly lacking in twists. Oh, it LOOKS like there are twists, but they really aren't twists because when the twists are tied off it is always in some mundane and rather obvious manner. Then again, some twists are just left hanging. Why the heck does that guy turn up in the jungle? So does this guy die or what? Why put those in if you're just going to ignore them later? Stephenson could have written juuuust a little more and left me much more satisfied over all.
And don't let the crypto-babble make you think this is a book that is about crypto! It ain't. The technical rants are about as complex as a four-piece puzzle. You won't learn anything about number theory, cryptoanalysis, heck, nothing even about maths, from reading this book. The book description might try to convince you this book is actually about a code called Arethusa. This code comes up and is practically ignored as a plot device and eventually rendered obsolete.
However, where the book his HEAD ON is with its skilled depiction of some very contemporary struggles, and with its wonderfully lush WWII scenarios. This might as well be a primer for fighting a Big Brother-esque information-society, and what makes it even more creepy is that almost everything that happens in this book is happening RIGHT NOW, although the places they're happening in have some more realistic names ;-)
All in all, this is a fine read, but not for the faint hearted and not for those actually seeking to get a whole lot out of it. This is an odd criteria, to be sure, but as truthful a one as I can manage.