The author of the Maggie Hope Mystery series
writes about KBO, cocktails, code-breaking, and red lipstick.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon

Hello kittens! Today's post is a bit of a cheat, since I haven't actually read the novel.

Let me explain. Recently I had an editor question one of the codes I used in Mr. Churchill's Secretary. So I took said question to a group of "wicked smaaaat" friends, who happen to be MIT graduates. Many have a long-standing interest in codes and cryptography, including the multi-talented and all-around amazing Wes Carroll.

Thanks to their collective expertise, I solved the issue in the manuscript. They also (collectively!) recommended a book, Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I'm a little busy with my own book at the moment, but I bought Cryptonomicon and am looking forward to reading it. (Until then, I'm using it as a doorstop, since it's — gasp! — 1168 pages.)

Here's Cryptonomicon's description (from HarperCollins):

With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be an epoch-making masterpiece, Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.

In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse - mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy - is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Watrehouse and Detatchment 2702-commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy's fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.

Fast-forward to the present, where Waterhouse's crypto-hacker grandson, Randy, is attempting to create a "data haven" in Southeast Asia - a place where encrypted data can be stored and exchanged free of repression and scrutiny. As governments and multinationals attack the endeavor, Randy joins forces with Shaftoe's tough-as-nails granddaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi submarine that holds the key to keeping the dream of a data haven afloat. But soon their scheme brings to light a massive conspiracy with its roots in Detachment 2702 linked to an unbreakable Nazi code called Arethusa. And it will represent the path to unimaginable riches and a future of personal and digital liberty...or to universal totalitarianism reborn.

A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, CRYPTONOMICON is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought, and creative daring; the product of a truly icon

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