Cryptonomicon

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Cryptonomicon
Cryptonomicon(1stEd).jpg
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
AuthorNeal Stephenson
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreSpeculative fiction
PublisherAvon
Publication date
1999
Media typeHardcover (first edition)
Pages918 pp (first edition hardcover)
ISBNISBN 0-380-97346-4 (first edition hardcover)
OCLC40631785
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3569.T3868 C79 1999
 
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Not to be confused with Cyphernomicon.
Cryptonomicon
Cryptonomicon(1stEd).jpg
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
AuthorNeal Stephenson
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreSpeculative fiction
PublisherAvon
Publication date
1999
Media typeHardcover (first edition)
Pages918 pp (first edition hardcover)
ISBNISBN 0-380-97346-4 (first edition hardcover)
OCLC40631785
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3569.T3868 C79 1999

Cryptonomicon is a 1999 novel by American author Neal Stephenson. The novel follows the exploits of two groups of people in two different time periods, presented in alternating chapters. The first group is World War II-era Allied codebreakers and tactical-deception operatives affiliated with the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, and disillusioned Axis military and intelligence figures whom they encounter. The second narrative is set in the late 1990s with descendants of the first narrative's characters employing cryptologic, telecom and computer technology to build an underground data haven in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. Their goal is to facilitate anonymous Internet banking using electronic money and (later) digital gold currency, with a longer range objective to distribute Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod (HEAP) media for instructing genocide-target populations on defensive warfare.

Genre and subject matter[edit]

Cryptonomicon is closer to the genres of historical fiction and contemporary techno-thriller than to the science fiction of Stephenson's two previous novels, Snow Crash and Diamond Age. It features fictionalized characterizations of such historical figures as Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Isoroku Yamamoto, Karl Dönitz, and Ronald Reagan, as well as some highly technical and detailed descriptions of modern cryptography and information security, with discussions of prime numbers, modular arithmetic, and Van Eck phreaking.

Title[edit]

According to Stephenson: The title is a play on Necronomicon, the title of a book mentioned in the stories of horror writer H. P. Lovecraft:

I wanted to give it a title a 17th-century book by a scholar would be likely to have. And that's how I came up with Cryptonomicon. I've heard the word Necronomicon bounced around. I haven't actually read the Lovecraft books, but clearly it's formed by analogy to that.[1]

The novel's Cryptonomicon, described as a "cryptographer's bible", is a fictional book summarizing America's knowledge of cryptography and cryptanalysis. Begun by John Wilkins (the Cryptonomicon is mentioned in Quicksilver) and amended over time by William Friedman, Lawrence Waterhouse, and others, the Cryptonomicon is described by Katherine Hayles as "a kind of Kabala created by a Brotherhood of Code that stretches across centuries. To know its contents is to qualify as a Morlock among the Eloi, and the elite among the elite are those gifted enough actually to contribute to it."[2]

Plot[edit]

The action takes place in two periods — World War II and the late 1990s, during the Internet boom.

In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a young United States Navy code breaker and mathematical genius, is assigned to the newly formed joint British and American Detachment 2702. This ultra-secret unit's role is to hide the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the German Enigma code. The detachment stages events, often behind enemy lines, that provide alternative explanations for the Allied intelligence successes. Marine sergeant Bobby Shaftoe, a veteran of China and Guadalcanal, serves in unit 2702, carrying out Waterhouse's plans. At the same time, Japanese soldiers, including mining engineer Goto Dengo, an old friend of Shaftoe's, are assigned to build a mysterious bunker in the mountains in the Philippines as part of what turns out to be a literal suicide mission.

Circa 1997, Randy Waterhouse (Lawrence's grandson) joins his old Dungeons & Dragons companion Avi Halaby in a new startup, providing Pinoy-grams (inexpensive, non-real-time video messages) to migrant Filipinos via new fiber-optic cables. The Epiphyte Corporation uses this income stream to fund the creation of a data haven in the nearby fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. Vietnam veteran Doug Shaftoe and his daughter Amy do the undersea surveying for the cables and engineering work on the haven is overseen by Goto Furudenendu, heir-apparent to Goto Engineering. Complications arise as figures from the past reappear seeking gold or revenge.

Characters[edit]

World War II storyline[edit]

Fictional characters[edit]

Historical figures[edit]

Fictionalized versions of several historical figures appear in the World War II storyline:

1990s storyline[edit]

The precise date of this storyline is not established, but the ages of characters, the technologies described, and certain date-specific references suggest that it is set in the late 1990s, at the time of the internet boom and the Asian financial crisis.

Both storylines[edit]

Technical content[edit]

Portions of Cryptonomicon are notably complex and may be considered somewhat difficult by the non-technical reader. Several pages are spent explaining in detail some of the concepts behind cryptography and data storage security, including a description of Van Eck phreaking.

Stephenson also includes a precise description of (and even Perl script for) the Solitaire (or Pontifex) cipher, a cryptographic algorithm developed by Bruce Schneier for use with a deck of playing cards, as part of the plot.

He also describes computers using a fictional operating system, Finux. The name is a thinly veiled reference to Linux, a kernel originally written by the Finnish native Linus Torvalds. Stephenson changed the name so as not to be creatively constrained by the technical details of Linux-based operating systems.[3]

Allusions/references from other works[edit]

An excerpt from Cryptonomicon was originally published in the short story collection Disco 2000, edited by Sarah Champion and published in 1998.

Stephenson's subsequent work, The Baroque Cycle, provides part of the backstory to the characters and events featured in Cryptonomicon. An excerpt of Quicksilver, Volume One of The Baroque Cycle, is included in later prints of the Mass Market Paperback edition.

The Baroque Cycle, set in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, features ancestors of several characters in Cryptonomicon, as well as events and items which affect the action of the later-set book. The subtext implies the existence of secret societies or conspiracies, and familial tendencies and groupings found within those darker worlds.

The short story "Jipi and the Paranoid Chip" appears to take place some time after the events of Cryptonomicon. In the story, the construction of the Crypt has triggered economic growth in Manila and Kinakuta, in which Goto Engineering, and Homa /Homer Goto, a Goto family heir, are involved. The IDTRO ("Black Chamber") is also mentioned.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

According to critic Jay Clayton, the book is written for a technical or geek audience.[4] Despite the technical detail, the book drew praise from both Stephenson's science fiction fan base and literary critics and buyers.[5][6] In his book Charles Dickens in Cyberspace: The Afterlife of the Nineteenth Century in Postmodern Culture (2003), Jay Clayton calls Stephenson’s book the “ultimate geek novel” and draws attention to the “literary-scientific-engineering-military-industrial-intelligence alliance” that produced discoveries in two eras separated by fifty years, World War II and the Internet age.[7] In July 2012, io9 included the book on its list of "10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read".[8] Cryptonomicon has been acclaimed as "the ultimate geek novel".[4]

Awards and nominations[edit]

AwardYearResult
Hugo Award for Best Novel2000Nominated[9]
Arthur C. Clarke Award2000Nominated[9]
Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel2000Won[9]
Mir Fantastiki Award for Best Foreign Sci-Fi Novel2005Won[10]
Prometheus Hall of Fame Award2013Won[11]

Editions[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Neal Stephenson: Cryptomancer." Locus, August 1999
  2. ^ N. Katherine Hayles (1 October 2005). My mother was a computer: digital subjects and literary texts. University of Chicago Press. pp. 140–141. ISBN 978-0-226-32148-6. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  3. ^ Stephenson, Neal (1999). "Old site". Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  4. ^ a b Jay Clayton (14 April 2006). Charles Dickens in Cyberspace: The Afterlife of the Nineteenth Century in Postmodern Culture. Oxford University Press US. p. 204. ISBN 978-0-19-531326-0. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Berry, Michael (1999-05-09). "900 Pages + Lots of Math = Weird Fun". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  6. ^ Bruinooge, Nathan (1999-06-23). "Review:Cryptonomicon". Slashdot. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  7. ^ Clayton, Jay Charles Dickens in Cyberspace: The Afterlife of the Nineteenth Century in Postmodern Culture Oxford University Press (2003), pp. 204-11
  8. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (July 10, 2012). "10 Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Actually Read Them)". io9. Retrieved June 25, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c "2000 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  10. ^ "Le Code Enigma (Cryptonomicon #1)". Bibliographic.Info. Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Prometheus Awards". Libertarian Futurist Society. Retrieved May 19, 2014. 

External links[edit]