Sunday, December 8, 2013

Before Bitcoin: Cryptonomicon and Data Havens

Review: Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson

This novel is a staple of my reading year; at least once every twelve months, I pull it down from the shelf (or open it on my Kindle) and take that wild ride.

It is a marvelous roller-coaster trip through code-making and breaking, with a side order of treasure-hunting, twenty-first-century style. Stephenson has a powerful way of including the reader in some pretty abstruse stuff, making us feel, not just as if we might understand these topics, but as if we do

This is not a weekend read for the beach, unless you're willing to stay in a darkened hotel room, geek-wise, ignoring the volleyball competition in favor of the effort. The reward is a generation-spanning hunt for the meaning in the signal, the value in the data. Richly designed, with Innis-mode-like shifts in time, place and POV, the story itself is signal-laden. 

Stephenson says Cryptonomicon is not prerequisite for his Baroque Cycle (beginning with Quicksilver), but I think you miss more than one flavorful nuance by jumping straight to the hefty code-and-signal involvement of Quicksilver. This is science fiction in the same way that the early James Bond novels were, speculation wrapped in current events, then tossed just over the line into next week. 

Look for investment in data havens.