June 29, 2005

· Books

My usual few years behind the curve, I picked up Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon yesterday. Right now I’m about a hundred pages in, and I’m wondering whether I should keep reading. The prose is flat. Stephenson keeps lathering-in in chunks of his background reading. Much of that material is interesting, but it’s applied with a trowel. Most of all, a strong whiff of Mary-Sue wish-fulfillment pervades the whole thing. Here is the author/soldier in Shanghai on the eve of the second world war, earning the respect of Nipponese soldiers by composing haikus, eating sushi and learning judo. Here is the author/genius talking about computability and mathematics with Alan Turing, impressing the hell out of him with his raw, untutored brilliance. Here is the author/unix nerd putting down a bunch of cardboard-cutout cult-stud poseur academics about the real meaning of the Internet. And so on. Does the book warm up at all, or are the next 800 pages more of the same? If the latter, I think I’d be better off finding some of the stuff Stephenson relies on for detail (like Andrew Hodges’ brilliant Alan Turing: The Enigma) and just reading that, instead.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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