A few Spoilers
All writers love doing research. There’s nothing quite as fun as, say, deciding to write a book about Nazi submarines and then going about the business of becoming the world’s leading authority on Nazi Submaries. The reason to do this is that when you mention, in passing, in one or two paragraphs, that funny looking little shinny bit of metal sticking out of the wall just so is called (Insert Proper and Correct Nomeclacure Here) and not a thingamajig or whatsit. The danger, of course, is that the writer will not just drop a few random Nazi Submarine facts into the text for the sake of verisimilitude-but that he will, in fact, dump every single boring factioid he has found into the text so all that hard work won’t have been wasted. All well and good for the writer, and for the reader who wants an advanced degree in Nazi Submersibles, but just a tad dull and boring for just about everyone else.
Which brings us to Cyptoconicom, a book stuffed to the gills with boring and irrelevant factoids about Nazi Subs, Cyphers, un-hearlded battles of WWII, the author’s opinions of the citizens of several countries around the world and the governments that run them. Cryptoconicom is a massively dense book filled with so much minutia that the author had to prove he was just showing off by devoting half a chapter to the proper method of eating Cap’n Crunch cereal-I kid you not. Every tiny bit of nonsense that any other author would have skimmed over for the sake, of say, a plot, Neal Stephenson dwells upon as if it were the discovery of the Rosette Stone and untold secrets await. Another bit of random nonsense that was given far too much attention was how one man’s mind tended to wander if he didn’t get laid often enough-he included a proof!
Ok, so Cyrptoconicom in a phonebook of random factoids, is it any good?
Surprisingly, it is pretty good. The story is broken into several parts and follows around three groups of people in two different times. There is a lot of talk about WWII in the glory days of the 1940s and a lot of talk about the Philippines in the glory days of whenever the book was written. The ‘present’ part of the story talks about a ‘data vault’ and how our heroes want to create a video mail system using VHS tapes. Looking back, it’s one of those things that a tech savors fellow like our Author might have guessed would change fairly quickly, but even the best sci-fi writers seldom get everything right.
It’s a mind numbingly long book, the story might have been told in a hundred pages, but the addition of endless side issues and digressions and explanations of everything imaginable, tend to drag it all out a bit. A typical bit of business might be describing how a man sits in a chair by lowering his rear end onto a device with four legs and a back designed with this purpose in mind-we would then be regaled with the entire history of chairs up to the present time before the man’s ass actually hits the seat. This kind of thing tends to slow the narrative down a bit.
Over the course of several hundred pages, we come to find out that these seemingly random stories are connected. What happened in the past has a profound impact on things happening in the present. Though quite a lot of the random rambling remains mere random rambling.
But I hated the very end. Spoiler alert. The book is about our modern day hero trying to get rich by digging up treasure stolen by the Axis Powers. Treasure that everyone nowadays goes to rather extreme means to return to its rightful owner. Or at the very least, understands that a gold statue of Buddha has value beyond being made of gold. In the end, greed wins, even if our hero does say he will give most of the money away to the needy, the fact remains that it is NOT his money.
There is rather a lot of talk about morals and right and wrong and what it means to be a real man and a hero. And we’re not talking about Indiana Jones style treasure where the owner’s all died out a thousand years ago-and there are plenty of alive and well Native Americans that want to bitch and moan about that kind of find as well-we’re talking about gold stolen forty years earlier in the story. Lots of this gold even has owner’s marks on it, which would make it easy to find the rightful owner. Neal easily sidesteps this issue by getting rid of all such marks.
In a book that is choking on its own self righteousness, this really pissed me off.