cover image Cryptonomicon


Neal Stephenson. Avon Books, $27.5 (928pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97346-0

Big, complex and ambitious, the new cyber-thriller from the talented author of Snowcrash and The Diamond Age calls to mind Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in its intense, paranoid evocation of conspiracies and secret histories. Set in part during WWII, Stephenson's novel concerns Lawrence Waterhouse, mathematical genius, a friend of Alan Turing and, like Turing, a code breaker extraordinaire. Assigned to the super-secret Detachment 2702, Waterhouse is instrumental in the Allied plot to keep the Nazis unaware that their fabled Enigma code has been broken. Almost as a sideline, he helps trigger the computer age. Nearly 60 years later, Waterhouse's grandson Randy, a computer hacker with a knack for cryptanalysis, is attempting to create a high-tech data haven in Southeast Asia, only to discover that a variety of governments, multinationals and shadowy secret organizations want a piece of his company's action. Uncovering evidence of a long-dormant conspiracy with its roots partly in his grandfather's work in cryptology, Randy eventually discovers that enormous amounts of war gold are involved, enough not just to make him and his fellow hackers wealthy but to change the entire economy of the planet. This fast-paced, genre-transcending novel is full of absorbing action, witty dialogue and well-drawn characters. Amazingly, it is also, even at its tremendous length, only the first volume in what promises to be one of the most extravagant literary creations of the turn of the millennium--and beyond. Major ad/promo; author tour. (May)