Cryptonomicon

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Stephenson, Neal. Cryptonomicon. New York: Avon, 1999. New York: Perennial (HarperCollins), 2000. 918pp. with Appendix.

"Mundane" novel (in S.R. Delany's usage). In its full arc, Cryptonomicon is a romantic comedy, ending with a slightly new, potentially better world coalescing around a central couple about to get more domestic. Within that arc, however, there is a good deal of suffering (including much from World War II) and satire; there is also a good deal of fiction informed by the sciences of math and cryptology. Cryptonomicon handles themes of whether a spider's brain is "some kind of internal Turing machine" (141) or if the human brain is a "Universal Turing Machine" (20)—and possibly the ocean as well (445), bureaucracies imaged as a pinball machine (210), a major character "plugged into the Universe" while using sophisticated technology to crack a safe (306), the development of digital computers (194-96, 342, 376, 596, 830), appropriate technology and "technological cunning" for resisting holocausts and powerful psychopaths (401, 803-808), the Turing test (844-45), frequent high-tech surveillance, machine-mediation of experience (e.g., 800), and the advantages and disadvantages of technocratic conspiracies (83-84, passim). Like the H.G. Wells of THINGS TO COME (q.v. under Drama), NS here approves of a conspiracy of technocrats, but he leaves the issue far more open than Wells does; and far more than Wells or most technophiles, NS insists on the satiric point that "Little man 'tate"—the human male prostate—may control human male behavior as much as the brain does. NS's Narrator presents humans "As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines," evolved from "stupendous badasses" going back "to that first self-replicating gizmo" (5) to cross the barrier of nonliving to living matter. Still, the text celebrates adaptability more than violence as the key to genetic survival, and the happy ending rewards flexibility. (RDE, 20/08/00)