Published in 1999 and widely considered to be Neal Stephenson's Magnum Opus, Cryptonomicon is a 1000+ page Sci-Fi/Historical novel following three independent yet interrelated story arcs, two of which are set during the Second World War, and the third during the first years of the twenty-first century. Although it treats with some pretty deep, philosophical themes, the novel itself never comes off as dry or preachy, largely due to Stephenson's unique style of narration. Equal parts profound and profane, Cryptonomicon tells the story of multiple generations within the Waterhouse and Shaftoe families, as well as their attempts to unravel the secrets of a vast conspiracy affecting history and society.The Heroes:
Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse: A young mathematician/cryptographer serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy as a part of Detachment 2702, a secret paramilitary organization created for the purpose of keeping the Axis Powers ignorant of the fact that the Allies have broken the Enigma cypher. Is prone to drifting off on profound, philosophical, and occasionally nonsensical musings. His best friend is Alan Turing.
Randall Waterhouse: A geek with a love of mathematics and computer science. Is currently involved in an attempt to create a "Data Haven", where information may be freely exchanged without government interference. He is the grandson of Lawrence Waterhouse.
Goto Dengo: a Japanese private and mining engineer who is sent to New Guinea, and largely serves as a tour of just how horrible the Pacific Theater actually was.
It should be noted that this novel takes place in the same universe as another of Stephenson's works, The Baroque Cycle, which prominently features a number of ancestors of Cryptonomicon's characters.
This novel provides examples of:
Action Girl — Amy Shaftoe. Naturally, since she is the granddaughter of Bad Ass Marine Bobby Shaftoe.
Ass Shove — Upon learning of his niece's impending engagement to Enoch, Otto Kivistik produces a ring from out of his anus for him to give to Julieta. This is explained by Uncle Otto being a jewel smuggler who keeps a small container "down there" for just such an occasion.
Blah Blah Blah — Waterhouse explaining the digital computer to Comstock.
"Dr. Turing, of Cambridge University, has pointed out that bobbadah bobbadah hoe daddy yanga langa furjeezama bing jingle oh yeah," Waterhouse says, or words to that effect.
Brand X: Randy's computer runs a very famous Finnish UNIX-like OS called Finux. The boot loader is also called "FILO".
A more obscure one is the "Secret Admirers" mailing list. (The Cypherpunks actually debated changing the name of their mailing list to Secret Admirers because some of them thought it was a clever name.)
Brick Joke: In an early chapter, in the modern time line, Randy’s arguing with an annoying Dr. G. E. B. Kivistik. Much later in the book, in the World War II time line, a Ms. Kivistik is pregnant, but can’t be too sure whether Günter, Enoch or Bobby is the father.
Cassandra Truth: Randy warns his girlfriend and her friends early in the book about a minor scandal that erupts around "War As Text".
Chandler's Law: Near the climax, Andrew Loeb shows up and tries to kill Randy and Co. He does this even after getting his leg blown off by a mine.
Chekhov's Gun — Quite a few minor details turn out to be important.
Coincidence Magnet — Bobby Shaftoe: The giant Nip-eating lizards. The interview by Lieutenant Reagan. Detachment 2702 missions (such as "Negroes of the Caribbean"). His relationship with Bischoff and Juliett. And General Mac Arthur, Goto Dengo and the ladies room. It starts to have an effect on him.
He had slowly been gathering a reputation as a man who needed watching.
Conspiracy Theorist — Lawrence Waterhouse briefly muses on the possibility that the world is actually ruled by a cabal of elderly women who influence world events by controlling how often world leaders get laid. We're mostly sure that he's just being his normal Cloud Cuckoolander self. Mostly.
Everyone Knows Morse — Unusual variant: Randy uses Morse to view and enter data on his laptop when he's in prison and being monitored, using the spacebar for input and a keylock LED for output.
Fetish — Tom Howard's chapter long dissertation of hosiery/furniture fetishism. It's not clear whether it's sincere or not.
Friendly Enemy — Waterhouse is overjoyed to learn that his opposite number amongst the Axis nations is none other than his old college buddy, Rudolph von Hacklheber. He works with Turing, and Turing was "Rudy"'s boyfriend at the time.
From Bad to Worse — Goto Dengo's whole ordeal, from when Americans attack until he meets up with his fellow Nipponese again. I mean, first the bombs, then the flaming oil everywhere, then the whole nearly dying of thirst and exhaustion thing, then the sharks, then the other sharks, then the sharp coral, then the poisonous snake, then the cannibals, then an Australian patrol, then a death sentence for surrendering to the enemy...and then, it gets even worse.
Gainax Ending — Stephenson is famous for these. Cryptonomicon is no exception.
Generation Xerox — Nearly all of the characters have ancestors in The Baroque Cycle.
Genius Bruiser: For all his martial prowess, Bobby Shaftoe is clearly pretty intelligent himself.
Gestapo — They only show up once: Rudy is less than impressed.
Gilligan Cut — An uncommon literary variant in which Bobby Shaftoe pays a visit to his girlfriend Glory — or more precisely to her family, carefully negotiating an hour of formal and stylized socializing, "an eternity of small talk" with her parents, half an hour of "'private' time" together, and a "painfully elaborate and lengthy good-bye ceremony".
Half an hour later, they are doing tongue judo in the back of a horse-drawn taxi ...
(It doesn't stop there. Douglas Macarthur Shaftoe is conceived that night.)
Hard On Soft Science — Although really more like "Hard on Liberal Arts Academia". Pretty much anybody who has a graduate degree and isn't a scientist or working in the private sector is a Jerkass who has no comprehension of the "real" world, notably G.E.B. Kivistik and Randy's ex, Charlene. Balanced somewhat in that these people, unlike most of the hard scientists, have genuine social skills, and averted in Enoch Root, who has a mathematical background but also a strong philosophical one.
Hollywood Encryption — Thoroughly averted. Bruce Schneier served as a consultant, and the book also draws on stuff you can find on actual textbooks.
Hollywood Hacking — Averted to some degree; Randy goes through a fairly elaborate attempt to anonymize his Internet traffic to hack a computer, only to have to log in with his own name when he realizes the computer is pretty unhackable.
Jerkass: Earl Comstock and then some. He steals ideas from Waterhouse that would have made him millions, and uses the NSA as his own private codebreakers. His son, who we don't see much, is apparently worse.
Cap'n Crunch cereal. Breakfast has never been so pornographic.
Also, the Penthouse letter.
Mythology Gag/Continuity Nod: In Rudy and Alan's dialogue about Leibniz, Rudy refers to an attempt by Leibniz to catalog everything that exists, and Alan exasperatedly comments that since no one but Rudy seems to have heard of this attempt, it can be assumed that he failed. This attempt was a sizable chunk of the plot of The Baroque Cycle, thus being a rare continuity nod forward in time (in the real world). Alternatively, it's foreshadowing of something that's already happened in a book that hadn't been written yet.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Randy is about to erase some incriminating evidence from a computer that the Feds are trying to seize, when someone else, thinking that they're foiling the Feds, hits the building with an Elecromagnetic Pulse, frying all the electronics in it, and shutting down Randy's erasure of the data. They're quite pleased with themselves, and when Randy tells them that they also fried his laptop, they tell him not to worry. The EMP wouldn't damage the data stored on his hard drive. They never realize that the same applies to what they just did to the servers that the Feds are seizing.
"I know you are expecting me to take that as good news," Randy says.
No Celebrities Were Harmed — Between Qwghlm and Kinakuta, almost half the story takes place in fictional locations. Qwghlm is a small, rustic island northwest of Great Britain with a language and culture that parody Welsh. Kinakuta is an island between the Philippines and Borneo ruled by a Sultan with very IT-friendly policies. - However, many historical figures appear in person.
Noodle Incident: Virtually every description of the book will mention something along the lines of "a lengthy piece of erotica concerning antique furniture and black stockings." Reading the said piece isn't much more enlightening.
Douglas Shaftoe's run-in with a Comstock on a ski-lift in 1979 also counts, in that we never see it. But we know it was richly deserved.
Ocean Madness: Goto, having learned to swim in flooded mineshafts and caves, and an Okinawan who grew up by the sea, manage to swim from open sea to New Guinea after their troop transport is sunk. Their fellow survivor from Tokyo, however, loses it.
Sequel Hook: Subtle enough that it initially seems like bad writing. Stephenson has said that no one batting an eye at Enoch Root appearing at Shaftoe's funeral after having dramatically died in Sweden the previous winter is a hint that Cryptonomicon might be sci-fi after all. It's a hook for his next book, The Baroque Cycle, which also features Enoch Root—and takes place at the turn of the 17th century.
Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The academic conference that ultimately ruins Randy and Charlene's relationship, and also Charlene's lengthy article on beards. Similarly, the Japanese Army, when it has to come up with terms to save face: "retrograde maneuver" (i.e. "retreat") comes up repeatedly.
Shaggy Dog Story: Tom Howard's rambling story about discovering his own and his wife's sexual fetishes rambles on for most of a chapter. It's only relevance to the story is to illustrate what Van Eck Phreaking is and how it works, which are critical to the plot later. The story's actual content is never referenced again.
She Cleans Up Nicely: Discussed and zigzagged. Randy is awed by Action Girl Amy Shaftoe's changed appearance at a ballroom dance, but he admits that unlike in the movies, she's not as well-dressed or as good a dancer as the ballroom regulars.
When he later sees her in a nicer dress at the airport, he feels like he's been hit with a poleaxe.
Shout-Out — Randy compares everyone to characters and races from Lord of the Rings. He's a dwarf, Enoch is Gandalf, Loeb is Gollum, etc.
Shown Their Work — If there's a commercial literature work that does features real cryptography, down to and including a working Perl script for a cipher commissioned from a real cryptography guru, as well as including entire lectures on information theory, it's definitely Cryptonomicon.
Also detailed is computer science, politics, diving technique, etc. If you stop to think about all the research Neal has done, it'll be a long time before you finish the book.
Tangled Family Tree — The Shaftoes. Lampshaded when Amy states that while she could try to explain her actual relation to her "cousin" M.A., Randy would "start shifting around and heaving great big sighs before [she] got more than half way through."
Taking You with Me: Bobby Shaftoe blows himself up with a large and ship-like bunker of Japanese soldiers. More accurately, he decides to blow them up, and, already fatally wounded, joins them.
Averted in that whenever Japanese soldiers try this, they die.
"Don't you guys know banzai charges never work?!"
"Everyone who learned that died in banzai charges."
Title Drop: The titular Cryptonomicon, which is a centuries old, ever growing, compendium of cryptology, gets mentioned several times.
Translation: Yes — Several of the Qwghlmian-English parts. Bonus points for bringing in information theory: the language's information density is so high, it's difficult to transmit clearly over a radio channel.
Yellow Peril — Granted that Stephenson is fully backed up by the research in terms of the behavior of Japanese soldiers during World War II, but it is somewhat awkward to realize that Goto Dengo is the only Japanese character we know of during the World War II sections of the book who is not, at best, holding the Idiot Ball and is not, at worst, an incredibly vile human being. Implying that their culture made them that way, while arguably somewhat true, really doesn't help matters.
You Are Number Six — Loeb insists on being referred to as RIST 9E03. No one outside of his immediate circle of followers calls him this.