I may never read another Neil Stephenson book.
It's not that he's a bad writer, or that he writes about bad things, per se, it's just that he's getting progressively more longwinded and saying less. The first book I read by him was Snow Crash, a rambling, giddy-fun trainwreck of a book that managed to really stick with me for a long time after I finished reading it. Next I read Diamond Age, which was entertaining, but after reading it one and a half times, I concluded that I really had no idea what the hell the story was about, even though it held my interest while I was reading it. Next up came Zodiac, which, despite disingenuous marketing to the contrary, is not a Science Fiction novel. That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. I read 'straight' fiction as well as SF, but the publisher deliberately marketed this 'straight' book as an SF book. Hence, I kept waiting for the big reality shift that would kick the book into overdrive, and it never really happened. This isn't to say that Zodiac was a bad book – it was merely average – but the disappointment was probably akin to what one might feel upon walking into a place with big gaudy neon signs that advertise Naked Girls and Booze”, and discovering the inside was actually a Christian Science Reading Room.
As such, despite reading rave reviews of Cryptonomicon for the last decade, I've deliberately put off reading it, both because Mr. Stephenson seemed to be suffering from the law of diminishing returns, and also because I was more than a bit daunted by it's 1148 page length. Yikes! Fortunately, I have a job that requires little of my time, and I managed to plow through it in about two weeks.
Structurally, the book is actually three full-length novels that are inter-related, and sometimes overlap. The book jumps between these three novels a chapter at a time, one from novel A, one from Novel B, one from novel C, then back to Novel A and so on. The book is pretty steadfast in this structure for it's first 500 pages or so, then gets sloppy, dropping Novel B for more than a hundred pages, then abruptly picking it up again. All of these constituent novels have a rather messy structure, spending scores of pages on absolute minutia (There's an entire chapter about the correct way to eat breakfast cereal), and then jumping over months or years of significant character events with nary a mention. The most jarring of these is in Novel A (The best of the bunch), where the Protagonist dies 2/3rds of the way through the book, and we abruptly change to a new Protagonist. Also, most of the chapters are told in a kind of needless flashback in which the chapter starts with the aftermath, and then tells us what led up to that. For instance, a character last seen in jail, is on a plane writing Email to his friends, and the rest of the chapter relates how he was released from prison and got on the plane. This becomes tedious quickly, but isn't as bad as the 'fables' that Nell is forced to read in Diamond Age. Also, characters from Novels A, B, and C cross over a bit, though with the exception of Enoch Root, and to a lesser extent, Goto Dengo, these come across as little more than cameos.
Novel A is more or less about ass-kicking Marine Sergeant Bobby Shaftoe, who is one of the most engaging characters I've ever read. He's intelligent, but uneducated, always a hard trick to write about, but Stephenson pulls it off. We follow Shaftoe around various misadventures, until he's assigned to a covert unit who's main job is attempting to cover up the activities of other covert units, then he semi-unwittingly deserts, gets involved in a cabal with several ex-Nazi deserters, re-joins the service and clears his name, goes to work for Douglas MacArthur, and so forth. We also follow Japanese Lieutenant Goto Dengo survive (A) the destruction of his fleet, (B) six months in the jungle, (C) a secret Japanese death camp, and (D) MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines.
Novel B is more or less about Lawrence Waterhouse, an autistic Virginian mathematician who breaks Nazi and Japanese codes, and ends up being the guy who more-or-less gives assignments to Bobby Shaftoes' unit. This is somewhat less interesting, given it's very long asides into mathematics and cryptography, but Lawrence is