a kind of engaging guy. His plot-necessitated transformation from Autistic Kid to Perfectly Normal and Horny Adult is not very deftly handled, however, and the more normal Lawrence gets, the less interesting he is.
Novel C is the weakest of the bunch, taking place in the current day (Circa the late '90s), rather than World War II, like the others. It mostly concerns the descendants of the World War II characters. For instance, it's protagonist is Randy Waterhouse, the amazingly dull, and pathetically west-coast grandson of Lawrence. We spend some time with Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe, the illegitimate son of Bobby. Of course Randy eventually hooks up with Bobby's granddaughter. A whole bunch of stuff happens, but none of it ever really goes anywhere. Then it stops, and the book stops.
Basically, what we've got here is an 1148 page novel, of which 382 pages simply don't work. There are points in the narrative where Stephenson seems to be deciding what to do by rolling dice. There are other points that were clearly much longer, but go chopped out in some kind of ham-fisted editing process. The last third of the book seems rushed, but not in a 'oh, I've only got 20 pages left to wrap things up in' way, more in a 'I wrote 1500 pages, but my publisher will only let me use 1100 of 'em' kind of way.
Novel A is a rip snortin' World War II yarn. Novel B is a moderately interesting World War II Espionage yarn. Novel C is, wow, it's just a mess. It has no focus, no particularly memorable or even endearing characters. We're never even sure what it's about, exactly. At the start, it's about some guys trying to set up a company that'll make money by building a communications network in the Philippines. Then it becomes a story about the same bunch of guys trying to start a Data Haven in some stereotypically imaginary-but-real-sounding 3rd world country somewhere. This is put forth as a Good Thing, but, really, I never understood why. I mean, I'm as tolerant of pot-smoking libertarian daydreams as the next guy, but, really, why would setting up something that lets Drug Lords, Terrorists and Pedophiles protect their records be a good thing? I mean, really?
No matter: This gets abruptly dropped as they attempt to find a huge trove of Japanese Imperial Gold buried in Novel A. This, then, turns into a fools errand as it seems all the important characters (Enoch Root, Goto Dengo) know where the gold is anyway. Then there's some shuck about setting up a stable currency for Asia, which desperately needs one. Then it ends. There is no resolution.
The problem is that basically the novel is a tricycle with one flat tire. Now, despite the fact that Novel C was pretty boring, I was willing to cut it some slack because it had some funny bits in it. For instance, there's a lot of open bashing of west coast politically correct types. They're portrayed as unhappy self-important Caucasian artsy fartsy types with no real understanding of the world or history, but with vast powers to delude themselves into believing themselves intellectually omniscient. This is funny, as Stephenson himself displays some of these tendencies, and it's always entertaining to see a guy make fun of his own. Conversely, there's a lot of jokes at the expense of the paranoid fringe of gun toting conspiracy nuts. Again, Stephenson displays some of these tendencies, and as such he can skewer them quite well. There's also a bizarre polemic against masturbation that takes up a large part of the final third of Novel C. But all this is beside the point: the fundamental problem here is that Novel A takes place during a time of extreme world changes, and Novel B is the thing driving most of those changes, and creating the world that Novel C takes place in. Meanwhile, Novel C is just a meander, it doesn't really go anywhere. Since Novels A and B were about titanic changes in the past world, I assumed Novel C was also about titanic changes in the modern world. In fact, really, there's no way it can really get around the fact that structurally it needs to be about some huge, fundamental change in the world.
But it isn't.
It's not really about anything, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens. I mean, I suppose it could be considered a cautionary tale about the perils of all forms of masturbation: Physical, intellectual, and self-preservational; or it could be an impassioned plea for the need of a stable currency in Asia, or perhaps an extended treatise on why the right temperature of milk is so important at breakfast, but any way you slice it, it's not really a story worth telling. It certainly isn't a story worth taking almost 400 pages to tell!
A random example of what I mean: Neuromancer by William Gibson is essentially a Raymond Chandler novel set in a cyberpunk universe. After all it's globetrotting and peril, it offers very little that readers hadn't seen before in different forms. However at the end, the protagonists end up creating a new order of intelligence that is unfathomable to humans. Granted, we don't get to see this, but at least we know that the world will never be the same again, so even if the story didn't grab you, at least you know that something big happened that made it all worthwhile.
Conversely, in "Cryptonomicon" novel C, there is nothing new, and there's no payoff whatsoever.
A lesser problem is stylistic: Gibson has always struck me as basically an SF writer who's trying really hard to avoid writing SF. This book is not *really* SF, though occasionally it's been marketed as it. I wasn't about to fall for that again, though. SF is basically a ghetto art form, and those seldom get compared to Pynchion, as the critics did with this one. Never, if we ignore Kurt Vonnegut. Stephenson uses the styles and modalities of SF, and he uses them pretty deftly, however as this novel takes place alternately 60 years ago, and in the Very Late 1990s, this style never really pays off. The breathless sense of wonder for things so mundane seems a bit of a cheat.
In the end, all the reviews have been strangely glowing about this book, although Stephenson is a talented writer, and individual parts of it are quite good, but it's ultimately nothing more than an exercise in tossing off: a passable enough hobby, but frustrating and ultimately pretty much useless. My opinion? Don't bother.
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS BOOK?
Actually, probably, yeah. There's a healthy dose of anti-state paranoia and leftie-bashing. The book is, on the whole, pragmatically amoral, without a real agenda insofar as I can see, and there's a couple prominent gay character, but there's definitely some stuff in here our kind would like.