04 August 2008

Airplane reading

Whilst on vacation, (among other things) I'm working on Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I'm not done yet, but I'm prepared to give a very positive review. Cryptonomicon doesn't achieve the same transcendently nerdy joy at the details of history and science that characterize Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, but it comes close. And in some regards it's better - parts of Cryptonomicon recall Douglas Adams's unique talent for screwing with the reader's perspective. Like this introductory passage:
Let's set the existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregationalist preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. ...

As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines went, these were the nicest you could ever hope to meet.
There's also a wonderful bit where Stephenson explains a mathematical concept using Alan Turing's malfunctioning bicycle as a metaphor. Clearly targeted squarely at those of us who never missed "Square One TV" when it was on the air. Which would include me.

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