Cryptonomicon (was Re: [DWJ] Pratchett Convert)--corrected post

Elizabeth Parks henx19 at gmail.com
Thu Jul 27 14:37:22 EDT 2006


spoilers for the Baroque Cycle?

The other thing that annoyed me about it was the constant reference to Japan
as Nippon, as though that was cooler and more correct.  I was living in
Japan at the time and ran it by some  Japanese people, who thought it was
really kind of strange.

I liked the Baroque Cycle better--it took me half the first book to get into
it, but when I did the amount of historical detail overwhelmed and astounded
me.  I loved it.  I bought the second two books in hardback, carting them
back from Hawaii as carry-ons in case I needed them on the plane.  I liked
the characters a lot better (Cryptonomicon is one of the few books in the
world where I like the book a lot even though I dislike most of the
characters, though I like Bobby Shaftoe and Rudy quite a bit.)  I think one
of the parts that really annoyed me was when (it's been a while, and all the
names are blurring) Randy is thinking about his exwife (he really is the
most unlikeable character, I think) and how shallow and pointless she is
because she reads romance novels in secret.  This was the part of the book
that turned me off him.

It's an interesting mix of know-it-all and really-f*ing-smart.  And there
are places where I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the research.  As in, had
to go lie down and drink cool water, because the historical details were so
excellent.  Even the things that were  in theory kind of repugnant--Newton's
eye, the kidney stone surgery--I _loved_.  I loved the way it made me think
about science, and about the day to day difference of modern and historical
daily life, and the things I hadn't realized were the same or were
different, or how different.  On a side note, I've just picked up a book
mentioned on Guy Gavriel Kay's website called At Day's Close: Night in Times
Past, by Roger Ekirch, which I think appealed to me in large part because of
the Baroque Cycle.

About Eliza: it's funny how most of my memories about her are of sexual
things, no matter whose filter it's coming through.  Think of how William of
Orange ennobled her, for example, or how she gains favor with Louis.  She
grew up in a seraglio, right?  It's funny how sex becomes less important
with Eliza after the actual loss of technical virginity, though. . . and it
changes by the end of the book.  I might have to go reread, though I have
such a huge to-read pile right now I'm not sure when I'd get to it.  (trying
to be a bit vague b/c of spoilers, but also a bit vague because it's been a
while. . ..)

I actually gave my copy of Cryptinomicon away, to someone I thought should
read it, one of the more talented young writers I know.  (And I'm in a
creative writing MFA program, so that might actually be saying something.)
Haven't heard back from him on it yet, though. . . I'm not sure I'd
reccomend it to women as readily as men, though; I also made my ex-boyfriend
(who once took three years to read a book, and read only that one book in
that whole three year period--it's no wonder we didn't last) read it too.

I'm on a Murakami kick right now; after spending a couple of months working
through The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I've just read Kafka on the Shore and
Norweigan Wood in the last two days.  I feel a bit crazy but other than that
pretty wonderful--I thought that both of the two latter books especially
were amazing.  Excellent.  Superbly written.  Anyone else?

Obdwj. . . uh.  Christopher's parents go off to the courts of Japan. . . I
wonder if they ever come back?

And also did Francis and Caroline Chant's parentses die, or did they just
not want Gwendolen and Cat because they'd disowned their children?

The thing about Eliza, though, is that she is fairly sexual even by her own

2006/7/27, Melissa Proffitt <Melissa at proffitt.com>:
>
> Ooops.  I sent this before I finished.  This is the complete version.
>
> On Wed, 26 Jul 2006 23:31:16 -0400, Elizabeth Parks wrote:
>
> >Melissa, I'd be fascinated to know what you thought of Cryptonomicon as a
> >book, not just a weapon.
>
> I just re-read it a few days ago, and the story of why I did is a large
> part
> of what I think about the book.  I was actually in the middle of another
> book and enjoying it very much when for some reason I realized I was
> remembering _Cryptonomicon_.  (This was odd because the book I was reading
> was about as far removed from it conceptually and textually as anything
> could be.)  I thought, "I'd like to read that again."  Then I realized I
> wanted to read it again RIGHT NOW.  This led to much farce and merriment
> as
> our copy is on permanent loan to someone else, and I had to drive to two
> different libraries to hunt the thing down.  I realize this makes me not
> just odd, but possibly a mental case.  All I can say is: you know how
> sometimes you get a craving for, say, Nacho Cheese Doritos, and you drive
> out to the store at 1 a.m. in your bathrobe, and then you eat the whole
> bag?
> Well, we're both obsessed, but only one of us is now fat.
>
> Reading _Cryptonomicon_ the first time was exhilarating.  Neal Stephenson
> is
> one of those people who can make even the most ordinary happenings of
> everyday life interesting to read about.  The book isn't fast paced, and
> frequently there are scenes that seem to have nothing to do with the plot,
> and I DIDN'T CARE.  I found great pleasure in the fact of reading it,
> greater pleasure in an interesting and complicated plot, and deep
> satisfaction in the subject matter.  But it's a book that would have been
> dense at half the size (918 pages in hardcover, including the appendix)
> and
> there was a lot I didn't get.  I didn't like the modern bits as
> much--probably because I really didn't like Randy Waterhouse very
> much--and
> keeping track of all the characters was a strain.  So when I was done, I
> had
> the memory of how pleasurable the act of reading it was, but quickly
> forgot
> all but the broadest details of the plot.
>
> Coming to it the second time, with the entire _Baroque Cycle_ as
> reference,
> I found it a very different experience.  Seeing the Waterhouses and the
> Shaftoes of both generations in the light of their ancestors both changed
> my
> understanding of them and made it a lot easier to remember who was who and
> why it mattered.  The Waterhouse men all start out as observers of history
> and end up being prime movers.  The Shaftoes are all primal forces whose
> physicality and cunning are as highly evolved as the Waterhouse brains.
> This could seem unrealistic--what family, after all, is *that* inbred as
> to
> produce the same people over and over again?--but I think it's actually an
> expression of the larger theme of historical cycles being played out over
> time.  The same events keep coming back; why should not the same people
> arise to play a part in them?
>
> It's funny you should bring up the women, Lizzie, because I had been
> thinking about that topic in particular this time around.  I actually see
> it
> in another way, though: we perceive all the women in this book through the
> eyes of the men rather than in their own right.  And the truth is that
> both
> Lawrence and Randy are seriously emotionally constipated.  Their mental
> isolation, their self-centeredness, leads them to see women as perpetually
> Other.  Amy Shaftoe, for example, clearly *does* have a well-defined
> personal life and an identity completely independent of Randy's.  He's
> even
> aware of it, on some level.  But his every interaction with her is
> filtered
> through how it will affect him.  What I find surprising is that Randy's
> (and
> Lawrence's, though we see less of his romantic affairs) near-total
> solipsism
> does not make him an obnoxious git.  Probably it's because he knows he's
> lacking in this respect and doesn't try to make a virtue of it.  Bobby
> Shaftoe's relationship to Glory is slightly different, probably because
> his
> worldview is the highly focused one of the professional soldier in war.
> Glory is the main driving force in their relationship, and later becomes a
> freedom fighter, so she really isn't just their for his sexual
> pleasure--it's just that, again, we see everything through his
> eyes.  Using
> _The Baroque Cycle_ as another reference point, the same pattern emerges,
> but this time we have a female POV to compare it to: Jack Shaftoe's
> thoughts
> about Eliza are almost all in terms of sexuality, and there's even one
> point
> where he's thinking about her almost as a tool or a machine to generate
> pleasure for him.  Eliza's own sections give us a completely different
> view
> of her, and it's tempting to think of it as truer.  But they're really
> both
> true, just filtered through different sets of perspectives.  So I think
> the
> female characterization in _Cryptonomicon_ reveals more about how the men
> think than about what the women are really like.  (Personally, I like the
> idea of Amy Shaftoe as the divine feminine, which in some ways is how
> Randy
> treats her.  If she's cool and aloof and untouchable, it's as a side
> effect
> of the choices she's made, not because there's some intrinsic quality that
> makes her this way.)
>
> It's an amazing book.  I don't know many people I can recommend it to;
> it's
> dense, and highly intellectual in places, and there's a lot of strong
> language and gory violence.  (Not that it isn't justified or necessary
> here,
> but in the abstract such content is a problem for certain readers.)  I
> think
> my sudden and seemingly irrational need to read it is because it's a
> unique
> reading experience, not easily duplicated by any other book.  And I don't
> think Stephenson is trying to make any great statement with it (except,
> possibly, Encryption Is Good and Big Encryption Is Better) but I know
> something's changed inside my head now that I've read it.
>
> Melissa Proffitt
>
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