Sunday, November 26, 2006


CryptonomiconGot a month of free reading time? And that’s free time for one book? This isn’t a condemnation of Cryptonomicon's size by any means, just a warning to those who pick it up. Because once you start reading, chances are you won’t be able to stop.

Author Neal Stephenson is either an authentic genius or a certified wacko (or both), because Cryptonomicon is so intricate, so layered, and so engrossing, that someone who could write this much material, and contain it in one novel, must have an odd functionality to their brain.

Spanning two generations of families during pre-, intra-, and post-WW II, this epic (and it most certainly deserves that title) shows the reader the early formation of computer language that developed thanks to code-breakers within the U.S. and German intelligence communities. This may sound horribly boring, but it is far from tedious. Author Stephenson knows not to bore readers. He incorporates cryptanalysis into everyday life, often with hysterically funny results (at one point a character relates his masturbatory behavior to helping solve enemy codes; and another time the London street layout helps design a code system that is nearly unbreakable). All of the characters are incredibly human, from the earliest "geeks" (Richard Waterhouse and Avi) to the rough-and-tumble WW II gladiators (U.S. Marine Bobby Shaftoe and General Douglas MacArthur). There are deadly battles with Japanese soldiers, crushing encounters with German U-boats, and even a treasure hunt finale that’ll tickle your funny bone. There’s romance between a geeky code breaker and the young granddaughter of Bobby Shaftoe. There’s government conspiracies, and unlikely alliances between men on opposite sides of the war. There’s ...just too much to put into one review! Fortunately, though, Neal Stephenson (author) masterfully ties all of these threads together and culminates it into one of the best conclusions seen in novel length fiction history.

At 1,130 pages long (paperback), the thickness of Cryptonomicon may be a deal-breaker for some readers. Don’t let it be. The author’s able prose is sustained throughout its ample length and will keep readers coming back to see what awaits the Shaftoes, the Waterhouses, the Roots, and the Dengos.

A prodigious novel from a genre-busting author, Cyptonomicon defies categorization. It is and isn’t science fiction. It is and isn’t historical fiction. It is and isn’t a techno-thriller. It is and isn’t many things. But the one thing it most certainly is is a masterpiece.

Author Neal Stephenson

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Happiness Sold SeparatelyElinor Mackey’s life is about to unravel. Picking up the phone one evening, she overhears her husband Ted talking to his mistress. She’s not mad at first, just tired of fighting and disgusted with life. That she can’t get pregnant — and that they’ve been trying for years via artificial insemination, etc. — only adds to her deflated nature.

Once all the parties involved realize that Elinor knows about the affair, the situation becomes very complex. Gina Ellison is Ted’s trainer and sexual paramour. And when Ted is kicked out of his wife’s bed/home, he decides to end it with Gina. But then Ted runs into Gina and ...her son? Not ever realizing she had a son (Toby), the boy and Ted hit it off immediately. But Toby’s overly sought after affection from Ted causes more and more problems. As Ted gets back together with Elinor, Toby latches onto him.

Will Ted break it off with Toby (and Gina) so that he and Elinor can have a "normal" life? But what if Ted really wanted to have kids? Elinor can’t, but maybe Gina can. And she already has an interesting and brilliant child. As our characters coalesce, it’s obvious that happiness is sold separately when it comes to life’s big (and little) decisions.

Author Lolly Winston has prose ability, keeping even the most mundane of subjects relatively interesting. Much of the time she has Elinor sitting under an oak tree with a neighbor discussing this or that. Although the subjects they discuss (mostly relationships) are fairly bland, Lolly Winston keeps the story moving along by utilizing good comedic timing and thought-provoking interpersonal matters.

Happiness Sold Separately will most likely appeal to women more than men, as most of what is discussed is something men try to avoid like the plague ("Honey. We need to talk about our relationship." Yikes!). Readers may also feel that the story occasionally reads like an entertaining textbook on modern day relationships more than a character portrayal.

Even so, there’s some quality writing in here. But whether or not readers will like it may depend on how they feel about its subject matter.