Saturday, January 21, 2006

Codes and Computers

I have returned from the land of Flu. I have not been there in a very long time. Since I can't remember when last I had the flu I didn't remember what getting it felt like so ended up very surprised. Now that I am on the other side of it, I hope that I have many years ahead of me in which to forget again. When the worst of it passed and I felt like I could read I had plenty of material on hand. I wanted something not too taxing. At first I thought The Ghost Writer would be great but between my fever and the scary face on the cover of the book I was worried what kind of dreams I'd end up having. So, since I was entering the last bit of Cryptonomicon where all the pieces begin to fall together in an exciting rush to the end, I went for that. What a fun book it ended up being. It's one of those books that takes place in past and present simultaneously with some of the same characters in both parts as well as the descendants of other characters in the present part. The story that takes place in the past happens during World War Two and intermingles code breaking, the creation of the digital computer and gold into intersecting plotlines. The present story takes place in the nebulous present but guessing sometime around the late 90s (not so present anymore, but it doesn't feel that way) and intermingles modern day computer encryption, code breaking and gold in intersecting plotlines. By the end it all merges into one story in the present. While nearly always interesting and filled with some great humor, the book could have used a bit of editing--the mass market is a little over 1100 pages long. But what I would have edited out--mathematical explanations of codes, etc--is probably what the main audience of this book loved so much. Or maybe I should have somehow managed to read the entire book while under the influence of a fever because somehow the math started to make sense to my hot brain. Then again, maybe it didn't make sense and I just thought that it did. I do not unreservedly recommend this book. It has a high geek factor and therefore you must at least be on the geek fringe to enjoy the book. I do not consider myself a geek. I'm more of a geek groupie or something. I'm just geeky enough to find a book like Cryptonomicon really cool, but not geeky enough to read the appendix on one of the codes in the book and try my own hand at encryption. Though since I read this for my occasional book group, I suspect at least one of them actually is just geeky enough to try and figure out how to code something. I'll find out next weekend unless she wishes to leave a confessional comment before then.