Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Written by: Neal Stephenson
Central Theme:
First published: 1999
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Published in 1999 and widely considered to be Neal Stephenson's Magnum Opus, Cryptonomicon is a 1000+ page Sci Fi/Historical novel following three independent yet interrelated story arcs, two of which are set during the Second World War, and the third during the first years of the twenty-first century. Although it treats with some pretty deep, philosophical themes, the novel itself never comes off as dry or preachy, largely due to Stephenson's unique style of narration. Equal parts profound and profane, Cryptonomicon tells the story of multiple generations within the Waterhouse and Shaftoe families, as well as their attempts to unravel the secrets of a vast conspiracy affecting history and society.

The Heroes:

  • Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse: A young mathematician/cryptographer serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy as a part of Detachment 2702, a secret paramilitary organization created for the purpose of keeping the Axis Powers ignorant of the fact that the Allies have broken the Enigma cypher. Is prone to drifting off on profound, philosophical, and occasionally nonsensical musings. His best friend is Alan Turing.
  • Bobby Shaftoe: Badass Marine Raider responsible for putting Waterhouse and company's plans into action. Has a fondness for poetry, particularly Haiku. Don't get him started on giant, Nipponese-eating lizards. Trust us on this.
  • Randall Waterhouse: A geek with a love of mathematics and computer science. Is currently involved in an attempt to create a "Data Haven", where information may be freely exchanged without government interference. He is the grandson of Lawrence Waterhouse.
  • Goto Dengo: a Nipponese private and mining engineer who is sent to New Guinea, and largely serves as a tour of just how horrible the Pacific Theater actually was.

It should be noted that this novel takes place in the same universe as another of Stephenson's works, The Baroque Cycle, which prominently features a number of ancestors of Cryptonomicon's characters.

Tropes used in Cryptonomicon include:
  • Action Girl -- Amy Shaftoe. Naturally, since she is the granddaughter of Badass Marine Bobby Shaftoe.
  • Ancient Tradition -- Societas Eruditorum.
  • Ass Shove -- Upon learning of his niece's impending engagement to Enoch, Otto Kivistik produces a ring from out of his anus for him to give to Julieta. This is explained by Uncle Otto being a jewel smuggler who keeps a small container "down there" for just such an occasion.
  • Assimilation Plot -- The ultimate goal of Loeb's Hive Mind project. Ultimately fails because, apart from believing that individuality is an illusion, none of its supporters can agree on anything.
  • Author Avatar: There are quite a few similarities between Stephenson and Randy, including their intellectual pedigree.
  • Bandaged Face
  • Bi the Way -- Bischoff
  • Blah Blah Blah -- Waterhouse explaining the digital computer to Comstock.

"Dr. Turing, of Cambridge University, has pointed out that bobbadah bobbadah hoe daddy yanga langa furjeezama bing jingle oh yeah," Waterhouse says, or words to that effect.

  • Brand X: Randy's computer runs a very famous Finnish UNIX-like OS called Finux. The boot loader is also called "FILO".
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer -- Both Waterhouse and Shaftoe. Also Douglas MacArthur, who is so weird Shaftoe can't tell if he's hallucinating whenever the General is around.
  • Cassandra Truth: Randy warns his girlfriend and her friends early in the book about a minor scandal that erupts around "War As Text".
  • Chekhov's Gun -- Quite a few minor details turn out to be important.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry -- Enoch Root is also known as Enoch the Red, and Randy compares him to a Lord of the Rings wizard.
  • Cool Old Guy -- Enoch Root.
  • Cool Ship -- V-Million.
  • Conspiracy Theorist -- Lawrence Waterhouse apparently believes that the world is actually ruled by a cabal of elderly women who influence world events by controlling how often world leaders get laid. We're mostly sure that he's just being his normal Cloudcuckoolander self. Mostly.
  • Crazy Survivalist -- Andrew Loeb.
    • Averted with Tom Howard, who is an enthusiastic user and collector of automatic weapons but is fairly mentally stable beyond a...quirk or two the book gets into.
  • Deadpan Snarker -- A fair number of the cast get in a few good ones. Also Douglas MacArthur's general mode of communication with troops who have failed him.
  • Dinner and a Show -- Randy is first introduced at a fancy restaurant, being pushed over the edge by his girlfriend's friends into picking an academic fistfight.
  • Everyone Is Armed -- Including the nerds.
  • Fetish -- Tom Howard's chapter long dissertation of hosiery/furniture fetishism. It's not clear whether it's sincere or not.
  • Friendly Enemy -- Waterhouse is overjoyed to learn that his opposite number amongst the Axis nations is none other than his old college buddy, Rudolph von Hacklheber. He works with Turing, and Turing was "Rudy"'s boyfriend at the time.
  • Gainax Ending -- Stephenson is famous for these. Cryptonomicon is no exception.
  • Gatling Good -- A Vickers machine gun is described in loving detail.
  • Generation Xerox -- Nearly all of the characters have ancestors in The Baroque Cycle.
  • Gestapo -- They only show up once: Rudy is less than impressed.
  • Hard on Soft Science -- Although really more like "Hard on Liberal Arts". Pretty much anybody who has a graduate degree and isn't a scientist is a Jerkass who has no comprehension of the "real" world, notably G.E.B. Kivistik and Randy's ex, Charlene. Balanced somewhat in that these people, unlike most of the hard scientists, have genuine social skills, and averted in Enoch Root, who has a mathematical background but also a strong philosophical one.
  • Hollywood Encryption -- Thoroughly averted. Bruce Schneier served as a consultant, and the book also draws on stuff you can find on actual textbooks.
  • Hollywood Hacking -- Averted to some degree; Randy goes through a fairly elaborate attempt to anonymize his Internet traffic to hack a computer, only to have to log in with his own name when he realizes the computer is pretty unhackable.
  • I Know You Know I Know -- the purpose of Detachment 2702.
  • Incurable Cough of Death -- Lawrence's mom died from what the book suggests was polio. The kind of disease that puts one in an iron lung. And leaves other infected persons with a permanent limp.
  • Instructional Dialogue -- A little more subtle than in Anathem, but still very much present.
  • It Got Worse -- Goto Dengo's whole ordeal, from when Americans attack until he meets up with his fellow Nipponese again. I mean, first the bombs, then the flaming oil everywhere, then the whole nearly dying of thirst and exhaustion thing, then the sharks, then the other sharks, then the sharp coral, then the poisonous snake, then the cannibals, then an Australian patrol, then a death sentence for surrendering to the enemy...and then, it gets even worse.
  • Jerkass: Earl Comstock and then some. He steals ideas from Waterhouse that would have made him millions, and uses the NSA as his own private codebreakers. His son, who we don't see much, is apparently worse.
  • Knife Nut -- Loeb.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • Metafictional Title -- In-Universe, the Cryptonomicon is a comprehensive study of cryptography, both for making and breaking codes.
  • Mythology Gag/Continuity Nod: In Rudy and Alan's dialogue about Leibniz, Rudy refers to an attempt by Leibniz to catalog everything that exists, and Alan exasperatedly comments that since no one but Rudy seems to have heard of this attempt, it can be assumed that he failed. This attempt was a sizable chunk of the plot of The Baroque Cycle.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed -- Between Qwghlm and Kinakuta, almost half the story takes place in fictional locations. Qwghlm is a small, rustic island northwest of Great Britain with a language and culture that parody Welsh. Kinakuta is an island between the Philippines and Borneo ruled by a Sultan with very IT-friendly policies. - However, many historical figures appear in person.
  • Noodle Incident: Virtually every description of the book will mention something along the lines of "a lengthy piece of erotica concerning antique furniture and black stockings." Reading the said piece isn't much more enlightening.
    • Douglas Shaftoe's run-in with a Comstock on a ski-lift in 1979 also counts, in that we never see it. But we know it was richly deserved.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: An entire family of them, the Comstocks.
  • Ocean Madness -- Goto, being an Okinawan who grew up by the sea, manages to swim from open sea to New Guinea. His fellow from Tokyo, however, loses it.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Two scenes, specifically; Douglas MacArthur, an unflappable Deadpan Snarker.
  • The Reveal: Randy's last name is Waterhouse. We don't find out until we're well into the book, and it suddenly changes the meaning of everything about him up to that point. The reader finds out when he is, quite mundanely, producing his passport.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The academic conference that ultimately ruins Randy and Charlene's relationship, and also Charlene's lengthy article on beards. Similarly, the Nipponese Army, when it has to come up with terms to save face: "retrograde maneuver" (i.e. "retreat") comes up repeatedly.
  • Shout-Out -- Randy compares everyone to characters and races from Lord of the Rings. He's a dwarf, Enoch is Gandalf, Loeb is Gollum, etc.
  • Shown Their Work -- If there's a commercial literature work that does features real cryptography, down to and including a working Perl script for a cipher commissioned from a real cryptography guru, as well as including entire lectures on information theory, it's definitely Cryptonomicon.
    • Also detailed is computer science, politics, diving technique, etc. If you stop to think about all the research Neal has done, it'll be a long time before you finish the book.
  • Super-Detailed Fight Narration
  • Staying Alive -- Enoch Root.
  • Invisible to Gaydar -- Alan Turing.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation -- The Waterhouses are especially prone to this.
  • Tangled Family Tree -- The Shaftoes. Lampshaded when Amy states that while she could try to explain her actual relation to her "cousin" M.A., Randy would "start shifting around and heaving great big sighs before [she] got more than half way through."
  • Taking You with Me: Bobby Shaftoe blows himself up with a large and ship-like bunker of Nipponese soldiers
    • Averted in that whenever Nipponese soldiers try this, they die.

"Don't you guys know banzai charges never work?!"
"Everyone who learned that died in banzai charges."

  • The Vietnam War: Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe is a veteran.
  • Title Drop: Subverted: the titular Cryptonomicon, which is a large Allied codebook, only gets a passing mention around the beginning of the story.
  • Translation: "Yes" -- Several of the Qwghlmian-English parts. Bonus points for bringing in information theory: the language's information density is so high, it's difficult to transmit clearly over a radio channel.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting -- One set during WWII, the other durring the first years of the twenty-first century.
  • War Is Hell -- Stephenson's depiction of the Second World War is incredibly brutal. Gets really depressing once you realize it's a case of Shown Their Work; the Nipponese were not nice people.
  • Warrior Poet -- Bobby Shaftoe.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome? -- Cap'n Crunch cereal. Breakfast has never been so pornographic.
    • Also, the Penthouse letter.
  • Wicked Cultured: At one point we meet Herman Goring, who is a terrible person...but he's got some great taste in art.
  • World of Badass -- The narration posits that any organism living on Earth after billions of years of evolution is a "memetically programmed killing machine." (Even nerds like Lawrence.)
  • World War II
  • You Are Number Six -- Loeb insists on being referred to as RIST 9E03. No one outside of his immediate circle of followers calls him this.