Stephenson continues his superior work with a tale that is far closer to history than his previous science fiction. Nearly two-thirds of the story takes place during the Second World War -- from the combat beaches of the South Pacific to the code-breaking center at Bletchley Park, England; from espionage and battle in Italy, Norway, and Manila to life aboard a U-boat -- while the remainder involves a cyber-business merger or hostile takeover involving a proposed data haven on the fictitious Pacific island-monarchy of Kinakuta. Actual historic figures such as Alan Turing and MacArthur have meaty cameos alongside macho Marines, techno-geek cryptographers, and an almost superhuman Japanese officer. What connects the two halves of the story are the present-day children (and one or two survivors) of the WW2 cast, and a huge cache of Nazi and Imperial Japanese gold hidden in the mountainous jungle of the Philippines. There are smatterings of cryptography lore, a bit of mathematics, and some topographic drawings to fill out the plot, but the lay reader can skim through those without much worry and just enjoy a rollicking good tale.
This report prepared by David Loftus
In essence this book is predictive historical fiction. In exploring the 20th century history of cryptography, Stephenson weaves a tale of how the modern computerized world has found itself on the brink of a global economy.
There are two plots here. The children of the World War II cryptography plot are involved in the modern cyber-business plot. Stephensen ties the two plots together very well. Secrets revealed in the World War II plot become plot elements in the modern day plot.
The modern day plot involves the establishment of a data haven. Since the book was published, data havens seem to be emerging in reality.
The characters are quirky and interesting. They are not all techno-geeks. Indeed one of the most interesting is a hoo-rah marine.
One word of caution. This book belongs, in part, to the 20th century magical realism school. There are mystical plot elements and a magically wise character that spans the plots. Perhaps a better phrase, considering the technological focus, would be mechanical realism. (If you did not like the "drummer" part of The Diamond Age, you will be bothered by these elements.)
In all, I heartilly recommend this book for the strength of its writing and for the freehand manner in which ideas are splashed acros the pages.
This report prepared by B. Griffin