The Cryptonomicon Imitation Game

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Sometimes, you just read a book because it amuses, without a real sense of why or what is coming.  Cryptonomicon, which was not a small diversion at 918 pages in my printing, kept me interested.  I can't say I was enthralled or that I couldn't sit it aside, often, without a sense of humor.  But it had good humor - in a wry, cutting, judgmental and similar ways, an interspersed historical basis of which I'll assume some is true, and… it’s listed on NPR’s Top 100 Sci-Fi and Fantasy list (#53), which is my reading guidepost currently.

While I appreciate the referral, I’d categorize this as general fiction.
The general idea is that the Axis powers hid their gold in WWII as a trove for future rebirth of those powers, which time renders a wealth waiting to be rediscovered for greed and personal benefit.  To protect it’s location from pesky Western powers, security was tight and encoded from the beginning.  So, take that narrative, and intersperse it with a modern one featuring the grandson of one of those originally involved who manages to unravel the mystery in the modern day. It has the requisite quirky and entertaining characters, enough of a linear (but bipolar) narrative to move things along, and ample laughs due to author Neal Stephenson’s creativity, currency, opinions and wit.  Oh, and Bobby Shaftoe, rest his soul.

Pertinent quotes:
Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker's game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.
This made him a grad student, and grad students existed not to learn things but to relieve the tenured faculty members of tiresome burdens such as educating people and doing research.
Ask a Soviet engineer to design a pair of shoes and he’ll come up with something that looks like the boxes that the shoes came in; ask him to make something that will massacre Germans, and he turns into Thomas Fucking Edison.
Technology is built on science. Science is like the alchemists' uroburos, continually eating its own tail. The process of science doesn't work unless young scientists have the freedom to attack and tear down old dogmas, to engage in an ongoing Titanomachia. Science flourishes where art and free speech flourish.
It is exciting to discover electrons and figure out the equations that govern their movement; it is boring to use those principles to design electric can openers. From here on out, it's all can openers.
A red dragonfly hovers above a backwater of the stream, its wings moving so fast that the eye sees not wings in movement but a probability distribution of where the wings might be, like electron orbitals: a quantum-mechanical effect that maybe explains why the insect can apparently teleport from one place to another, disappearing from one point and reappearing a couple of meters away, without seeming to pass through the space in between. There sure is a lot of bright stuff in the jungle. Randy figures that, in the natural world, anything that is colored so brightly must be some kind of serious evolutionary badass.
It is conventional now to think of clerics simply as presiders over funerals and weddings.  Even people who routinely go to church (or synagogue or whatever) sleep through the sermons.  That is because the arts of rhetoric and oratory have fallen on hard times, and so the sermons tend not to be very interesting.  But there was a time when places like Oxford and Cambridge existed almost solely to train ministers, and their job was not just to preside over weddings and funerals but also to say something thought-provoking to large numbers of people several times a week.  They were the retail outlets of the profession of philosophy.
There’s much more fun to be had than those thoughtful nuggets would imply, buried gold, as it were, among the crypto technical briefings, bad guys, U-boats, a hilarious Marine, an honorable Nipponese, a very modern (in a sad way) protagonist, and a globe trotting plot.  And, I'll say the history was worth something, more than a setting and less than a crutch.  Had the author not spent a fair amount of time on the invention of the digital computer and Alan Turing, I may have skipped the stellar movie about him, The Imitation Game, even knowing that the ever excellent Benedict Cumberbatch starred in the lead role.

And, strange segue here, if you’re going to watch such a movie, why not with students, faculty and other lofty brains at M.I.T.?   A number certainly have sense enough to enjoy a dollar movie, cheap drinks and popcorn, as college students should.  It was a reminder of precious days years ago when myself and a gang of friends used to rule that particular roost… which happened to be a proper movie theater in a smallish YMCA building on campus, that included a marching band practice room, 13 dorm rooms, a chapel and a vacant swimming pool.  M.I.T.'s theater doesn't have that refined (*cough cough*) ambiance, but they get by.  I'm guessing they're all too busy studying to make a real theater worthwhile anyway. Nerds.  (Yeah, yeah, I know they legally or illegally stream it to their laptops.  Ho. Hum.)  Very good book.  Better movie.











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