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Customer Review

on 17 January 2000
Possibly the first novel to talk convincingly about the economic and social possibilities of the Internet, and one of the best about the crypto scene in World War II, this epic skips around in time, space and various psychological states. Two main stories intertwine two generations apart -- the story of Detachment 2702, a secret military unit dedicated to hiding the fact that the Allies have broken the Enigma cypher system, and the attempts of the Epiphyte Corp to create a "Data Haven" on the Pacific Rim. Stephenson has clearly done his research -- the stuff about crypto is as convincing as his discussions of the politics and technicalities of creating supra-national networks. The two plots twist and turn around each other intricately and the resolution, though rather swift, is satisfying.
I'm unsure how many readers would like ALL of this book -- those with an interest in the internet and comms will definitely enjoy the modern sections, anyone with a strong interest in WWII special operations and the Ultra secret will love the "historical" parts. As someone who finds both fascinating, the entire epic appealed to me... but I fear others might find the book just too much!
That said, there is much entertainment on the way. The characters (especially those in the historical section) are painted with an entertainingly broad brush (with some real-life figures such as Alan Turing making appearances) and Stephenson's style is never less than entertaining. He writes with a quirky eye for place and event, and often digresses into fascinating asides.
This is an eccentric near-masterpiece -- the fifth star is withheld because at times it's just too smart for its own good and perhaps at times Stephenson could've done with a slightly better editor to curb some of his excesses. Immense and immensely entertaining, though.
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