This book is well on its way to being considered a classic. From the opening scene - The Deliverator (I bought the book entirely because a friend made me read the first three pages) - Snow Crash captivates. The story is a blend of cyberpunk, politcal and economic futurism, linguistics, pop culture, and some damn cool characters. Hiro Protagonist, a sometimes-employed hacker, pizza deliveryman, freelance researcher and concert promoter, and Y.T., a skateboard courier, are the center of a whirlwind of activity.
I am having a hard time going any farther here - I don't want to summarize plot, or quote all the good lines, but how else can I convince you that the plot is twisting and captivating, while the storytelling is superb, blending the surreal, the comic, and the emotional. This book is so wonderful a story that it has already been optioned to be made into a movie, but it is so full of ideas that I have read it twice and do not believe I have gotten anywhere near the bottom of it. Everyone I know who has read this book has loved it - I think it is the sort of book which transcends genres and is simply awesome.
My favorite part of the whole book is the beginning of chapter 36. I was stunned. I laughed until I cried.
I just finished reading this book for the third time, and once again was struck by how unbelievably cool this book is. I think that is the best description - there are other books I might say are better (albeit not many), but I have never read another book that is as out-and-out cool as Snow Crash. Well, with the exception of Cosmic Banditos, possibly the coolest book in all of existence...
If Snow Crash is Stephenson's take on the world in 2020, The Diamond Age is his take on the future circa 2080 (that's an estimate, Bjorn has horked off with my copy, so I can't even try to be more precise). The action's not cyberpunk anymore - now we're talking nanotechnology, biological warfare, Asia, and education. But Stephenson is still superb. The Diamond Age features cool characters, a complex plot mixing personal and macro events, and some truly cool scenes.
The subtitle, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, draws our attention to a special book. It is a technological marvel - an interactive, multi-purpose tutorial book to educate a young lady, to make her intelligent, creative, independent, and bold. While much of the plot revolves around the book (much like Infocalypse in Snow Crash), the story is so much more.
In the Feb 96 issue of Locus, which provides reviewers a chance to declare their favorite books of the last year, Charles Brown wrote, "The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson is a wonderful book which defies comparison to anything else." I think that pretty much sums it up.
Neal Stephenson has proven himself to be one of the most consistently brilliant writers around today, both just in the books he writes, and in his seeming endless supply of cool and esoteric knowledge. These two books can only be said to be 'science fiction' inasmuch as they both have a whole heck of a lot of science in them. They are, however, speculative fiction at its finest, without a doubt. Time-wise, they form the bookends of Stephenson's four novels to date (not counting The Big U), showing his consistency in excellence as a writer throughout his career so far.
Zodiac shows that Stephenson's brilliance for naming his characters started very early in his career. Sangamon Taylor is a sort of ecological secret agent - his job is to try to make corporations take responsibility for the havoc they are wreaking on the environment, and he tends to do so in very dramatic ways. The book is written from the first person, and it makes for an interesting read, since Taylor is at times quite a jerk, and is well aware of that fact. He is also a typically bizarre Stephenson hero in terms of his primary occupation - you've gotta love an author whose heroes are things like programmers, mathematicians, high-speed pizza delivery men, and (in this case) chemist/ecological James Bond (a description which Taylor actually hates, preferring to term himself a Toxic Spiderman).
The book is a great read, as most Stephenson books are, and is chock-full of assorted interesting scientific facts and other really cool tidbits. In some ways, the book actually reads a lot like a Tom Clancy thriller, just with a completely different subject matter as its base. In general, a great book.
While I was reading this book, I came up with an description that I think is very fitting. Cryptonomicon reminds me very much of Moby Dick. It is a very dense book, filled with very detailed descriptions of assorted scientific topics that are extremely fascinating if you happen to be interested in the topic (which I usually am), but may be mind-numbingly boring if you are not (as was often the case when I first read Moby Dick).
That little comment aside, Cryptonomicon is a brilliant book.
It covers two time periods simultaneously - World War II and roughly the present day - with characters that are often interrelated across the time periods. This can sometimes get a bit confusing, but for the most part, it just adds yet another layer of complexity to a very pleasingly complex book.
The stories occurring during World War II generally focus on the travels of a brilliant young mathematician (on the scale of Alan Turing, who actually appears as a character in the book) who is part of the US/British organization responsible for cryptography during the war, and a Marine Sergeant who gets swept up in the intrigue that surrounds that secretive organization. The modern day storyline focuses on a couple of programmers who are attempting to hit the economic motherlode and end up getting caught up in the events started by the World War II crowd.
The book contains subplots within subplots, and I know that I'll need to go back and read it several times before I get a complete handle on everything in the book. Overall, the book is fascinating and enjoyable, and basically a really great read. It is definitely not science fiction in the strict definition of the word, and actually probably falls in the overall genre of the Tom Clancy novels, with an eye towards the computer science types rather than the straight military types (for the most part).
The only real downside of the book (and the only reason I rate it as low as an 8) is the aforementioned density. I'm fascinated by cryptography and all things computer science, but there were times when the long asides got to be a little much even for me. So my recommendation is that like Moby Dick, if you find yourself bogged down in a description of something that is just making your brain turn off, gloss over it and continue on with the story.
In general, though, Cryptonomicon is a typical Stephenson
book - excellent writing, great characters, fascinating science...and
most of all, just really, really cool.