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Cryptonomicon

by

Cryptonomicon Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

Barrens

Let's set the existence-of-God issues aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born, in Murdo, South Dakota, to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat narrow technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo-which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead.

As nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death-machines went, these were the nicest you could ever hope to meet. In the tradition of his namesake (the Puritan writer John Bunyan, who spent much of his life in jail, or trying to avoid it) the Rev. Waterhouse did not preach in any one place for long. The church moved him from one small town in the Dakotas to another every year or two. It is possible that Godfrey found the lifestyle more than a little alienating, for, sometime during the course of his studies at Fargo Congregational College, he bolted from the fold and, to the enduring agony of his parents, fell into worldy pursuits, and ended up, somehow, getting a Ph.D. in Classics from a small private university in Ohio. Academics being no less nomadic than Congregational preachers, he took work where he could find it. He became a Professor of Greek and Latin at Bolger Christian College (enrollment 322) in West Point, Virginia, where the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers came together to form the estuarial. James, and the loathsome fumes of the big paper mill permeated every drawer, every closet, even the interior pages of books. Godfrey's young bride, nee Alice Pritchard, who had grown up following her itinerant-preacher father across the vastnesses of eastern Montana-where air smelt of snow and sage threw up for three months. Six months later she gave birth to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse.

The boy had a peculiar relationship with sound. When a fire engine passed, he was not troubled by the siren's howl or the bell's clang. But when a hornet got into the house and swung across the ceiling in a broad Lissajous, droning almost inaudibly, he cried in pain at the noise. And if he saw or smelled something that scared him, he would clap his hands over his ears.

One noise that troubled him not at all was the pipe organ in the chapel at Bolger Christian College. The chapel itself was nothing worth mentioning, but the organ had been endowed by the paper mill family and would have sufficed for a church four times the size. It nicely complemented the organist, a retired high school math teacher who felt that certain attributes of the Lord (violence and capriciousness in the Old Testament, majesty and triumph in the New) could be directly conveyed into the souls of the enpewed sinners through a kind of frontal sonic impregnation. That he ran the risk of blowing out the stained-glass windows was of no consequence since no one liked them anyway, and the paper mill fumes were gnawing at the interstitial lead. But after one little old lady too many staggered down the aisle after a service, reeling from tinnitus, and made a barbed comment to the minister about the exceedingly dramatic music, the organist was replaced.

Nevertheless, he continued to give lessons on the instrument. Students were not allowed to touch the organ until they were proficient at the piano, and when this was explained to Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, he taught himself, in three weeks, how to play a Bach fugue, and signed up for organ lessons. Since he was only five years old at the time, he was unable to reach both the manuals and the pedals, and had to play standing-or rather strolling, from pedal to pedal.

When Lawrence was twelve, the organ broke down. That paper mill family had not left any endowment for maintenance, so the math teacher decided to have a crack at it. He was in poor health and required a nimble assistant: Lawrence, who helped him open up the hood of the thing. For the first time in all those years, the boy saw what had been happening when he had been pressing those keys.

For each stop-each timbre, or type of sound, that the organ could make (viz. blockflöte, trumpet, piccolo)-there was a separate row of pipes, arranged in a line from long to short. Long pipes made low notes, short high. The tops of the pipes defined a graph: not a straight line but an upward-tending curve. The organist/math teacher sat down with a few loose pipes, a pencil, and paper, and helped Lawrence figure out why. When Lawrence understood, it was as if the math teacher had suddenly played the good part of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor on a pipe organ the size of the Spiral Nebula in Andromeda-the part where Uncle Johann dissects the architecture of the Universe in one merciless descending ever-mutating chord, as if his foot is thrusting through skidding layers of garbage until it finally strikes bedrock. In particular, the final steps of the organist's explanation were like a falcon's dive through layer after layer of pretense and illusion, thrilling or sickening or confusing depending on what you were. The heavens were riven open. Lawrence glimpsed choirs of angels ranking off into geometrical infinity.

The pipes sprouted in parallel ranks from a broad flat box of compressed air. All of the pipes for a given note-but belonging to different stops-lined up with each other along one axis. All of the pipes for a given stop-but tuned at different pitches-lined up with each other along the other, perpendicular axis. Down there in the flat box of air, then, was a mechanism that got air to the right pipes at the right times. When a key or pedal was depressed, all of the pipes capable of sounding the corresponding note would speak, as long as their stops were pulled out.

Mechanically, all of this was handled in a fashion that was perfectly clear, simple, and logical. Lawrence had supposed that the machine must be at least as complicated as the most intricate fugue that could be played on it. Now he had learned that a machine, simple in its design, could produce results of infinite complexity.

Stops were rarely used alone. They tended to be piled on top of each other in combinations that were designed to take advantage of the available harmonics (more tasty mathematics here!). Certain combinations in particular were used over and over again. Lots of blockflötes, in varying lengths, for the quiet Offertory, for example. The organ included an ingenious mechanism called the preset, which enabled the organist to select a particular combination of stops-stops he himself had chosen-instantly. He would punch a button and several stops would bolt out from the console, driven by pneumatic pressure, and in that instant the organ would become a different instrument with entirely new timbres.

The next summer both Lawrence and Alice, his mother, were colonized by a distant cousin-a stupendous badass of a virus. Lawrence escaped from it with an almost imperceptible tendency to drag one of his feet. Alice wound up in an iron lung. Later, unable to cough effectively, she got pneumonia and died.

Lawrence's father Godfrey freely confessed that he was not...

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Average customer rating based on 12 comments:

2bikefarm, October 21, 2014 (view all comments by 2bikefarm)
Few contemporary novels should be forced reading for future high school & college students: relevant yet contempory, rabble-rousing, incandescent as the George Orwell classics of Animal Farm or 1984, a rare stroke of brilliant love for the free world. But here is one. Could it too grace every dusty shelf or digital personal stack of near-future luminaries? But if you were hoping for a nap, beware... No dusty tomb of the anolog, pedestrian epochs of 24 hr news channels... It's roots are (visceral, personable) tales at the dawn of information technology in the savant minds that decoded signals & secured our freedoms in The Great War, yet the narratives interweave generations--such as in David Mitchell's ambitiously fractal novels--right into our unresolved struggles of internet privacy, virtual currancy, need for mythology to guide us. Captivating and increadibly relevant, this is a story we are all in: a digital age of sharing across boundaries while maintaining refuges of privacy and security, a brave new world. Did I mention it was fun? Try his Snow Crash for a wilder pulp fiction ride, but this book is a true milestone of our time.
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Thomas L Knapp, October 21, 2014 (view all comments by Thomas L Knapp)
Everyone should read everything by Neal Stephenson. Seriously. But if you're looking for a place to start that doesn't have too much of a forward or backward historical learning curve, Cryptonomicon is ideal. It takes place during two eras that are reasonably familiar to most American readers -- World War II and the late 90s/early 00s dot-com phase.

Yes, it's long, but you'll have trouble forcing yourself to put it down.

Yes, it's one of those novels full of, um, novel ideas, but Stephenson is all about STORY and the ideas tend to fall right into place in a plot that moves right along and pulls you with it.

Just take my word for it: You must read Stephenson and you should probably start with Cryptonomicon. Then you'll be ready for Snow Crash or the System of the World trilogy. After that, it's all gravy. Really good gravy with lots of meat in it.
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chipkerchner, March 24, 2013 (view all comments by chipkerchner)
This novel is a very large, in-need of pruning, book. Could have easily done without 500+ pages. It has a lot of cool concepts - cryptology, invention of digital computers, electronic money, more gold than Ft. Knox, intelligence agencies, etc. The evolution of cryptology was interesting. Certainly appealing nerds and techno-geeks.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780380788620
Author:
Stephenson, Neal
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Author:
by Neal Stephenson
Location:
New York :
Subject:
General
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Espionage/Intrigue
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Adventure stories
Subject:
Technological
Subject:
Data encryption.
Subject:
World War, 19
Subject:
Science / High Tech
Subject:
World war, 1939-1945
Subject:
Cryptography
Subject:
Adventure fiction
Subject:
World War, 1939-1945 -- Cryptography.
Subject:
Popular Fiction-Technothrillers
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st Perennial ed.
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Series Volume:
86
Publication Date:
June 2000
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
928
Dimensions:
8.08x5.36x1.61 in. 1.65 lbs.

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Cryptonomicon Used Trade Paper
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Product details 928 pages Perennial (HarperCollins) - English 9780380788620 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Big, complex, and ambitious....This fast-paced, genre-transcending novel is full of absorbing action, witty dialogue and well-drawn characters."
"Review" by , "Stephenson's new book proves that he is the rarest of geniuses."
"Review" by , "Detail-packed, uninhibitedly discursive, with dollops of heavy-handed humor....[H]uge chunks of baldly technical material might fascinate NSA chiefs, computer nerds, and budding entrepreneurs, but ordinary readers are likely to balk..."
"Review" by , "[A] heck of an action/adventure story....Stephenson...lives up to his reputation as a steely-eyed word hacker....[A] hell of a read."
"Review" by , "Stephenson follows his startlingly original Snow Crash...with proof that he can do as well at twice the page-count....Imagine Tom Clancy turning to cyberpunk, and you have some idea of its broad potential appeal."
"Review" by , "An engrossing look at the way the flow of information shapes history. (Grade: A)"
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