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It is not easy, but you have to be willing to make mistakes. And the earlier you make those mistakes, the better.
Jane Cahill Pfeiffer
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Cryptonomicon (1999) is a novel by Neal Stephenson. It concurrently follows story lines set in World War II and the early days of Internet commerce. The World War II plot follows the exploits of cryptographers and commandos affiliated with Bletchley Park as they decypher Axis codes while employing unconventional tactics to conceal their successes. The modern story line follows the WWII characters' children and grandchildren (West Coast-based technologists, marine salvage experts and mining contractors) are attempting to use modern cryptologic, telecom and computer technology to build the Crypt, a data haven in Kinakuta, to facilitate anonymous internet banking with electronic money and (later) digital gold currency and (eventually) distribution of Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod (HEAP) media for instructing genocide-target populations on defensive warfare.

  • Let's set the existence-of-God issue 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.
    • This is the first line in the book (not counting the prologue). The quote below about the "opening line problem" refers back to this.
  • But what if it isn't that clear-cut? What if the action is one that would merely be really improbable unless the Americans were breaking the code? What if the Americans, in the long run, are just too damn lucky?
    • Lawrence Waterhouse contemplates the downside of an enemy code being broken, Chapter 5, "Indigo"
  • One evening when Avi and his family had been over for dinner, Randy had said, "I'm the beard, Avi's the suit," as a way of explaining their business relationship, and from that point Charlene had been off and running. Charlene has recently finished a scholarly article, deconstructing beards.
    • Chapter 6, "The Spawn of Onan"
  • "So, you're the UNIX guru." At the time, Randy was still stupid enough to be flattered by this attention, when he should have recognized them as bone-chilling words.
    Three years later, he left the Astronomy Department without a degree, and with nothing to show for his labors except six hundred dollars in his bank account and a staggeringly comprehensive knowledge of UNIX.
    • Chapter 6, "The Spawn of Onan"
  • Hollywood was merely a specialized bank — a consortium of large financial entities that hired talent, almost always for a flat rate, ordered that talent to create a product, and then marketed that product to death, all over the world, in every conceivable medium. The goal was to find products that would keep on making money forever, long after the talent had been paid off and sent packing. Casablanca, for example, was still putting asses in seats decades after Bogart had been paid off and smoked himself into an early grave.
    • Chapter 6, "The Spawn of Onan"
  • In the Tolkien, not the endocrinological or Snow White sense, Randy is a dwarf. Tolkien’s Dwarves were stout, taciturn, vaguely magical characters who spent a lot of time in the dark hammering out beautiful things, e.g. Rings of Power. Thinking of himself as a Dwarf who had hung up his war-ax for a while to go sojourning in the Shire, where he has surrounded by squabbling Hobbits (i.e., Charlene’s friends), had actually done a lot for Randy’s peace of mind over the years. He knew perfectly well that if he were stuck in academia these people, and the things they said, would seem momentous to him. But where he came from, nobody had been taking these people seriously for years.
    • Chapter 6, "The Spawn of Onan"
  • Randy watches them in turn: Bad Suit Asians and Good Suit Asians. The former have grizzled buzz cuts and nicotine-tanned skin and look like killers. They are wearing bad suits, not because they can't afford good ones, but because they don't give a shit. They are from China.
    • Description of Crypt clients, specifically General Wing's lieutenants, Chapter 36, "Sultan"
  • The "sir, yes sir" business, which would probably sound like horseshit to any civilian in his right mind, makes sense to Shaftoe and to the officers in a deep and important way. Like a lot of others, Shaftoe had trouble with military etiqette at first. He soaked up quite a bit of it growing up in a military family, but living the life was a different matter. Having now experienced all the phases of military existence except for the terminal ones (violent death, court-martial, retirement), he has come to understand the culture for what it is: a system of etiquette within which it becomes possible for groups of men to live together for years, travel to the ends of the earth, and do all kinds of incredibly weird shit without killing each other or completely losing their minds in the process.
    Unless you are as smart as Johann Karl Friedrich Gauss, savvy as a half-blind Calcutta bootblack, tough as General William Tecumseh Sherman, rich as the Queen of England, emotionally resilient as a Red Sox fan, and as generally able to take care of yourself as the average nuclear missile submarine commander, you should never have been allowed near this document. Please dispose of it as you would any piece of high-level radioactive waste and then arrange with a qualified surgeon to amputate your arms at the elbows and gouge your eyes from their sockets. This warning is necessary because once, a hundred years ago, a little old lady in Kentucky put a hundred dollars into a dry goods company which went belly-up and only returned her ninety-nine dollars. Ever since then the government has been on our asses. If you ignore this warning, read on at your peril — you are dead certain to lose everything you've got and live out your final decades beating back waves of termites in a Mississippi Delta leper colony.
    Still reading? Great. Now that we've scared off the lightweights, let's get down to business.
    • Intro of mock summary of Avi's business plan template; Chapter 26, "Why"
  • Phase n: before the ink on our Nobel Prize certificates is dry, we will confiscate the property of our competitors, including anyone foolish enough to have invested in their pathetic companies. We will sell all of these people into slavery. All proceeds will be redistributed among our shareholders, who will hardly notice, since Spreadsheet 265 demonstrates that, by this time, the company will be larger than the British Empire at its zenith.....
    RESUMES: Just recall the opening reel of The Magnificent Seven and you won’t have to bother with this part; you should crawl to us on hands and knees and beg us for the privilege of paying our salaries.
    • Conclusion of mock summary of Avi's business plan template; Chapter 26, "Why"
  • TURING is such a visual magazine that it cannot be viewed without the protection of welding goggles, and so they insisted on a picture. A photographer was dispatched to the Crypt, which was found visually wanting. A tizzy ensued. The photographer was diverted to Manila Bay where he captured Randy standing on a boat deck next to a big reel of orange cable....
    • Self-referential description by the author, as he was featured in a nearly identical photograph on the December 1996 cover (issue 4.12) of Wired, nearly three years before Cryptonomicon was published, accompanying the article "Mother Earth, Mother Board; Chapter 26, "Why"
  • Like a lot of techies, he can become obstreperous when he decides that others are not being logical. Randy holds up his hands, palms out, in surrender.
    "I stipulate that this does not make sense," Randy says ... "Will you agree with me that the world is full of irrational people, and crazy situations? ... If you and I are going to hack and get paid for it, people have to hire us, right? ... That means dealing with those people, at some level, unpleasant as it may be. ... And if you or I tried to deal with them, we would go out of our minds. True? ... It is good, then, that people like Avi and Beryl have come into existence, because they are our interface."
    An image from the Cold War comes into Randy's head. He reaches out with both hands and gropes in the air. "Like those glove boxes that they use to handle plutonium. See?"
    • Randy placates Eberhart, who is suspicious about Epiphyte principals meeting in private, Chapter 31, "Diligence"
  • "...when I talk about Holocaust type stuff happening in Mexico, you give me this shit about the mean nasty old Spaniards! Why? Because history has been distorted ... As the descendant of people who were expelled from Spain by the Inquisition, I have no illusions about them," Avi says, "but, at their worst, the Spaniards were a million times better than the Aztecs. I mean, it really says something about how bad the Aztecs were that, when the Spaniards showed up and raped the place, things actually got a lot better around there.”
    • Chapter 46, "HEAP"
  • He hears the flint of Julieta's lighter itching once, twice, thrice behind his ear. Then her chest pushes him up as her lungs fill with smoke.
    • Chapter 52, "Meteor"
  • "Haven’t seen Enoch Root recently. What has he been up to...?"
    "Don’t know. ...But I think he got a Russian radio transmitter ...."
    "... Did he ever get it to work?"
    "Beats me," Shaftoe says, "but when big pieces of burning shit start falling out of the sky in my neighborhood, makes me wonder."
    • Chapter 52, "Meteor"
  • World-class cereal-eating is a dance of fine compromises. The giant heaping bowl of sodden cereal, awash in milk, is the mark of the novice. Ideally one wants the bone-dry cereal nuggets and the cryogenic milk to enter the mouth with minimal contact and for the entire reaction between them to take place in the mouth. ... The next-best thing is to work in small increments, putting only a small your bowl at a time and eating it all up before it becomes a pit of loathsome slime, which takes about thirty seconds in the case of Cap'n Crunch.
    • Chapter 56, "Crunch" (portions of the chapter were also published as a short story by the same name in Disco 2000, 1999)
  • But then, Cap'n Crunch in a flake form would be suicidal madness; it would last about as long, when immersed in milk, as snowflakes sifting down into a deep fryer. No, the cereal engineers at [[w:General Mills|General Mills] had to find a shape that would minimize surface area, and, as some sort of compromise between the sphere that is dictated by Euclidean geometry and whatever sunken treasure related shapes that the cereal aestheticians were probably clamoring for, they came up with this hard -to-pin-down striated pillow formation.
    • Chapter 56, "Crunch" (portions of the chapter were also published as a short story by the same name in Disco 2000, 1999)
  • Give those Finns a grim, stark, bleak moral dilemma and a bottle of schnapps and you could pretty much forget about them for forty-eight hours.
    • Chapter 60, "Rocket"
  • "So let me get this straight," Shaftoe says, "when you really were fucking Julieta, you said you weren't and so you were able to remain a priest. Now you're going to marry her and not fuck her and say that you are.“
    "If you're trying to say that my relationship with the Church is very complicated, I already knew that, Bobby.”
    • Bobby and Enoch, Chapter 60, "Rocket"
  • A series of parabolas is plotted out, the mortar supporting one leg and exploding Germans supporting the opposite. Ask a Russian engineer to design you a shoe, and he'll give you something that looks like the box the shoe came in. Ask him to design something that will slaughter Germans, and he turns into Thomas fucking Edison.
    • Bobby Shaftoe studies illustrated instructions for a Soviet mortar rocket, Chapter 60, "Rocket"
  • Two large black Mercedes issue from the forest, like bad ideas emerging from the dim mind of a green lieutenant. ... Germans climb out and stand up.... Several are carrying those keen submachine guns that are the trade mark of German infantry, and the envy of Yanks and Tommies, who must go burdened with primeval hunting rifles.
    This is the moment, then. Nazis are right over there and it is the job of Bobby Shaftoe, and to a lesser degree Enoch Root, to kill them all. Not just a job, but a moral requisite, because they are the living avatars of Satan, who publicly acknowledge being just as bad and vicious as they really are.
    • Chapter 60, "Rocket"
  • Swedish people are beginning to come out of their houses. They look exactly like American midwesterners, and Shaftoe's always startled when they fail to speak English.
    • Chapter 60, "Rocket"
  • "I found weaknesses everywhere," Von Hacklheber says. "Most codes were designed by dilettantes and amateurs with no grasp of the underlying mathematics. It is really quite pitiable."
    "Including the Enigma?" Bischoff asks.
    "Don't even talk to me of that shit," Von Hacklheber says. "I dispensed with it almost immediately."
    "What do you mean, dispensed with it?" Root asks.
    "Proved that it was shit," Von Hacklheber says.
    "But the entire Wehrmacht still uses it," Bischoff says.
    Von Hacklheber shrugs and looks at the burning tip of his cigarette. "You expect them to throw all those machines away because one mathematician writes a paper?"
  • Father John snaps awake, and Mr. Drkh looks as if he's just taken a fifty caliber round in the small of his back. Clearly, Mr. Drkh has had a long career of being the weirdest person in any given room, but he's about to go down in flames.
    • Chapter 64, "Organ"
  • Many of the females wouldn’t talk to him it all, or would come near him only the better to fix him with frosty glares and appraise his presumed new girlfriend. This only stands to reason, since, before she left for Yale, Charlene had the better part of a year to popularize her version of events. She has been able to structure the discourse to her advantage, just like a dead white male.
    • Chapter 65, "Home"
  • Weirdly, the ones who adopted the sternest and most terrible Old Testament moral tone were the Modern Language Association types who believed that everything was relative and that, for example, polygamy was as valid as monogamy. The friendliest and most sincere welcome he’d gotten was from Scott, a chemistry professor, and Laura, a pediatrician, who… had one day divulged to Randy, in strict confidence, that … they had been spiriting their three children off to church every Sunday morning, and even had them all baptized.
    … they were the only people who made any effort to make Amy feel welcome. ... even if they thought he had done something evil, they at least had a framework, a sort of procedure manual, for dealing with transgressions.
    … the post-modern, politically correct atheists were like people who had suddenly found themselves in charge of a big and unfathomably complex computer system (viz. society) with no documentation or instructions of any kind, and so whose only way to keep the thing running was to invent and enforce certain rules with a kind of neo-Puritanical rigor…. Whereas people who were wired into a church were like UNIX system administrators who, while they might not understand everything, at least had some documentation…. They were, in other words, capable of displaying adaptability.
    • Chapter 65, "Home"
  • ... the hot rod's trunk, a ferrous, oily chasm all a'bang with tire chains, battered ammo boxes, and, unless Randy's eyes are playing tricks on him, a pair of samurai swords.
    • 300-year-old Shaftoe family heirlooms "reappear" (although it is their first appearance in a published work by Neal Stephenson), Chapter 68, "Caravan"
  • M.A. is a pretty straightforward by the book type, the kind who'll get good grades and fit well into any kind of hierarchical organization. Robin, on the other hand, is more of a wild card. He has the makings of either a total loser or a successful entrepreneur, or maybe one of those guys who will oscillate between those two poles. Randy realizes now, in retrospect, that he has spilled a hell of a lot of information to Robin, in just a couple of days, about the Internet and electronic money and digital currency and the new global economy. Randy's mental state is such that he is prone to babbling aimlessly for hours at a time. Robin has hoovered it all up."
    • Description of cousins Marcus Aurelius Shaftoe and Robin Shaftoe, resembling their distant Shaftoe forbears, Bob and Jack, in Quicksilver, Chapter 68, "Caravan"
  • "I mean," Randy says, "from the general attitude they copped, when they fishtailed to a stop in the middle of my front yard and leapt out of their red hot, bug encrusted vehicle, fresh from Tennessee, obviously the number one mission objective was to ensure that the flower of Shaftoe womanhood was being treated with all of the respect, decency, worshipfulness, et cetera, properly owed it.”
    "Oh. That's not really the vibe that I got.”
    "Oh, it wasn't? Really?”
    "No. Randy, my family sticks together. Just 'cause we haven't seen each other for a while doesn't mean our obligations have lapsed.”
    • America "Amy" Shaftoe and Randy Waterhouse discussing Marcus Aurelius and Robin Shaftoe's motives, Chapter 68, "Caravan"
  • "One of the most frightening things about your true nerd, for many people, is not that he's socially inept — because everybody's been there— but rather his complete lack of embarrassment about it."
    "Which is still kind of pathetic."
    "It was pathetic when they were in high school," Randy says. "Now it's something else. Something very different from pathetic."
  • Chester's eyebrows go up. Amy glances out the window; her hair, skin, and clothes take on a pronounced reddish tinge from Doppler effect as she drops out of the conversation at relativistic velocity.
    • Chapter 72, "Seattle"
  • Chester nods all the way through this, but does not rudely interrupt Randy as a younger nerd would. Your younger nerd takes offense quickly when someone near him begins to utter declarative sentences, because he reads into it an assertion that he, the nerd, does not already know the information being imparted. But your older nerd has more self confidence, and besides, understands that frequently people need to think out loud. And highly advanced nerds will furthermore understand that uttering declarative sentences whose contents are already known to all present is part of the social process of making conversation and therefore should not be construed as aggression under any circumstances.
    • Chapter 72, "Seattle"
  • "I don't even know when they got married," Randy says. "Isn't that horrible?"
    "September of 1945," Amy says. "I dragged it out of her."
    "Girl talk."
    "I didn't know you were even rigged for girl talk."
    "We can all do it."
    • Chapter 72, "Seattle"
  • "We make our way in the world by knowing that two plus two equals four, and sticking to our guns in a way that is kind of nerdy and that maybe hurts people's feelings sometimes. I'm sorry.”
    "Hurts whose feelings? People who think that two plus two equals five?”
    "People who put a higher priority on social graces than on having every statement uttered in a conversation be literally true.”
    "Like, for example . . . female people?”
    • Randy and Amy, Chapter 72, "Seattle"
  • Grandmother has always had this knack for telling people the obvious in a way that is scrupulously polite but that makes the recipient feel like a butthead for having wasted her time.
    "It is, uh, I think, kind of unusual," Randy says, "for a man to be in both the Army and the Navy during the same war. Usually it's one or the other.”
    "Lawrence had both an Army uniform and a Navy uniform," Grandmother says, in the same tone she'd used to say he had both a small intestine and a large intestine, "and he would wear whichever one was appropriate.”
    "Of course he would," Randy says.
    • Chapter 72, "Seattle"
  • They have been in suspended animation for more than fifty years, stored on a dead medium, and now Randy is going to breathe life into them again... a few strands of fossil DNA broken out of their amber shells and released in the world again ... if they flourish, it should make Randy's life a little more interesting. Not that it's devoid of interest now, but it is easier to introduce new complications than to resolve the old ones.
    • Chapter 72, "Seattle"
  • "That time in Seattle--during the lawsuit--was a fucking nightmare. I came out of it dead broke, without a house, without anything except a girlfriend and a knowledge of UNIX."
    "Well, that's something," Avi says. "Normally those two are mutually exclusive."
    • Chapter 74, "The Most Cigarettes."
  • "Well," Avi says, "to begin with, I think it's better to aspire to having Amy than to actually have Charlene."
    "Ouch! You are a cruel man."
    "Sometimes wanting is better than having."
    • Chapter 74, "The Most Cigarettes." (Avi's last remark paraphrases a line by TV screenwriter Theodore Sturgeon in Star Trek: The Original Series : "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true." Original line spoken by the character "Spock" in the Season 2, 1967, episode, "Amok Time.")
  • "Randy, get this through your head. The Dentist doesn't give a shit about the submarine. The Dentist doesn't give a shit about the submarine.”
    "The Dentist doesn't give a shit about the submarine," Randy says.
    "So, I am going to replace this cassette," Avi says, popping the tape out of the machine, "and start driving really really fast.”
    • Chapter 74, "The Most Cigarettes"
  • He has the mysterious physical strength that seems to be common among bald men, and he has a kind of mesmerizing leadership power over the other Chinese. He somehow manages to get them excited about moving the boulder.
    • Description of Wing in 1944 (Chinese prisoner in a super-secret Japanese excavation site in the Phillipines, future Red Army general), Chapter 73, "Rock"
  • It is the voice of an old man. Not a voice worn out or cracking with age, but a voice that's been slowly worn smooth, like the steps of a cathedral. ... The speaker pauses frequently before, during, and after sentences, as if he's been spending a lot of time alone, and is having trouble hitting his conversational stride.
    • Randy's first voice conversation with "," Chapter 78, "Pontifex"
  • "You should be a billionaire, Randy. Thank god you're not.”
    "Why do you say that?”
    "Oh, because then you'd be a highly intelligent man who never has to make difficult choices, who never has to exert his mind. It is a state much worse than being a moron.”
    • Root and Randy, Chapter 78, "Pontifex"
  • According to their family lore, the first Shaftoes to come to America worked as indentured servants in tobacco and cotton fields, raising their eyes longingly towards those cool mountains as they stooped in sweltering fields. As soon as they could get away, they did, and headed uphill. The mountains of Luzon beckon Shaftoe in the same way away from the malarial lowlands, up towards Glory.
    • Chapter 79, "Glory"
  • "Jesus! Haven't you guys spent any time at all around people like Comstock? Can't you recognize bullshit? Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head, 'My goodness, this appears to be bullshit'?"'
    • Doug Shaftoe, speaking with the Epiphyte II Corp. principals, Kinakuta, Chapter 80, "The Primary"
  • "You know something?" fires back Doug. "During the Vietnam war, which was Old Man Comstock's brainchild, the American military presence in the Philippines was huge. That son of a bitch had soldiers and marines crawling over Luzon, supposedly on training missions. But I think they were looking for something. I think they were looking for the Primary. ... A lot of people think that the Primary is still waiting to be discovered.”
    • Chapter 80, "The Primary"
  • "Someone is trying to send you a message," Attorney Alejandro says, scant minutes into his first interview with his new client.
    Randy's ready for it. "Why does everyone here have these incredibly cumbersome ways of sending me messages? Don't you people have e-mail?"
    • Chapter 84, "Captivity"
  • "You know what this is? It's one of those men-are-from-Mars, women-are-from-Venus things."
    "I have not heard of this phrase but I understand immediately what you are saying."
    "It's one of those American books where once you're heard the title you don't even need to read it," Randy says.
    "Then I won't."
    • Chapter 84, "Captivity"
  • People smell all kinds of ways before they have burned, but only one way afterwards.
    • Chapter 89, "Slaves"
  • He could very easily take care of the Hunk of Burning Love problem now that he has privacy, but astonishes himself by electing not to. This may be perverse; he's not sure. The last month and a half of total celibacy, relieved only by nocturnal emissions at roughly two-week intervals, has definitely got him in a mental space he has never been to before, or come near, or even heard about. When he was in jail he had to develop a fierce mental discipline in order not to be distracted by thoughts of sex. He got alarmingly good at it after a while. It's a highly unnatural approach to the mind/body problem, pretty much the antithesis of every sixties and seventies-tinged philosophy that he ever imbibed from his Baby Boomer elders. It's the kind of thing he associates with scary hardasses: Spartans, Victorians, and mid-twentieth-century American military heroes. It has turned Randy into something of a hardass in his approach to hacking, and meanwhile, he suspects, it has got him into a much more intense and passionate head space than he's ever known when it comes to matters of the heart. He won't really know that until he comes face to face with Amy, which looks like it's going to be a while, since he's just been kicked out of the country where she lives and works. Just as an experiment, he decides he's going to keep his hands off of himself for now. If it makes him a little tense and volatile compared to his pathologically mellow West Coast self, then so be it. One nice thing about being in Asia is that tense, volatile people blend right in. It's not like anyone ever died from being horny.
    • Chapter 92, "Akihabara"
  • "Gold is the corpse of value," says Goto Dengo.
    "I don't understand."
    "If you want to understand, look out the Window!" says the patriarch, and sweeps his cane around in an arc that encompases half of Tokyo. "Fifty years ago, it was flames. Now it is lights! Do you understand? The leaders of Nippon were stupid. They took all the gold out of Tokyo and buried it in holes in the ground in the Philippines! Because they thought that The General would march into Tokyo and steal it. But The General didn't care about the gold. He understood that the real gold is here--" he points to his head "--in the intelligence of the people, and here--" he holds out his hands "--in the work that they do. Getting rid of our gold was the best thing that ever happened to Nippon. It made us rich. Receiving that gold was the worst thing that happened to the Philippines. It made them poor."
    • Goto Dengo to Avi and Randy, present day, Chapter 95, "Goto Sama"
  • "But before this war, all of this gold was out here, in the sunlight. In the world. Yet look what happened." Goto Dengo shudders. "Wealth that is stored up in gold is dead. It rots and stinks. True wealth is made every day by men getting up out of bed and going to work. By schoolchildren doing their lessons, improving their minds. Tell those men that if they want wealth, they should come to Nippon with me after the war. We will start businesses and build things."
    • Goto Dengo to Enoch Root, 1945, Chapter 96, "R.I.P."
  • The gorge is alive with butterflies burning with colors of radioactive purity, and down closer to the rustling water are damselflies, mostly black with aqua bodies that flash in the sun their wings revealing glimpses of salmon and coral red on the underside as they orbit around each other. But mostly the air is filled with this continual slow progress of things that didn't survive, making their way down through the column of air and into the water, which flushes them away: dead leaves and the exoskeletons of insects, sucked dry and eviscerated in some silent combat hundreds of feet above their heads.
    • Chapter 97, "Return"
  • An idea springs out of his forehead fully formed, with no warning. This is how all the best ideas arrive. Ideas that he patiently cultivates from tiny seeds always fail to germinate or else grow up into monstrosities. Good ideas are just there all of a sudden, like angels in the Bible. You cannot ignore them just because they are ridiculous.
    • Lawrence Waterhouse, Chapter 98, "Crib"

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