Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
This doorstop of a novel (906 pages in my edition) is split into two timelines — one set during WW2 (following Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, an American cryptanalyst, working with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park and other venues to break German and Japanese codes) and one set in the present (following Randy Lawrence Waterhouse, a descendent of Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a computer expert working to set up an unhackable ‘data haven’ on the fictional island of Kinakuta).
The WW2 storyline also follows Bobby Shaftoe, a US Marine, seconded to work for a secret unit, trying to hide the fact that the German and Japanese codes have been broken, and Goto Dengo, a Japanese military engineer, tasked with building a hiding place for Japanese and Nazi gold in the Philippines.
Many other characters, both fictional and historical are also included in the intertwined storylines, with descendants of the WW2 characters crossing each other’s paths and working together.
The basic plot consists of the WW2 characters hunting for the hidden gold as a sideline to their normal duties, and the modern day characters stumbling upon the location of the hoard whilst setting up their telecoms business in the far east.
Despite being nominated for both the Hugo Award and Arthur C. Clarke Award, and winning the Locus Award for best science fiction novel, the story contains next to no SF elements. Just about the only plot points which could make the novel SFnal are the fictional islands of Kinakuta and Qwghlm, and the fictional programming language Finux, all of which could suggest that the story is set in an alternate world.
Of the two timelines, the WW2 one was much more interesting and entertaining than the modern day one. In fact, it could have been spun off as a stand alone novel in its own right and been worth reading. Unless you are really into computing and hacking, the modern day story was a bit of a snoozefest, to be honest.
The writing flowed smoothly enough and the character building was well done in the WW2 timeline, but not so much in the modern day one, where I found I didn’t really care about any of the characters.
Worth reading for the WW2 story alone, and if you are a computer geek or into cryptology, then you get an extra story thrown in for free.