I’ve finally started it, and it’s just as great as I’d expected. Greater. A major document.
It turns out to tie into Cryptonomicon, as the first part of a three-volume prequel. The theme of the whole seems to be secret messages. Now we find that encryption and decryption, the apparent theme of Cryptonomicon turns out to be a metaphor the for the problem of interpreting the secret message contained in natural phenomena: a problem which the alchemists tried to solve in one way until the natural philosophers discovered a (partially) successful decoding algorithm.
But that of course suggests that the message in Stephenson’s own text is also at least partly hidden. Post-modern cyberpunk. Whodathunkit?
The good news is that it’s readable in bite-sized chunks. The bad news is that the project is likely to last most of a lifetime, considering that this is the first of three volumes, to which must be added both Cryptonomicon and Braudel’s Civilzation and Capitalism. (The last time I took a crack at the Braudel, I bogged down about 100 pages into the 2000 or so of the three volumes, but with Stephenson’s text as an incentive and guide, I’ll take another crack at it.)
Well, since Stephenson tends to be deliberate in composition (it’s been four years since Cryptonomicon) with any luck by the time Volume II of the Baroque Cycle is out I will have done my homework.
In the meantime, there’s a crib sheet available here, organized by the author himself but with an open invitation for anyone to contribute. I don’t know how they’re going to handle the filtering problem.