Reciprocity – First Peek, Part II

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The air stunk of mildew of cigarettes. At least in the front foyer. Farther inside, the aroma of cooking smells and latrines began to intensify and take precedence. The interior floor space looked gutted, nothing but concrete floors and beams with barely any demarcation between one section and the next. In a central beam that lay several dozen meters inside, a large monitor had been mounted that was tuned to the local news.

The reporter recapped the game-winning goal by Villanueva, then quickly moved on to cover the displacement camps in Darwin clashing with police. After a few introductory words Shen could not hear, they moved to aerial footage of people with tan-complexions rioting, overturned cars and fires, and light-skinned police retaliating with shields and batons.

They passed many improvised rooms as they walked through the building proper. Tall stacks of crates or sheets of plywood, drywall or corrugated plastic that denoted the boundaries of different rooms. And inside, those who were at home sat huddled before monitors or gas stoves, cooking their afternoon meals or engaged in some online gaming. In one, a young lady as busy pleasuring and older man. Both parties looked up to acknowledge them as they passed a bead curtain that acted as the doorway, and then went right back to their carnal activity.

“This way,” said Shen, as they neared the stairwell at the end. The smell of mildew followed them, and on every stoop, a new waft of cooking smells. By the time they reached the fourth floor, the density decreased and it looked as if the entire space was dominated by one living area.

Not far from the doorway, two young toughs sat on some stacked plastic crates and exchanged words. The taller one wore a faux leather vest, what appeared to be tā moko ink on his arm. The smaller one wore a white tank and jeans, and his eyes glowed with a band of copper that indicated he had displays. Both jumped to their feet as soon as Shen and Ping walked in.

The tall one snapped his fingers, alerting three more youths in the room to approach them. Shen noticed the ink on his arm beginning to change shape, the intricate system of lines morphing to form something entirely different.

When the tall one spoke, he did so in Tagalog. “Ano ang gusto mo, tao?”

A small field of green characters formed in the lower right lens of Shen’s glasses.

What do you want, man?

“Is Wáng around?” he replied in Mandarin. He directed it to the smaller one, who immediately accessed a translation app and relayed it to the tall one. He stuck to Tagalog, and replied just as curtly.

“Siya ay hindi dito!”

He is not here!

Shen looked to Ping and reached into his pocket. Everyone reacted at once, pulling out assorted handguns and pointing them at him. Ping moved too, producing the impact gun he had inside his jacket. The weapon clacked loudly as he whipped it out, it’s targeting laser focused on the forehead of the shorter man.

“Stop!” Shen yelled.

The tall one’s ink had changed again. The line segments now converged to form the face of an angry tiger, mouth agape, fangs fully bared. Its purpose was clear to him now.

Dynamo ink, adrenal-activated, he thought. A way of letting people know exactly how pissed he was. He imaged there were many kids in Tondo that had them, perhaps it was a local gang’s calling card. Understandable that Wang had taken to hiring a few for security.

“Everyone just relax,” he said, raising his free hand defensively while the other slowly withdrew something from his jacket pocket. The tall one moved quickly to fetch what he’d removed as soon as it was clear.

A small folding leather case which he opened and examined. The display card inside read off a designation for a unit that no longer existed, and an army that went by a new name. But the identification and the picture were clear enough. A look confusion was the tall one’s reaction, which he directed at Shen. Shen nodded to him, motioning to the far end of the floor space, where he imaged Wáng would be.

“Go on. He’ll know what it means.”

The tall one said something to the others in Tagalog, and then ventured to the back, disappearing behind a large partition wall. All the weapons remained trained on them while they waited. Shen stood perfectly still and never stopped smiling. Ping, meanwhile, kept his weapon trained on the short one, his finger gently resting against the gun’s trigger. He, in turn, was now aiming his Glock squarely back at Ping.

Shen knew that if things went south, Ping would be the first to get a shot off. The make and model of the pistols the boys had indicated that they were old-world relics, double actions pistols with casings. No digital architecture in their design. In the time it took them to squeeze their triggers and ignite a single round, Ping’s weapon would have accelerated a full burst of caseless slugs into the short one’s forehead.

Of course, he also knew that that would be the only shot Ping could get off. Regardless of how fast the boy was, they had three more weapons aimed at them. And Shen knew he could only disarm one before the remaining three got a shot or two off at him.

Shooting first didn’t count much when you were horribly outgunned. Luckily, the tall one emerged again from behind the partition and yelled to his friends.

“Sabi niya ang mga ito ay okay!”

He says they are okay!

Shen smiled. He nodded to the men around him, who looked slightly dejected as they lowered their weapons. Ping lowered his as well and began to follow, when the tall one made an addendum.

“Siya ay nag-iiwan sa kanyang baril dito!”

He leaves his gun here!

Shen sighed and looked to Ping, nodding to his weapon. Ping didn’t argue, and flipped it around to pass it off to the nearest of Wáng’s henchmen. While reluctant, he didn’t appear particularly worried. He knew that the second any one of them tried to turn it on him, they’d receive a 2000 volt surprise.

Without further delay, they made it past the partition wall, and into the far end of the fourth floor. Shen immediately became aware of a long counter positioned next to the partition, and a large workstation pushed back against the far wall. Another thug-like man with dynamos was standing behind the counter, while at the workstation, a single Chinese national sat amidst a pile of scattered components and tools.

From the looks of things, he had been working on a wrist-mounted portable before they had arrived. Now, his eyes were fixed on Shen’s little “gift”. A monocle sat over one eye, but he wasn’t using it at the moment. As he gazed at the old credentials, no augments, apps or mediation were needed to make sense of it. Everything about it was known to him, as was the message it carried.

“Comrade Shen,” he said in Mandarin, his voice tired and harsh.

“Comrade Wáng,” he replied. “It’s been a long time.”

“Not long enough.” He kept his eyes fixed downward. “I can only imagine you coming here means that you are in some kind of trouble.”

Shen chuckled and advanced towards Wáng several paces. The man at the counter kept eying him carefully, his right hand clenching at something underneath. He paid him no mind, leaving that for Shen to do as he followed behind.

“Strictly speaking, I am no trouble. Nothing new, at least, old friend. But there have been some developments. Things which I need to speak to you about.”

Wáng looked at him momentarily, a look of bitter mistrust in his one eye. He looked back to the credentials quickly, and removed the monocle. His eyes took on a faraway look then, an expression that seemed to contain equal measures of nostalgia and sadness.

“Do you remember the day when we you first became a member of the unit?” he asked.

Shen took that as an invitation to come closer. “Yes, I do.”

“You should,” said Wáng, a trace of bitterness returning to his face. “For you, it was not as long ago. When I joined, the unit was still in its infancy. The concept of warfare not fought with tanks, bombs and assault rifles was still alien to most in the army. But those higher up had wisdom enough to know that information was the new measure of a nation’s wealth. It only served to reason that it would become the basis of warfare as well.”

Shen advanced the last few steps that stood between them.

“Methods that are not characterized by the use of the force of arms, nor by the use of military power, nor even by the presence of casualties and bloodshed, are just as likely to facilitate the successful realization of the war’s goals, if not more so,” Shen said, reciting the famous quote.

“You remember?” Wáng’s face momentarily brightened.

“Of course I do.” Shen replied, keeping his tone as even as he could. “And it’s what brings me here.”

Wáng removed the monocle and began to look at him ominously. He gave a quick glance at the man behind the counter, who stirred ever so slightly. Ping stood tensely by, poised to strike at the man with whatever weapons he still had at his disposal. At the moment, that was just his hands and feet. Perhaps it was time to get the point.

“I need to find Li.”

“Oh?” said Wáng. “I assume you mean our mutual acquaintance, from the old days?” Shen nodded. “I haven’t seen him in years.”

Shen removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. It had been a long day, and there were limits to his patience as well. “I know you make regular trips to the mainland, old friend. And I know that you’ve met with members of the unit on your trips before.”

Wáng cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve been spying on me?”

“Not necessary, or possible given my current circumstances. But I do hear things. And I know that you facilitate entry to the mainland for people looking to get back into Zǔguó. I am one such person.”

Wáng nodded. “I also hear things, Comrade. And I find it hard to understand why you would want to return a place that does not welcome you. If anyone at Interior knew you were setting foot on native soil, they would surely have you shot on sight.”

“I know,” said Shen. “But I know that you can help with that.”

“What is it that you think I can do?”

“I will need biometric IDs for myself and the young one here, ones which I know you can provide. And I need you to facilitate a meeting with Li. I will take care of the rest, and see to it that you come away all the richer for it.”

“What do you want from Li?” he asked finally.

Shen inhaled deeply and looked him in the eye as he said it. “Boaying.”

Wáng went silent for a moment and looked caught between disbelief and amusement. Eventually, he opted for the latter and began laughing.

“Boaying does not exist, old friend. It was lost with the ‘restructuring’, like so much else. I’m sorry you wasted your time –”

Shen raised his hand to interject. “I know that is not true. I know that certain copies were made and that Li had access. If you could just –“

“What you are asking for is not possible!” Wáng said, cutting off all talk. “And even if it were, I would be hard pressed to think of anything that would justify the risk for me.”

“Oh?” said Shen, genuinely surprised. “I can think of much and more in that regard. I would imagine you would leave this hovel behind in a heartbeat if you could afford to do so. And I know that Comrade Li would be most grateful to you once he hears what I have to offer. He has accrued great wealth and power back home.”

“Quite,” said Wáng, rather bitterly. “Such are the rewards for those who ingratiated themselves with the new government.”

“Yes, but his power currently has limits. What I am proposing to him could potentially benefit him more than anything the Tuánjié zhèngfǔ has given to him. And knowing that you helped facilitate would put him in your debt for life.”

Wáng once again looked caught, this time between disbelief and anger. Mentioning his current surroundings, and raising the issue of Li’s own status back home was sure to do that. For a moment, neither man said anything. The silence only broke when Wáng looked in Ping’s direction and frowned.

“This one I do not recognize. He is new, yes?”

“He is that, yes.” Shen replied.

Wáng shook his head, drew in a deep breath and spat it out like it was bile. “He’s not even old enough to remember, is he? In fact, he looks barely old enough to know anything of what you are talking about.”

“Do not speak about me like I’m not even here!” Ping stepped forward with his hands curled into fists. The man behind the counter removed the submachinegun he had been concealing until now and aimed it at squarely at Ping. A small laser sight beamed in the dusty air, painting a small, steady dot on his right temple.

Shen looked at him angrily. Wáng could only respond with laughter.

“You see? He exhibits the petulance of the new generation. No deference at all.”

Ping face turned red and he was prepared to say something obscene, but thought the better of it. At this point, he had another gun aimed at him and was too far away to do anything about it. Shen was thankful at least that cooler heads were prevailing and the latest in Wáng’s group of thugs hadn’t lost control yet.

“One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade,” Shen said, hoping to get them back on track. “Perhaps the fault lies in the world we left for them. It has corrupted them with excess and makes them forget.”

“Perhaps.” Wáng turned his attention back to the materials on his desk and began to tinker with them quietly. “But it too late to help that now. The world has moved on without us. My advice to you, Comrade, is to accept that.”

Shen waited momentarily. He was sure his old colleague would have more to say. When nothing came, he stepped back from the table and turned to Ping.

“I shall be in the city for a few more days. Please let me know if you reconsider.”

Wáng kept his eyes on his work and didn’t bother to reply. Shen turned to leave, but paused to say one last thing.

“Life certainly has not worked out the way any of us planned, old friend. Despite what you might think of the path I have chosen, I know that we share the same sense of loss. All that I ask is that you consider helping me right that wrong, and leave something better for those who follow in our footsteps.”

Wáng still would not acknowledge him. But Shen knew he had absorbed everything he had just said and that it made an impression. He came about again and walked by Ping, who seemed surprised and a bit beleaguered to see that they were leaving. Following Shen out, they returned to the thugs that guarded the stairwell where he retrieved his weapon. Stern glances were exchanged between them as they walked out, but Ping ignored them. His only concern at the moment was keeping up with Shen, and asking him the obvious once they were well out of earshot.

“Is that it? We’re just leaving?”

Shen slid his glasses back on and powered them back up. He had a number of new messages, all encrypted. No doubt, they were from his contacts back east. “He will come around. Just give him some time to think it over.”

“And what if he doesn’t?”

Shen smiled. “You do not know him as I do. He will not pass up an opportunity to place Li in his debt. And he is not as satisfied with his current predicament as he would pretend. He just does not want to admit as much openly. Give him time.”

Ping sighed, checking his weapon to make sure Wáng’s men hadn’t stripped it of its magazine. He was pleased to see that all the slugs were still there. “In the meantime, what do we do?”

They had come to the ground floor, where Shen stopped and turned to look at him. “Same as always,” he said. “We stay with those who would harbor us, and hope that no one in Beijing realizes we are here. Otherwise, we can expect to be returning to Zǔguó ahead of schedule.”

Reciprocity – First Peek

shutterstock_117410959Happy Holidays everyone! Hope this post finds everyone safe, snug and warm in their homes, preferably surrounded by loved ones and lots of new swag! While I’m on break from my writing jobs, I thought I’d switch gears and get back to my personal writing for a bit.

And as luck would have it, I made some headway with my latest story idea – the near-future thriller Reciprocity – and I thought I’d share some of it. So far, I’ve got a few introductory chapters, and a prologue that introduces the antagonist. So, over the next few days, I thought I might share some of this work and see how it stacks up.

Here is the first snippet, which takes place in the Philippines in the year 2029. Enjoy!

*               *               *

Manila, Philippines, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative

He was bathing in a sea of connectivity, looking out onto the second skin that blanketed the Earth. There was virtually no corner of it now that wasn’t covered, but finding oneself in a major city was like standing directly in a pivot. After spending many weeks off the grid, it was like stepping back into the light of day after days in a dark cave. His entire body awash with high-fidelity photonic light and a microwave glow.

He felt like his skin should be burning, and yet it wasn’t…

Setting his glasses to normal view, the microwave landscape disappeared and was replaced by the stark, colorful reality of the favela. At once, his sense adjusted the combination of movement and sound that was so common to such places. A world of congestion, decay, and waste, yet teeming with so much life. Shen remembered coming to the region before, back in the day before reality could be mediated and augmented.

Now, the unseen energy and information that coursed through the landscape was illustrated in any number of ways.

At the moment, it took the form of a dozen colorful overlays that played across his contacts. He looked left and right along the thoroughfare and was awarded with helpful icons and some less-than-helpful adverts. Compared to the Metro area, the visual landscape here was not nearly as cluttered. But there were still tourist markers and small tags that he could access if he so chose. Slum tourism had become its own business of sorts, a form of adventure tourism that appealed to the reckless and irresponsible.

And for their convenience, Tondo’s checkered past and the locales that had played a role were mapped out and catalogued. They walked a few more blocks, sticking to the overhang that shaded them from the beating sun. Bagyó season was fast approaching, and the air had taken on a sticky, wet quality. For those unaccustomed, it could be the most stifling thing in the world. But for expats accustomed to venturing across the Pacific, it was within the realm of the ordinary.

They passed several rows of vendors; men, women and children who had brought their stands directly out into the street, offering large piles of oranges, bananas, watermelon, dragonfruit, mangosteens, and lychees. Farther on, they were hit with the scent of fresh and rotted produce, and the stands changed their offering to provisions of cassava, okra, pak choi, and bitter melon.

Much like the clothiers, toy sellers and peddlers or wearables that resided not far away, they would be sitting on the very edge of the streets until the weather turned. Until the rain began to pelt down with incredible fury and the flooding began. A tenacious folk, and one that seemed to respond to escalating catastrophes like the coming and going of the tide.

“Is that it?” asked Ping, pointing to a hazy standing structure at the end of the block.

Shen squinted to allow his contacts to zoom in on the building, shrouded by dew and smog. An icon appeared over top that read Cathay Towers, and a small stub explaining the nature of the housing project and how its status was currently listed as Postponed Indefinitely.

“Yes, it is,” Shen replied, tapping on his glasses again to adjust the display. He cycled to IR and noted the sheer number of heat signatures located on the first three floors. “Looks like Wáng has found himself a colorful place to live.”

“Is it safe to just walk in?”

Shen looked to the fourth floor, noted the few bodies that were standing about. Another tap and the display adjusted again, aided by the small sensor suite attached to the outer frame. He zoomed and adjusted until the scanner had just the right resolution, producing signature of a different kind and in different color. Opal and green came together to indicate the outline of weapons, all small arms from the look of it.

“There’s not many protecting him. And their weapons are antiquated. We’ll have no trouble.”

They pressed on, moving through the sea of humanity and commerce. Upon reaching the thoroughfare that ran perpendicular to them, they passed into a different crush. Countless vehicles, smart and dumb, forced them to pick up their feet and weave through the tangled mass of metal and plastic. The shouts of vendors were replaced by cab drivers and commuters exchanging expletives in Tagalog, Spanish and English – often in the same sentence.

At the front entrance, a large set of double doors that were permanently open, they paused. Shen touched the small protrusion in his jacket pocket to make sure it was still there. An odd thing to do, but if things went awry in there, it was his assurance that they might make it through.

He looked to Ping, who appeared to be doing the same. Except in his case, his fingers tapped against the PDW stashed under his coat and next to his hip. In a pinch, he knew the boy could be counted on to retrieve it and squeeze off a maelstrom before anyone else got a shot. Hopefully, his old friend would be in a talking mood and it wouldn’t come to that.

“You ready?” he asked. Ping nodded, a look of hard resolve on his face. “Good. Stay close and try not to be appalled by what you see inside.”

Typhoon Haiyan From Space

typhoon_haiyanEarlier this month, the Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the island nation of the Philippines, leaving an enormous amount of death and destruction in its wake. According to NASA, the typhoon struck with winds that exceeded 379 kilometers per hour (235 mph), while the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center indicates that it has since sustained wind speeds of over 315 kilometers per hour (95 MPH).

Classified as a Category 5 monster storm on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, Haiyan is reported to be the largest and most powerful storm ever to make landfall in recorded human history. The current estimates claim that some 5000 people have died so far, with the final toll expected to be far higher.

haiyan_8_november_2013_0019_utc_0-566x580Given the enormous scale of this typhoon, many of the clearest pictures of it have come from space. Since it first made landfall on Friday, November 8th, many detailed images have been captured by NASA, the Russian Space Agency, the India’s newly-launched Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), and even from the ISS – courtesy of astronaut Karen Nyberg.

According to NASA, the most detailed data on the storm came from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, which captured visible, microwave and infrared data on the storm just as it was crossing the island of Leyte in the central Philippines. In addition to gauging wind speed, the satellite was also able to measure precipitation rates and temperature fluctuations.

typhoon_haiyan1Far from simply documenting this tragedy, the high resolution imagery and precise measurements provided by these and other satellites have been absolutely essential to tracking this storm and providing advance warning. Whereas thousands have died in the effected areas, some 800,000 more have been evacuated from the central region of the country.

Coincidentally, NASA’s Goddard Flight Center has just finished assembling the next generation weather satellite known as the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM), an observatory that is scheduled to replace the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. GPM is equipped with advanced, higher resolution radar instruments and is vital to the continued effort of providing forecasts and advance warning of extreme super storms.

typhoon_haiyan2In the midst of tragedies like Hurricane Sandy and Haiyan, not to mention the escalating risk of super-storms associated with Climate Change, it is good to know that there are silver linings, such as advanced warning and sophisticated instruments that can keep us apprised of the threats we face. For more information on Super Typhoon Haiyan and how you can aid in the recovery, check out the Internationa Red Cross’ website.

And be sure to check out this video of Haiyan as it made landfall, as captured by the Russian weather satellite Electro-L:


Source: universetoday.com, bbc.co.uk , icrc.org

Cryptonomicon

Having covered Snow Crash and Diamond Age awhile back, I thought it was time to move on to the third installment in my Neal Stephenson series. Today, for consideration, the historic techno-thriller Cryptonomicon! This story took me close to a year to read, in part due to interruptions, but also because the book is pretty freaking dense! However, the read was not only enjoyable and informative, it was also pretty poignant. As a historian and a sci-fi buff, there was plenty there for me to enjoy and learn from. And for those who enjoy techno-thrillers and dissertations on mathematics, this book is also a page turner! Little wonder then why this novel was dubbed the “ultimate geek novel”.

The name is derived from H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a fictitious book that has been referenced numerous times in western literature and pop culture. The name is indicative of the book’s main theme, cryptology, as well as the unofficial manual used by cryptologists during and after World War II. In addition to featuring fictionalized versions of real events, it is also chock-full of fictionalized personalities drawn from history. They include Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Isoroku Yamamoto, Karl Dönitz, and Ronald Reagan, as well as some highly technical and detailed descriptions of modern cryptography and information security, with discussions of prime numbers, modular arithmetic, and Van Eck phreaking.

Unlike his other novels, Cryptonomicon was much more akin to historical fiction and techno-thriller than actual sci-fi, mainly because its narratives take place in the past and present day. However, this is a bit of an arbitrary designation. As most fans of science fiction know, a story need not take place in the future in order to explore the kinds of themes common to the genre. And really, all science fiction is actually about the time period in which it is written, and actively draws on the past to create a picture of the future. So putting aside the question of where it falls in the literary spectrum for now, allow me to delve into this bad boy and what was good about it!

Synopsis:
The story contains four intertwining plotlines, three of which are set in the Second World War, and a fourth which takes in the late 90’s. The first follows the exploits of a man named Bobby Shaftoe, a decorated Marine who has just survived the battle of Gaudacanal and is being transferred to the OSS’s counterintelligence division. The second follows Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a mathematician and cryptologist working for the joint American and British cryptology unit 2702. This work involves breaking German codes and leads him to several interesting encounters with famous people. including Albert Einstein and Alan Turing. The third involves a Japanese man named Goto Dengo, an Imperial Army officer and a mining engineer who becomes involved in a a secret Axis project to bury looted gold in the Philippines. The fourth and final perspective which takes place in the 90’s centers on Randy Lawrence Waterhouse, an expert programmer working for an IT company (Epiphyte) that is been doing business in the Philippines.

As the story develops, we see Shaftoe become marooned in Finland where he meets up with some unlikely compatriots. The first is a Catholic priest and physician named Enoch Root, who is attached to 2702, while the second is a Kriegsmarine Captain named Günter Bischoff, who is the commanding officer of an experimental rocket-propelled U-Boat. We learn that an alliance has formed between these individuals, mainly because Bischoff, who became marooned in Finland with the rest of them, has learned that the Kriegsmarine has been given the task of smuggling gold to Japan in order to buy their continued cooperation in the war. He and the others decide to work together to get their hands on some, and soon find themselves back in the Philippines. Before the war, Shaftoe had a sweetheart there named Glory, who he has not seen since the Japanese invaded, and whom he is eager to get back to.

Meanwhile, Waterhouse is bounced around the globe in his efforts to break the Axis’ codes. First, he is sent to a fictional island in the English Channel known as Qwghlm (pronounced ???). On this island, the people wear incredibly thick wool sweaters and speak a language that is loosely related to Gaelic, and incredibly hard to understand. He is then sent off to Brisbane, Australia, to work on breaking the Japanese’s codes. While there, he finds a community of Qwghlmians, who he learns are serving as operators for the British. Whereas the US had their “Wind Talkers”, Navaho signal officers who used their native languages to confuse Japanese listeners, the British had Qwghlmians. Here, he falls in love with, and eventually marries, a young woman named Mary cCmndhd.

At the same time, Goto Dengo is nearly drowned when his troop ship is sunk in the South Pacific. He narrowly survives and drifts to an island where he is forced to survive amidst squalor, decay, and a group of Japanese soldiers who are pillaging and raping amongst the natives. In time, he is found by his fellow officers and is sent to the Philippines where he is put to work on the construction of a series of underground caverns. The purpose of these caves is to store the vast amounts of looted gold which is being shipped from Germany since the Germans are now losing the war and fear being overrun. After many years, the caves are completed and the Americans invade, during which time Dengo is reunited with Shaftoe. Having reenlisted with the Marines, Bobby was sent ahead to organize the resistance, and has learned that he has a son. After convincing Dengo to surrender and defect, he heads off for what turns out to be his final mission. Meanwhile, the sub carrying Gunter Bischoff and a hoarded supply of gold runs aground in the Philippines and the crew drown.

Fast forward to 1997, we come to meet Lawrence Waterhouse as he begins his work in the Philippines. Ostensibly, this involves selling Pinoy-grams to migrant Filipinos, a sort of fiber-optic communication system that allows migrants to speak with family instantaneously. However, he soon learns that his friend and CEO of Epiphyte, Avi Halaby, is interested in using this stream of capital to fund the building of a data haven in the nearby (and fictional) island of Kinakuta. At this point, his job description changes to surveying the laying of the underwater fiber optic cables that will run from the Philippines to Kinakuta, a job which leads him to enlists the help of a Vietnam veteran and mariner named Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe and his daughter, America “Amy” Shaftoe. These people, we quickly learn, are the son and granddaughter of Bobby Shaftoe. In addition, on the island of Kinakuta, the company that is contracted to build the underground facility that will house the haven is run by a Japanese man named Goto Furudenendu, who just happens to be the son of Goto Dengo.

Over time, there plans to create a haven free of repression and scrutiny comes under fire from various quarters. At this point, Amy and Doug begin to help Lawrence and his company find an alternative source of revenue – a hidden cache of gold rumored to be at the bottom of a Philippine harbor. They find the gold and have the money they need, but in the course of it, they also uncover the plot involving detachment 2702, the Japanese, the Nazis, and an unbreakable code named Arethusa. This discovery makes them more enemies, people who want the gold for themselves, or just revenge, and things start to get dicey! However, through this they also get to meet an aged Goto Dengo, CEO of the construction company and man who buried the gold. He agrees to show them where the cache is hidden so that it can be repatriated; and with his help, they find it, Randy and Amy get together, the haven is built, and just about everyone lives happily ever after!

Strengths:
From the description alone, I’m thinking people will assume that this story was dense, well-conceived and came together quite nicely. And they would be right!  One thing that is immediately clear about it is how well Stephenson weaves past and present together to create a grand narrative that is chock-full of suspense, intrigue and history. This last element is especially prevalent. I can’t tell you how many historical cameos made it into the novel. Through the character of Randy Waterhouse, Albert Einstein and Alan Turing make an appearance. Through his German counterpart, Rudy von Hacklheber, Hermann Goering makes several. Gunter Bischoff, though he never meets Karl Doenitz in the story, repeatedly references him since it he whom he is blackmailing and gets all his orders from! And through Bobby Shaftoe and Goto Dengo, Douglas MacArthur and Isoroku Yamamoto are also woven into the story.

In addition, the way he brings past and present together is done masterfully through his main characters, all of whom are apparently related. Lawrence Waterhouse is the son of Randy Waterhouse and Mary cCmndhd, Doug and Amy are the and granddaughter of Bobby Shaftoe respectively, and Furudenendu is the son of Goto. Hell, even Lawrence ex-girlfriend ends up shacking up with the son of a character in the story! In this way, the sense of connection between past and present is made more clear, as is the sense that destiny or some kind of long-term plan is being fulfilled. The evolution between cryptology and modern computing, how one grew out of the other, is also made abundantly clear.

Weaknesses:
As more than one critic observed, this book tends to appeal to the techno geeks in the crowd. In fact, that aspect of the novel can be quite oppressive at times. In several parts, the descriptions of mathematical concepts as they apply to various things (even the everyday), can go on and on and on. Two examples come to mind: the equation Randy comes up with to describe the rotation of a bicycle wheel, and the section where Lawrence and his peers are conducting some Van-Eck phreaking email surveillance. I mean really, page after page after page of inane detail! I got that the intent was to be comical in the sheer geekiness of it all, but for the non-geeky, the only way to survive these sections was to skip ahead or just keep reading and pray there was a point in there somewhere. Other than that, the sheer length of the book can feel somewhat stifling, which is why it took me a few months to finish it.

However, this book goes far beyond the mere technical. History buffs, fans of sci-fi and people who just plain like a good, complex and interwoven story will find something to enjoy here. Not only was it a good read, it previewed Stephenson’s ability to combine historical fiction and sci-fi, something he would reprise with the Baroque Cycle trilogy and the more recent Mongoliad, all of which I have yet to read! However, one thing at a time. I have yet to finish Anathem, and I’ve been eyeing Readme with keen interest lately…