Reading this book was a lot like riding in a car that steadily picks up speed and then stalls out. I wanted to like it a great deal more than I ended up doing.
I would be trucking along, really getting into it, starting to get eager about turning the page and finding out what was going to happen next, and then...some reference to "hairy-legged academic feminists" or the "Ejaculation Control Commission" or "those things women always say to manipulate men" and my enjoyment would come to a screeching halt.
Okay, the second one was a little funny, at first, until the character went on to explain in great detail how women run the world to prevent men from ejaculating in anything but approved receptacles. With no obvious sense of satire.
Since I'm a feminist, and an academic, who sometimes has hairy legs, depending on whether I remember or care on any given day, this was less than fun. It was frustrating as hell to have a story I was enjoying interrupted about once every two hundred pages for a little diatribe on how feminists/women/the PC police were ruining the men they encountered.
You know, like the digression where one of the main characters writes that he's sure that the "PC police" would call him going on a date with a woman rape, since, although she asked him, she was the daughter of a guy whose company had been contracted to do some work for the main character's company. Not just sexual harassment, rape.
Straw man much, Neal Stephenson? Come up with a bullshit thing you think the "PC police" would say, and then destroy that bullshit argument, again and again? This, sir, is a logical fallacy.
Look, I'm not saying that academic wanking is unknown. Goodness knows it exists. But dude, you're a writer. Are you trying to tell me you think self-indulgent masturbatory writing is restricted to academia? Really?
So all of the aforementioned kept taking the wind out of my sails, and every time it happened, it took longer to get my enthusiasm up again, which made reading this book a very bumpy 1131 page ride.
Outside of this major issue that pretty much spoiled the book for me, there were some good things here. The story was a little overlong, but when I was into it, it was very enjoyable. The chess game of World War II cryptography was fascinating. The male characters were fairly engaging, when they weren't pissing me off. High tech business strategies as they played out through the book kept my attention.
This story takes place across two time periods, World War II and the present, and involves secrets, codes, and a very large hidden pile of gold.
There's an interesting story here. It occupies most of the book. But the things that bothered me took me so aback that they spoiled huge swathes of my reading. And it was frustrating, because the misogyny had exactly zero to do with the story, and contributed exactly nothing to the plot. That's a large part of the reason it kept taking me by surprise, the first two or three times I ran across these sections. They are few and far between. But why the hell are they there in the first place?
Crossposted to Smorgasbook