There are several things that come to mind upon my completion of this endeavor:
- The ending is less abrupt than I thought. I just wasn't paying attention the first time or two.
- Stephenson is terrifically funny. The whole "beards as totems of the white male patriarchal privilege" episode still makes me fall off my chair, and Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse is in general a cause of hysterical laughter.
- Stephenson could easily be a "literary" writer if he wanted to -- the several page story about Randy's impacted wisdom teeth would not look out of place in the New Yorker. Except that it's hilarious. Hilarity does not often ensue (in text anyway) in the pages of the New Yorker. Of course, if he were a "literary" writer he'd make almost no money. (See question #2 in this Slashdot interview.)
But the biggest thing that comes to mind after re-reading Cryptonomicon is this: ye gods, we geeks were naive in the 1990s.
One strand of this naivete of this parallels the evolution of Bruce Schneier's thoughts on security. He started out (in Applied Cryptography) claiming that cryptography was going to save us, but came around to the idea that cryptography is necessary, but hardly enough. In Beyond Fear, he uses the metaphor of a mile-high fence post when the rest of the fence is two feet high, or nonexistent. Human and physical factors are extremely important too. Good crypto does you no good if the Feds (or the Mob, or your company) put a keystroke monitor on your computer.
An overtly political strand of geeky naivete is that back in the Clinton 1990s, we thought that the biggest threat to freedom was going to be people trying to pass laws against cryptography. We had no idea that we'd be faced, within a few years, with a President and Administration that claims it's above the law (and therefore can spy on people at will, violate the Geneva Conventions, and so on), a Congress that would bend over for it or actively abet it, and a corporate news media that would report government press releases as if they were actual news stories.
I miss the 1990s. I already look back on the Clinton Presidency as a lost Golden Age. Okay -- a Silver Age. I wonder how long before we all look back on those eight years of peace and prosperity with nostalgia and sadness?