(I finished the book at some point in March, and basically have been processing and procrastinating this last entry since then. Here comes the chapter recap, with some freeform thoughts at the end.)
- The Most Cigarettes: Randy and Avi talk about Andrew Loeb who is suing Epiphyte(2), backed by The Dentist. The Feds show up at Ordo headquarters to retrieve the Tombstone, Epiphyte’s encrypted email box.
- Christmas 1944: Goto Dengo figures out what’s going to happen with the vault and plans an escape route. He is also introduced to the concept of Christmas.
- Pulse: Randy presents his Lord of the Rings-inspired dwarf vs. elf theory of dudes who work in tech while going full cyberpunk on the Tombstone during the lawyer standoff. Someone sets off an EMP.
- Buddha: Goto Dengo is there as the vault is loaded. Then, it’s sealed.
- Pontifex: Randy gets the hell out of Palo Alto and flies first class to the Sultanate of Kinakuta. While in the air, he has several phone calls, including one with email@example.com aka Enoch Root.
- Glory: Bobby Shaftoe traverses the Philippines to see Glory. Turns out she’s a leper. It’s a short reunion.
- The Primary: Randy goes to Tom‘s bunker in Kinakuta and has a meeting with Epiphyte(2) and Doug Shaftoe. Randy discusses his grandfather (Lawrence Waterhouse)’s last decrypts from WWII.
- Deluge: Goto Dengo seals and subsequently escapes the vault aka Golgotha. Not everyone in his crew makes it out.
- Bust: Randy flies to Manila, is framed and arrested for drug possession.
- The Battle of Manila: Bobby starts making his way through Manila as it is shelled by General Douglas MacArthur.
- Captivity: Randy‘s in jail. He talks to his attorney, gets his laptop, and finally has an important conversation with Amy Shaftoe.
- Glamour: Bobby in Manila during the battle, part 2. He runs into Goto Dengo and converts him to Christianity. They both run into General Douglas MacArthur. Then Bobby meets his son, Doug Shaftoe for the first and only time.
- Wisdom: Randy in jail, part 2. He gets transferred to solitary, reevaluates the relationships with women he has had, and meets his new neighbor: Enoch Root.
- Fall: Bobby‘s last mission.
- Metis: Randy and Root have a long talk and tier together a lot of disparate plot threads.
- Slaves: Lawrence goes through the Japanese code base that Bobby cleared in his last mission.
- Arethusa: Randy talks to The Dentist and finally decodes Lawrence‘s last decrypts, which contain, among other things, the location of Golgotha.
- The Basement: Lawrence uses his computer to break the Azure code.
- Akihabra: Randy is released from prison. He meets Avi in Japan and they talk.
- Project X: Lawrence has an encrypted phone call with Alan Turing about Arethusa and randomness.
- Landfall: Günter Bischoff and Rudy von Hacklheber meet up after months at sea.
- Goto-sama: Randy and Avi have dinner with Goto Dengo and his son. They convince Goto Dengo to back their expedition/excavation to Golgotha.
- R.I.P.: Goto Dengo and Enoch Root have a chat in Manila days after the Battle of Manila.
- Return: Randy sneaks back into the Philippines, consummates his relationship with Amy, and heads out to find Golgotha. They get there and discover a minefield.
- Cribs: Lawrence spies on a conspiracy at Bobby‘s funeral. He meets up with Rudy to tell them he has broken their code (Arethusa). He promises not to tell.
- Cayuse: Andrew Loeb shows up at Golgotha and causes a ruckus.
- Black Chamber: Lawrence hides the Arethusa intercepts and replaces them with a very well-encrypted joke.
- Passage: Bischoff and Rudy go down with the submarine.
- Liquidity: Randy pumps Golgotha’s gold out.
- Appendix: Solitaire aka Pontifex by Bruce Schneider.
Hell of a last quarter of a book. While I do love it when a plan comes together, the nonlinear nature of the storytelling in a book like this renders some of the later chapters as essentially background, filling in the history around the plot points we’re already taken as given. Randy undergoes a physical and emotional transition late in the book that coincides with his 1337 hax0r skillz that feels very much like a wish fulfillment “our hero wins in every conceivable way” kind of an ending which disappointed me a bit in its obviousness. Other than that, I finally learned modular arithmetic and have a slightly more detailed understanding of cryptography (though with a decidedly analog bent).
It’s my understanding that Neal Stephenson’s next several books make up what’s called the Baroque Cycle, and they deal mostly with the history of the Shaftoe and Waterhouse families, as well as explaining a bit more about Enoch Root. I don’t know if I’m ready to tackle more from him at this point, but if you’re interested, it’s worth looking into.
I’m not fully over the ending of this book. I can’t fully decide if pumping the melted gold out of Golgotha is a brilliant way to repatriate the gold back to the people, or if it’s a messy but very lucrative cleanup job that will make Randy et al set for life. Essentially: I can’t tell if it’s altruistic or selfish and, while I think it’s supposed to be read as the former, it’s a bit too ambiguous to work as well as it should. It’s neat though. A cool concept.