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[ext] Cryptonomicon is a novel by Neal Stephenson. Go is referred to in a scene where a character uses a goban as a prop in a speech.

JennyRadcliffe: Disappointingly, however (I was very excited when I started the paragraph and realised it was about Go), it does not seem to indicate any great knowledge of Go and indeed displays a rather gross ignorance, at least, in my reading of it.

The section is on page 318 of the Arrow paperback edition (ISBN: 0-09-941067-2), and includes a small description of the game as a metaphor for free speech, telecomms and cryptography. Sadly, it is, well, ignorant. It says that "at the beginning of the game, the pieces are arranged in a pattern that is simple and easy to understand", which is surely only true in a fixed-handicap game, and goes on to say that each move is "fairly simple in and of itself, and made for reasons that can be easily understood, even by a novice" which I think all of us who've looked at, say, Cho Chikun's games will know is broadly nonsensical. Finally, he says that the game develops "such great complexity that only the finest minds - or the finest computers - can comprehend it", and of course, we all know how the finest computers play Go ...

Any one of these errors can be explained, and is, I suppose, "sort of" true, but cumulatively, it looks as though Stephenson is choosing an example which he knows will resonate with a subset of his target audience (geeks, nerds, hackers, etc.) without actually understanding it.

Jared: The complex pattern on the board is an analogy to the complex communications laws in most states. At the end of his speech, the Sultan sweeps the stones off the board, and says that his Sultanate will have no such laws. As Stephenson says at the top of the paragraph, the analogy would work as well with chess.

My copy is published by Harper Collins, and the reference is also on p. 318, halfway down the page.


David: While I haven't read the book, only the [ext] excerpt on the web site, I think it's noteworthy that a private's name is "Gowicki" -- could it be a sly reference to Sensei's Library?

The first edition of Cryptonomicon was printed in April 1999, well over a year before Sensei's Library existed.

David: A prophecy, then. Even better!

Peter: remembering the bit (Jenny has my copy of the book) It is the sultan speaking. Is the author ignorant? Is he making the sultan appear ignorant? Is the sultan dumbing things down to help get his point across? Is the sultan assuming the Americans will not know about Go? How much does the sultan know about Go? Could there be this suggestion that the "finest computers" aren't built yet? What does the sultan mean by novice? (30-kyu, 1-Dan)

In another bit of the book, Stephenson comes up with the idea of "fractally weird" in relation to one of the characters, meaning that a little bit of the characters life is, when considered in detail, as odd as the whole of his life. personally, I feel that Stephenson's writing is fractally complex, and considerion of one bit suggests that that bit is as complex as the whole book.

Stefan: The quality of the go-related reference is not fractally representative for the entire book: it is excellent, like most of Stephenson's writing.

Cryptonomicon last edited by Dieter on October 23, 2023 - 15:25
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