Old (circa 1999) Neal Stephenson web site content


Click on this link to see a FAQ document, intended for readers with an interest in cryptology, on the subject of my novel Cryptonomicon.

Here are some other FAQs:

>Neal, why is your web page so ugly?

Because to make it beautiful would require time and attention. of which I have none to spare.

>Why don't you hire someone to make it beautiful?

Because hiring someone would require time and attention.

>Neal, what is your opinion of your first novel, The Big U?

The fact that virtually all of the first edition ended up getting pulped created an unnatural scarcity of the printed book, which is only now being alleviated by a new edition from HarperCollins. This scarcity caused the price of the first edition to become ridiculously high, and led to bootleg editions being posted on the Web. If the book were judged on its own intrinisic merits, it would not attract such a high price or engender such curiosity. The Big U is what it is: a first novel written in a hurry by a young man a long time ago.

>Neal, I read your piece in WIRED about Global Neighborhood Watch and I think it sucks/I think it's a great idea/I want to get involved in it.

The Global Neighborhood Watch piece is now very very very old. It is a demonstration of one of the chief drawbacks of the Internet, namely, that nothing ages there, and so people who stumble across ancient documents have no way of knowing that they are long out of date. From time to time, someone will happen upon that article, or it will get mentioned in a newsgroup, and I'll get a flurry of messages about it.

Nothing is happening with Global Neighborhood Watch. Nothing ever did, and in all likelihood, nothing ever will.

Many of the issues raised in the WIRED Global Neighborhood Watch article I tried to address in a more mature form in a talk I gave at CFP 2000 in Toronto.

>Neal, what is up with Havenco?

Havenco is a data haven recently established on Sealand, which is a micronation off the coast of England. I have known one of the principals (Sameer Parekh) for several years, but I have no other relationship to this company.

The concept of a Data Haven has been around in cyberpunk fiction and on cypherpunk discussion groups for many, many years--certainly long before I used it in Cryptonomicon. It is a misconception to think that the founders of Havenco derived their inspiration wholly or even partly from my work. The fact that one of the principals at Havenco is named Avi is a coincidence.

Even supposing that the founders of Havenco drew any ideas or inspiration whatsoever from my work--which I deny--this amounts to nothing, because to actually do a thing is different from to write a novel about it.
 

>Neal, in Cryptonomicon why did you call Windows and MacOS by
> their true names but used the fictitious name 'Finux' to refer
>to what is obviously 'Linux?' Does this mean that you hate Linux?

Since Finux was the principal operating system used by the characters in the book, I needed some creative leeway to have the fictitious operating system as used by the characters be different in minor ways from the real operating system called Linux. Otherwise I would receive many complaints from Linux users pointing out errors in my depiction of Linux. This is why Batman works in Gotham City, instead of New York--by putting him in Gotham City, the creators afforded themselves the creative license to put buildings in different places, etc.
 

> Neal, what is that symbol on the cover of Cryptonomicon?

It is one of several symbols that were used, long ago, as a kind of shorthand by alchemists, to denote gold. I provided the publisher's art department with several such symbols and they happened to choose that one, presumably because it looked the coolest.
 

> Neal, what exactly did you say in your talk at CFP 2000 in Toronto?

I made what I think is a somewhat nuanced and complicated argument about the nature of security. As such it is difficult to summarize. Basically I think that security measures of a purely technological nature, such as guns and crypto, are of real value, but that the great bulk of our security, at least in modern industrialized nations, derives from intangible factors having to do with the social fabric, which are poorly understood by just about everyone. If that is true, then those who wish to use the Internet as a tool for enhancing security, freedom, and other good things might wish to turn their efforts away from purely technical fixes and try to develop some understanding of just what the social fabric is, how it works, and how the Internet could enhance it. However this may conflict with the (absolutely reasonable and understandable) desire for privacy.

For a pithy summary of this interesting quandary, check out this excerpt from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, which suggests that at least one person was thinking about the same issues a hundred years ago.