Date the Crypotonomicon!
April 16, 2008 12:27 PM   Subscribe

When Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon was published in 1999, it left vague exactly when the "modern" section was taking place. Can we narrow down the dates, based on the software/technology involved?

In the present day, Randy's mildly-computer-literate dentist is considering switching his office from Windows 95 to Windows NT. Meanwhile Avi, tech-savvy Silicon-Valley business manager, keeps four OSs on his computer - Win95 ("just for gaming"), Windows NT ("business apps"), a Linux variant, and BeOS. Assuming Avi knows his stuff, how long would that have been a likely combination?

And are there any other clues that would help date the modern storyline?
posted by ormondsacker to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It seems to me that the modern sections are set in the time in which the book was written. I don't remember any evidence to the contrary. It might have been set/written before Windows 98 came out in, which was in mid-1998; but Avi might not have used it since it was pretty terrible until 98 SE came out in mid-1999.
posted by zsazsa at 12:36 PM on April 16, 2008

The events centered around Avi's laptop occur sometime between March and autumn 1998. BeOS was ported to x86 with the release of R3 in March '98. Windows 98 was released June 25, 1998.

The action takes place over several months, and there's nothing I recall in the books about the Long-Term Capital Management bailout in autumn 1998 and very little about the 1997-98 East Asian financial crisis. With publishing lead times being what they are, it's likely the manuscript was completed just after Windows 98 was released, but before 98 SE was released.

So it takes place in an alternate timeline from early 1998 to mid-to-late 1999 and was only slightly dated when it was released (unlike Po Bronson's The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest). I shudder to think what would have happened to Randy et al if any of this had transpired after 9/11.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:45 PM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

This timeline might help you
posted by misterbrandt at 12:46 PM on April 16, 2008

infinitewindow's got it nailed down pretty tightly, so I'll just add that Stephenson's Mother Earth Mother Board, which foreshadows a lot of the concepts in Cryptonomicon, was published in Wired 4.12 (Dec 1996)
posted by Leon at 2:23 PM on April 16, 2008

So, combining infinitewindow's answer with zsazsa's point about Win98's dubious early reputation, the endpoints are the BeOS port and the release of Win98 SE... so between March 1998 and fall of 1999. Nice!
posted by ormondsacker at 3:07 PM on April 16, 2008

Piggy-backing - I see Amazon lists a forthcoming Stephenson title. Anyone know about it?
posted by bystander at 12:48 AM on April 17, 2008

bystander, Yat. (second question)

Also, for whatever future literary exegesis geeks find this question... the bit with Avi's laptop and the Epiphyte(2) business plan apparently takes place a few weeks after Randy experiences a Phillipine summer, and a few months before he and the Virginia Shaftoes tote antique furniture in a parking lot deserted for Christmas break. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any sufficiently severe December California earthquakes to help nail it down to 1998 or 1999.
posted by ormondsacker at 9:00 AM on April 17, 2008

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