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Turing’s Delirium

Another review. This time of a book. I haven’t been reading much lately, and when I do it tends to be non-fiction. But this is a book I read a while back and it just made me go “wow!”. The rare combination of good writing, deep ideas, fascinating characters, unusual and colourful writing styles, as well as the breakneck pace of a blockbuster Hollywood thriller make this a book that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. However, the beginning is a bit difficult to read, as a variety of characters are introduced in true postmodern style, each in different narrative styles (for example, one, that of a Miguel Saenz, is written in the second person).

The book is set in a globalising Bolivia, with the obligatory oppressive government. An interesting twist to this political/action background is the recurring significance of cryptography and cryptanalysis (making and breaking codes, respectively), as Saenz works as a codebreaker for the corrupt President Montenegro’s government. The history of cryptography is told by the sequence of chapters belonging to a delusional and delirious codebreaker on his deathbed (“I am the Spirit of Cryptanalysis. Of Cryptography.”); so a fascinating dose of information is included with the fiction (by sheer coincidence, I had just happened to read a book on the history of cryptography and cryptanalysis).

One of the main themes throughout the book is morality and choices: from the amoral work carried out by the cryptanalysts in the government’s “Black Chamber”, sentencing revolutionaries to death through the information they decipher; to the complicity of a Judge Cardona, now on Montenegro’s payroll, despite vowing revenge decades ago when his cousin/lover was killed by the dictator’s thugs. The former is particularly interesting and examines the roles of values in a seemingly value-free field. Somewhat removed from the less mathematical aspects of life, Saenz has an approach to his work that blends elements of Zen and Aspeger’s. However, he does not think to consider the real-life consequences of his work.

Another interesting theme of the book is reality. Through the varied narratives that make up the story (the second-person narrative, the surreal delusions of a dying man, etc…), various perspectives are presented. In addition, some of the story occurs in a virtual world- more Matrix than Second Life. The question of what is real: behind the layers of codes and crypts, the lies of the government, the illusion of the online world, etc… is a recurring one throughout the story, and one that keeps the reader guessing.

All in all, the most fascinating aspect of the book is the fragmented collection of narratives (many, themselves, fragmented) that piece themselves into a coherent story– tied together, of course with the thriller plot, reaching crescendo at the end with all the parts falling into place. A postmodern political/technological/cryptographical thriller with a rich ensemble of characters and enough food for thought to put World Vision out of business, Turing’s Delirium is a very interesting read, and certainly one to try if you like the excitement of thrillers, but are bored of shallow and predictable storylines. 4.5 Stars.

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