Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, published by Arrow books ISBN0099410672

As both in-house and private practice lawyers wait for the next wave of consolidation to set them new challenges and devour more time, they might set aside a little quality time to read a novel and, if they are feeling guilty that something as frivolous as a work of fiction might not be the most productive use of their time (and they cannot face a crime novel), they might well take a look at the latest from Neal Stephenson.

Stephenson – a case of “[Thomas] Pynchon meets [William] Gibson” as Time Out and the blurb on the jacket puts it – cannot really be put into a category. Science fiction? Possibly. Satire? Partly. History? Sort of. In his first big success Snow Crash, he had the mafia running a pizza delivery service. In The Diamond Age, he had a city of New Victorians creating a cyberculture based on 19th century standards. But in his latest offering, the setting is the new economy, and a whole new business world.

In Cryptonomicon, South East Asia is backdrop for the battle for power in an information economy where business interests, cartels, start-ups and traditional conglomerates battle for the creation and exploitation of data streams and data havens.

This prescient theme – in the light of the vogue for offshore data storage, designed to protect sensitive information from the prying eyes of governments, tax authorities and even lawyers – is just one of many that Stephenson blends into his sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, but always surprising tale.

The story of the breaking of the German codes in World War II and the maths that underlay the Enigma story are woven into the very contemporary narrative.

It is this contemporary feel at which Stephenson excels. Even his more overtly sci-fi books have a feeling of now. For anyone who follows market movements, international business and transglobal economics – let alone those whose day-to-day work brings them into contact with them – Cryptonomicon will feel more like a war story than a novel.