Monday, January 2, 2012

"Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson's Snow Crash takes place in a world where corporate entities have largely replaced governments and the most intelligent and/or wealthy spend much of their time as avatars in the MMO virtual reality Metaverse. It's fairly standard stuff nowadays, so I was a little surprised when Stephenson spent time explaining what an avatar is or how the Metaverse operates--I mean, we all know that stuff. And then I finished the book and realized it was published in 1992. It was written twenty years ago, and yet I would have pegged it as no more than several years old.

Nonetheless, Snow Crash does have a classic geeky feel to it, primarily because of its tone and style. The novel opens with the reader meeting Hiro Protagonist, ultimate bad-ass with a sleek car and samurai swords on his back; he's the Deliverator--a pizza delivery man for the Mafia franchise, where the slogan "thirty minutes or less" isn't just a guarantee, it's a death threat to its employees. When a delivery goes wrong, Hiro is forced to rely on fifteen-year-old Y.T. to help him. She's a Kourier who delivers packages by skating the roads at high speed, "pooning" cars for a ride. Through most of the book, Hiro's on the hunt for the origin of Snow Crash, a technological and biological virus being transmitted in Reality and the Metaverse.

Hiro and Y.T. are largely defined by their bad-ass-ness, and much time is spent on their advanced gear (cars, motorcycles, boards, computers), their weapons, and their awesomeness. It makes the book a lot of fun, like a grunge James Bond or perhaps more like a technology-oriented Quentin Tarantino movie, but it does make Hiro and Y.T. a little less believable as characters. Their relationship is never really developed; it just exists. And I didn't buy Y.T. as a teenager, and I especially didn't buy her romantic interest in the (sort of) villain Raven.

Juxtaposed with the bad-assery is religious myth and the nature and the evolution of human communication (somewhat interesting coming after Embassytown, which addresses language as well). Snow Crash connects religion and viruses (biological and computer), not in a metaphorical "religion is destructive" kind of way, but in literal terms of transmission and infection. Going back to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel and Sumerian gods, the whole thing got a bit muddled for my tastes, but it's broken up with plenty of sword fighting, daring escapes, and chases.

I imagine the book's target audience is younger men, but it's fun for anyone who wants a cheeky sci-fi adventure.


  1. Hiro Protagonist may be the best main character name EVER.

  2. I think when I was reading this book, I liked it quite a bit. But what has surprised me is how, about 5 years later, ideas and concepts from this book pop into my head all the time. Like how the villain single-handedly ambushed a nuclear submarine, stole a nuclear warhead, and then remotely connected it to his heart so that if anyone killed him, the bomb would go off. Holy crap--how cool is that?!! I need to re-read this one, I think :)