Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is Classic Cyberpunk Goodness

Snow CrashSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rating: Five Stars (out of 5)

Snow Crash is a book I’ve had on my to-read shelf for a long time. I think I bought this book in the 90’s when there was a ton of buzz about it and when I was reading Science Fiction and Fantasy regularly. Why it took me so long to actually get around to reading, I’m not sure. It probably had something to do with a combination of high expectations and the size of the book. Finally, though, I bit the bullet and actually got to it through my account. I love audiobooks.

Brief Synopsis:
A fast-paced adventurous romp in the near future. The cast of characters include a 15-year old skateboarding delivery girl, a nuclear harpoonist, a mafia kingpin, an advanced librarian AI, a religious hacker, and the main character Hiro Protagonist. The story revolves around Hiro, who turns out to be the second-baddest dude on the planet, though he starts out as a sword-wielding pizza delivery guy and part-time hacker. Along the way he partners up with YT (the delivery chick) and encounters all the other main characters while he discovers and tries to foil an intricate plot that endangers everything they hold dear.

Deeper Discussion
World Building
One of the great things about this book is the world that Stephenson “creates” in his near-future dystopia. Though the book was written in 1992, it still reads well in 2012 (20 years later). It has a great not-too-distant future feel. The concepts used involve the breakup of law and the corporatization of essentially everything. Sometimes it has a Mad-Max feel and at other times it feels like Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk works (Neuromancer et al.) In this book, there are not one, but two worlds created. And done well. The Metaverse is Stephenson’s online habitat, where users “jack in” to a computer-generated otherworld in which is greater in scope than the real world, but which still has programmed “rules” that make it interesting. Both the near-future and the metaverse are remarkably plausible and make for great plot devices. Needless to say, the author puts them to great use.

Metaphysics and Religion
While the beginning and end of the book are mostly fast-paced adventure, the middle of the book gets a lot deeper with a venture into metaphysical concepts of language, religion, and viruses (computer and biological). I found it to be extremely interesting as a plot concept. Clearly there was a lot of research done by Stephenson, which allows him to put it all together nicely while not derailing the whole book. Briefly, he explores the idea of vectors (see the medical terminology) including biological viruses, thought concepts as vectors, language as vectors, and religion as vector and infected state. He takes this all the way to the hacker world by analogizing the way software viruses work (essentially these are language programs, after all). Bringing in some ancient-world religion and quite possibly real research into religion and tying it all together on three separate levels (biological, religious, and metaverse) gets pretty “deep.” I can see this being offensive to some people. It was borderline offensive to me.

But just as you start to get worried about the discussion crossing the line, the author gets back to the adventure and finishes things up with a mad dash to the finish line.

This was a super-fun book to read. It seems rare to find a book that will successfully build worlds these days. Maybe that’s just because I’m not reading a lot of science fiction anymore. But this book is exceptionally good in that regard, in my opinion. It’s equally rare to see a book where the author will even attempt to touch on deeper subjects such as religion and metaphysics in what is a fun adventure. Honestly, this book reminded me of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code in that respect. Maybe not quite as well researched, but with a similar “feel.” I would highly recommend Snow Crash to anyone who enjoyed The DaVinci Code.

For some reason, I got the feeling that the wrap-up was a bit abrupt. Somehow it felt like the author would have liked about 30% more space to write in the book. Maybe to go a little deeper in the middle section. Maybe to flesh out the ending a little differently. I could be wrong. Despite this, it was still very satisfying and makes me eager to read Cryptonomicon.

Who should read this book?
• Anyone who enjoys science fiction or dystopian fiction. This is a key book in the genre of cyber punk. For that reason alone it is required for SF readers.
• Anyone who enjoyed The DaVinci Code or that general type of fiction (adventure with some research) or even those who enjoyed the Indiana Jones flicks.

View all my reviews

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