Snow Crash

Rating: +

Neal Stephenson

Everyone else on the planet seems to have read and recommended this book to me. Even after all of that hype, I must say that I liked this book a lot - it earns a '+' from me. I had read The Diamond Age already and thought it warranted a '+' as well, but I liked Snow Crash even more - I felt that it maintained a higher overall quality throughout the book, though no single part was quite as neat as the electronic book in Diamond Age. I am now eyeing Cryptonomicon...

Snow Crash is solidly in the cyberpunk tradition, but while I didn't like Neuromancer all that much, I thought that this was a very fun book. About half of the book takes place in the California of the future, where there is no more government, everything has been taken over by country franchises, and pizza delivery has been elevated to an art form. This is a highly technical world as well - there is a gadget to do just about anything. The other half of the book takes place in Metaverse - a glorified internet with a virtual reality GUI that makes the Metaverse seem just like the real universe, but better.

The main character in the story, Hiro Protagonist (I'd been warned about the name), is a hacker who was around in the days when the Metaverse started, a highly skilled sword fighter, and currently makes money by collecting intelligence and submitting it to the future version of the CIA. He meets up with Y.T., a skateboard courier who ends up as his partner. The two of them start collecting information that leads them to discover a massive conspiracy which (of course) they need to go out and stop. And (of course) this entire process leads them in and out of the Metaverse, as requires them to acquire all kinds of really cool technical stuff along the way. This book will bring out the geek in anyone who has the tiniest bit of a tendency that way.

Much as my favorite part of Diamond Age was the parts dealing with the electronic book, my favorite parts of Snow Crash were the parts in the Metaverse. There were so many connections between the virtual world and how people behave in it, and the way the internet has become. It started off as a place for hackers and the technical people who figured out how to build it, and if you were there at the beginning you could get a good place in the Metaverse cheap. Over time, commercial interests and the population at large became more and more involved until it became a cross between a strip mall and a place for people to meet where they don't have to admit who they really are, and the techy people moved off to their own corners of the Metaverse where they keep things the way they like them. It felt quite plausible and realistic to me. I also liked the fact that the Metaverse wasn't able to really take off until virtual reality bodies could be created that really mimicked people's movements and facial expressions, because communication couldn't take place without those things. Great observation.....

What surprised me was that I didn't mind the parts of the book that, objectively thinking about it, I shouldn't have liked at all. The book was packed with gory sword fights, macho womanizers, destruction of property, and big guns, motorcycles, knives and other masculine posturing devices. But I loved it! I got totally sucked in, cheered when the good guys roar off on their throbbing black motorcycles with a huge bloody sword in hand, panting from exertion that was of course not sexual in any way whatsoever (yeah, right....) I bought into the world, which indicates to me just how compelling a writer Stephenson is.

And I really liked the ending. It was just the right note to end it on, with enough explained. I wouldn't have thought of it as an ending, but I think that it actually offered more closure than any other ending would have.

So a big '+' on this book from me. Definitely worth a read.


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