Snow Crash

_Written by Neal Stephenson; Time Warner Audio book edition._

Finally got done with Snow Crash. I had wanted to read this one for a while, so I grabbed the Audio book when I had the opportunity.

Snow Crash is a Cyberpunkish novel published in 1992, and it was a hit. Set in a typically-bleak future, Stephenson weaves a tale of hacking the human mind. He throws together an interesting mix of hacking culture, Sumerian mythology and the question about the origin of languages. Quite an interesting mix.

What normally makes Cyberpunk novels into what they are, are not only their interesting characters; in this case Hiro Protagonist (sic) and YT, a hacker and a teenage skater respectively, thrown together by chance to fight the bad guys. It’s also the background. Stephenson’s world design is… weird. It goes one step beyond the normal Cyberpunk setup, and with a lot of satire, dark humor and just plain out craziness (a japanese rapper named Sushi K. and the Mafia “Cosa Nostra Pizza” franchises are probably the best examples) he paints a picture in which world-wide franchise chains are on the verge of replacing the government. So, for example, Hiro is citizen of a world-wide chain of enclaves owned and run by “Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong” – not affiliated with the former Crown Colony, of course.

Stephenson goes into some detail to convince us of this world of McDonaldisms run by three-ring-binders and anarchy. It’s not a very believable world; it wasn’t from 1992’s standpoint and it certainly isn’t from today’s, but it’s a fun world.

There are two major problems with the novel. One is the Metaverse, Stephenson’s version of Cyberspace. While Stephenson gives a great many thought to the working of the Metaverse, it just doesn’t come across as plausible. It’s half-believable, and he tries hard to base it in reality, but at some point he just crosses the line where he either doesn’t get it, or, more likely, attempts a dumbed-down version that Joe Average Reader can grasp. I suspect the later. Basically, in the Metaverse, security is non-existing and seems to be based on a combination of consensus and application of fake physics. An intruder to a system gets thrown out “physically” by “guardian daemons”, not simply disconnected or whatever. Yes, you could view it as an abstraction, but it’s so far away from the reality that I’ll just consider it “pulp IT”.

The second problem is one that plagues many stories. Snow Crash is decidedly anti-climatic. Sure, sure, it has a big showdown, lots of action, and it’s well written – technically. But it lacks style and vision. The first 70% of the book are great, but as soon as Hiro enters the Raft, a big floating island with the USS Enterprise at its core – things start to go downhill. It is almost as if Stephenson wrote himself into a corner and couldn’t come up with an original ending. In typical Hollywood fashion, everything just suddenly falls into place. It’s disappointing. I strongly suspect that Snow Crash was written with possible movie version in mind. It’d make a fun movie if done right, but books written to make fun movies usually have shortfalls as books.

In the end, I would still recommend Snow Crash to Cyberpunk fans. It’s a solid effort, the humor is never quite overboard or silly, but zany enough to satisfy. It’s too bad about the ending, but I still thought the entire thing was more entertaining than not and certainly worth my time.

The Audio book version from Time Warner Audio book is very nicely done, very well-read by Jonathan Davis. He gets the tone, the voices and the mood just right and it’s one of the better Audio books I’ve listened to so far.

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