Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson’s third novel, Snow Crash made him a writer to read. An often hilarious successor to the cyberpunk novels of the 1980s, it finally receives its Bureau review.

General Information

Title: Snow Crash

Author: Neal Stephenson

Original Publication Date: June 1992

ISBN: 0-553-56261-4

Buy from: Amazon.com OR Amazon.ca

Premise:

In the far distant future– some time between 1999 and 2004— western society and institutions have splintered into franchulates and gated burbclaves, and the internet has been succeeded by the metaverse, a shared virtual world into which people can jack. Both real and virtual worlds face a threat: “snow crash,” which seems to be both a dangerous drug and a virulent computer virus that affects human hackers. At the core of this mystery: an ancient secret involving human consciousness and the development of language, religion, and culture.

Hiro Protagonist, freelance hacker and Mafia pizza-deliverer and Y.T., skate kid Kourier, must join forces to try to prevent Infocalypse.

High Points

The Nipponese businessman lies cut in segments on The Black Sun’s floor. Surprisingly (he looks so real when he’s in one piece), no flesh, blood, or organs are visible through the new crosssections that Hiro’s sword made through the body. He is nothing more than a thin shell of epidermis, an incredibly complex inflatable doll. But the air does not rush out of him, he fails to collapse, and you can look into the aperture of a sword cut and see, instead of bones and meat, the back of the skin on the other side.

It breaks the metaphor. The avatar is not acting like a real body. I t reminds all The Black Sun’s patrons that they are living in a fantasy world. People hate to be reminded of that.

….The creators of the Metaverse had not been morbid enough to foresee a demand for this kind of thing. But the whole point of a sword fight is to cut someone up and kill them. So Hiro had to kludge something together, in order that the Metaverse would not, over time, become littered with inert, dismembered Avatars that never decayed (102)

1. The descriptions and uses of the Metaverse— the Internet with significant upgrades. Stephenson has figured out exactly how things function there, and he uses his hypothetical protocols as part of the plot.

2. The interplay between Y.T. and the secondary characters, particularly Uncle Enzo and Fisheye.

3. The humor and satire. You may find some of the satire unfair but, as Garry Trudeau once said, it’s a satirist’s job to be unfair.

Low Points:

1. I concede I’m picking at a nit, here; all SF eventually becomes alternate history. However, I wonder about Stephenson’s decision to set Snow Crash in a near future which we’ve now passed. Hiro Protagonist was born in the early 1970s, and specific events from the 20th century affect the plot. Clearly, we’re in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Surely, the kind and degree of changes he envisioned must have seemed far-fetched even from the perspective of 1988-1991, when Stephenson wrote the novel. Why not set it further in the future?

2. A recurring problem in Stephenson’s work is the use of concepts which require mountains of explanation. This inevitably takes the form of lengthy expository dialogue during which characters ask exactly the correct question or (occasionally) comment on matters that seem outside their scope.

The Scores

Fido comes out of his doggie house, curls his long legs beneath him, and jumps over the fence around the yard before he has remembered that he is not capable of jumping over it. This contradiction is lost on him, though; as a dog, introspection is not one of his strong points.

Story: 5/6 I must applaud Stephenson for developing a story that involves Sumerian mythology, religious and linguistic history, cyberpunk conventions, political satire, and video-game-style action, and remains perfectly coherent.

Originality: 5/6. After we pass through the wonder and wit, however, the plot comes down to the heroes battling obstacles in order to (a) get the Supreme McGuffin which will end the villain’s Nefarious Plot and (b) defeat a particularly difficult baddie in personal combat.

Characterization: 5/6. Most of the characters prove memorable, though few are truly layered. Such characterization is, however, not unusual in satiric works.

He also deserves points for giving us the Rat Thing’s point of view, and making the creatures sympathetic.

Imagery: 6/6 Stephenson initially envisioned this story as a computer-generated graphic novel. He has written a highly visual book, with many memorable images.

And it would still make a good graphic novel or movie. The problem with the latter is you’d need to make it a mini-series, with each ep having a budget roughly the equivalent of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.

Emotional Response: 5/6 Engaging and often hilarious.

Editing: 5/6.

Overall Score: 6/6. Snow Crash kept my attention. Indeed, enough people responded positively to it that it made Stephenson’s career, and I personally prefer it to his more recent, lengthy historical works.

In total, Snow Crash receives 37/42

Additional Comments

I wondered about this as a Low Point, but I think it works best as a point of additional discussion. Y.T., the 15-year-old Kourier, would have experienced things that the average girl her age has not, and have a perspective to match. And certainly, 15-year-olds there are with extensive worldly experience, considerable sexual history, or who actually are jaded—as opposed to the typical jaded teen, who is merely an annoying poseur.

That said, I don’t buy her attitude in the sex scene. It feels too much like what one would expect from an experienced thirty-year-old rather than a young teen, even a sexually experienced teen.

10 replies on “Snow Crash”

  1. y42 says:

    the sex scene.
    Now THAT is a low point! The only time I have ever thrown a book across the room in disgust. I felt like the printer had accidently inserted a few pages from a particularly bad Harlequin novel in my sci-fi book. I nearly gave up on Stephenson all together for it, but I picked it up again two days later, when I had calmed down, and it was worth it.

  2. Damien says:

    Definitely gotta read it
    I always wanted to read his books, but this review clinched it for me. The fido quote is hilarious.

    Damien

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Definitely gotta read it

      The fido quote is hilarious.

      I thought of including a series of amusing quotations as a High Point, but many of these are context-dependent, and in any case too many would spoil the book.

  3. Alexius says:

    Making It A Movie
    Someone Once Suggested An Anime Series. I Thought That Would Work Decently Well.

    Also, I Had The Idea That They Could Do The Whole Thing As An Anime, But Have The ‘Metaverse’ Be Filmed As Live Action. I Thought That’d Be A Neet Effect.

    Or, My Other Idea, Was Film The Whole Thing With Typical Blockbuster Flair, Except the Metaverse Scenes Are Filmed Without Special Effects, Or Makeup, Or That Sorta Thing, As Straight Reality As You Can Get On Film. I Thought It’d Be Interesting To See Them Reversed…

  4. webshowpro says:

    MetaVerse vs MMORPG
    I actually find it interesting that he predicted the rise of the MMORPG. While they do not yet offer the freedom and the ubiquity of the Stephensons Metaverse, they are well on their way.

    • tgreco says:

      Re: MetaVerse vs MMORPG

      Why not set it further in the future?

      This is one of the greatest questions I’ve ever seen asked. It always seems (from a sci fi perspective anyway) that while an idea may seem perfectly plausable, that it never quite comes to fruition when a writer would have predicted.

      1997 come and gone, and we haven’t turned Manhattan into an island prison, 2001 come and gone, no manned mission to Jupiter. 2019 is right around the corner-no replicants yet

      I think writers tend to be optimistic about how fast we’ll achieve something, as opposed to how soon will something be practical

      Don’t be too harsh with his choice of dates. At the time he wrote it, he didn’t know…

      But I did love the book…

  5. dgswensen says:

    Nitpicking the nitpicking
    1. I concede I’m picking at a nit, here; all SF eventually becomes alternate history. However, I wonder about Stephenson’s decision to set Snow Crash in a near future which we’ve now passed. Hiro Protagonist was born in the early 1970s, and specific events from the 20th century affect the plot. Clearly, we’re in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Surely, the kind and degree of changes he envisioned must have seemed far-fetched even from the perspective of 1988-1991, when Stephenson wrote the novel. Why not set it further in the future?

    This is an exceedingly silly nit to pick, and isn’t deserving of inclusion in your review. Setting a story in the future means that eventually the date you predicted such future happening will pass, and your future will not have taken place. That’s why it’s called science fiction and not prophecy. I mean, what span of years is “appropriate” for the future Stephenson wrote about to be plausible? Tack on another ten or twenty? Do we upbraid him again if it hasn’t come true by then, either?

    Added to which, Neal Stephenson doesn’t write futurist fiction, IMHO. Snow Crash, especially, is pulpy post-cyberpunk entertainment with a lot of humor added, and any that’s it. He’s not Syd Mead or Arthur C. Clarke.

    (Oh, and by the way, we were supposed to have colonies on the moon and discovered extraterrestrial monoliths three years ago according to “2001”… boy, that Arthur C. Clarke is a hack.)

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Nitpicking the nitpicking

      As I said, it was nitpicking, but it’s a fair discussion question, and one that often comes up with regards to SF. It didn’t keep me from enjoying the book and, to be honest, I almost interposed it with my “Additional Comment.” However–

      Clarke was wrong, but from the perspective of the late 1960s, it seemed plausible that we might have moon colonies by 2001. Star Trek was wrong and, even from the perspective of the 1960s, it seems silly to predict genetically-modified adult superhumans by the early 1990s. I think Stephenson made a leap not unlike Trek did with Khan, and wondered why, since he really could have chosen any date in the first half of this century (For that matter, he didn’t need to give a date at all). It probably still wouldn’t be accurate, since his novel is– duh– fiction, but I wondered about his choosing a date that would very quickly give his book a sense of being dated.

      Where, exactly, did I imply that this decision made him a hack writer?

      • dgswensen says:

        Re: Nitpicking the nitpicking
        My point being, eventually, all fiction is dated. Stephenson tacking on a
        couple decades to his non-predictions would have made no difference
        whatsoever, save to stave off accusations of dating by that same time
        period… so, as a criticism, I just find it utterly meaningless.

        The “hack” thing was an exaggeration of this point. Nowhere did you
        imply it.

      • y42 says:

        Re: Nitpicking the nitpicking

        Clarke was wrong, but from the perspective of the late 1960s, it seemed plausible that we might have moon colonies by 2001. Star Trek was wrong and, even from the perspective of the 1960s, it seems silly to predict genetically-modified adult superhumans by the early 1990s. I think Stephenson made a leap not unlike Trek did with Khan, and wondered why, since he really could have chosen any date in the first half of this century (For that matter, he didn’t need to give a date at all). It probably still wouldn’t be accurate, since his novel is– duh– fiction, but I wondered about his choosing a date that would very quickly give his book a sense of being dated.

        Giving a date that is far enough in the future that anything could happen but near enough so that your readers/viewers will know they’ll still be alive by then draws them in. It’s not in the distant future, which might as well be a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, or in an unreachable alternate dimension, or on the back of the great A’Tuin.

        The “this could happen… I could see this happen” feeling. That’s wy they do it.

Comments are closed.