Friday, February 03, 2006

Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson

While I can’t claim to have read lots of books that would be considered Cyberpunk, I can say that what I have read hasn’t captivated me in the way other sci-fi and fantasy tends to. Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson is a Cyberpunk novel that did.

Snow Crash was first published in the early 1990s and set in an alternate reality where hyper-inflation has caused the essential crash of government with private corporations stepping up to take control. These corporations operate as independent nations with ‘franchises’ throughout what remains of the U.S. that operate as city-states under a corporate rule. The computer world has evolved into the creation of the ‘Metaverse’, which is a 3-D virtual reality version of the internet. An interesting note is that Stephensen independently coined the term ‘avatar’ for use in his Metaverse; though at this time it was in use elsewhere.

Hiro Protagonist (did I mention that Stephensen enjoys the occasional pun?) is a 30-year old independent hacker who is working as a pizza delivery guy for a ‘franchulaite’ operated by the Mob. Hiro is the half black, half Korean son of a WWII vet who carries a Samurai sword and is the best sword fighter in the world. A series of unfortunate events leads to the formation of a partnership with a 15-year old courier named Y.T. (not whitey ). A new drug on the scene known as Snow Crash threatens the Metaverse and society as a whole…

As I’ve come to expect from Stephensen, this book is a not-so-subtle commentary on the corporate institution and the role of religion in the basic human condition. The origins, consequences, and benefits of religion are explored in interesting ways as Hiro, his ex-girlfriend, and a librarian daemon dig into Snow Crash. Another fun sidebar is that this book appears to be an origin for the comment of Agent Smith in The Matrix about humanity being a virus.

The first 10 pages were the hardest as they required me to adapt to the writing style, though in retrospect it was a great stand-alone short story. The pace picked up once I became acclimated, and by 100 pages in I was thoroughly into the book. Translation – a bit of slow start, but well worth sticking with it. A few leaps in logic occur, but generally the book is very well written with an engaging story in the clever writing style of Stephensen. On my 10-point rating scale where 5 is a take-it-or-leave-it novel and 10 is unsurpassed, I rank Snow Crash at a solid 7.5. I highly recommend the novel to fans of Stephensen and the Cyberpunk sub-genre as well as those who aren’t traditionally fans of this style.

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