Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. 1992. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1993. Summary
: Hacker Hiro Protagonist, along with his newfound partner, the Kourier Y.T., stops a dastardly rich guy from spreading a virus that makes people vulnerable to mind control. Along the way, they must outsmart the Aleut harpooner Raven, who wants revenge on the United States. Comments
: Well, well, well. Finally, a writer who does cyberpunk better than William Gibson!!! And why, you ask, is Neal Stephenson better than William Gibson? Three words: HE IS FUNNY. Things like the Deliverator (think pizza delivery guy + Blade Runner
) and the Rat Things (supersonic android dogs) made what would otherwise have been a self-indulgent, bloated, adolescent male wish-fulfillment edition of The Da Vinci Code
'Cause, to be perfectly honest, there was a lot to dislike about this novel. The whole conflation of linguistics, Judeo-Christian tradition, and computer programming essentially makes hackers, at least if you take Stephenson at face value, the modern-day equivalent of the Messiah. Oh, PLEASE. In my world, at least, hacking is fundamentally DESTRUCTIVE behavior. I think the author is mixing up hackers with programmers. But regardless, their importance has been greatly exaggerated, and nuking a couple of million of their brains is not going to lead to the downfall of society as we know it.
I was also not thrilled with the racial and ethnic stereotypes. Pretty much every culture the average American male who came of age during the Baby Boom thinks is cool is represented with stereotypical, even fetishistic, detail--black (hip-hop), Japanese (technocracy and samurai), Italian Mafia (The Godfather
, baby), Eskimo (Me versus the SEA!). Yet whitebread America and Europe is nowhere in sight, save maybe for Y.T.'s mother. Despite the reconciliation of sorts that occurs between Hiro and Raven at the very end of the novel, I found myself horrified and repulsed over and over and over again. For, while much here is satirical, bigotry is only guilt-free entertainment for bigots--and guilt was not ever the point here. "Coolness" was. Reminds me of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed classmate who insisted that she is Cherokee. Puh-leeze again. One of the criteria for membership in a minority group is that it is imposed, not chosen. Sorry, but this novel's world is fantasy, and the fantasy is offensive. A real Eskimo's life--heck, a real inner-city black man's life--is a hell of a lot less glamorous.
Still, we've got an impressively prescient work of science fiction on our hands. A lot of the framework of the world, particularly the politics, still rings very true fifteen years later. Interestingly, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition
is Snow Crash
lite with all of its discussions of the viral spread of information, but Gibson was just writing about the present. Stephenson instead connects the supposedly arcane ancient past with the present/near-future. Humans were living robots once until the Hebrews saved us, and we can be again the government-corporate alliance has their way. Ohhhhkay. Sure, neurolinguistic hacking's never going to happen, and the Metaverse probably won't, either (there's a lot more to workable VR than just an IMAX helmet), but within the context of the story itself, it all weaves together seamlessly into a tapestry that's pretty fun to contemplate. Notes
: mass market paperback, 4th printing, out of print; trade paperback edition available Rating
- Lots of action, lots of talking heads, and lots of pure entertainment. As long as you remember not to take the scenery too seriously, the ride is plenty worth it.