Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash Cover

Snow Crash


I want to call Snow Crash the Looney Toons version ofNeuromancer, but that would involve a "full disclosure" statement. A statement to the effect that I have never actually read Neuromancer. But still that is the impression I get. A decade or so after William Gibson's dark vision, Stephenson offers us cyberpunk as seen through the lens of a roadrunner cartoon and the minds of computer geeks who have mastered technologies and learned to navigate with comparative ease through anAmerica he describes as "the world's most surprising and terrible country."

Hiro Protagonist-- clever names count for a lot in this book -- has turned thirty and is just beginning to feel his age in the world of freelance hackers. He has a good job delivering pizzas for the mafia-controlled Uncle Enzo's Cosa Nostro Pies, and he is still a master swordsman, but gathering worthwhile information to sell to the Library of Congress, which is now like everything else a for profit institution, has become harder to come by. In the Metaverse, a virtual reality world created by HIro and fellow hackers, HIro is in with the in crowd. But the Metaverse is increasingly overpopulated by hoi polloi who log in from pubic terminals and settle for tacky off-the-shelf avatars rather than creating their own. And there is something else loose in the Metaverse and the world at large. Snow Crash is being marketed as a new designer drug, but it is really a virus that gets you kicked not only out of the Metaverse, where such infections are strictly forbidden, but it turns you into a monosyllabic cretin. This is fine if you want to follow the new religion promulgated by a L. Bob Rife. Rife's followers may be mind-altered robots, but they may also be speaking ancient Sumerian -- not that such an accomplishment is likely to be of much practical value except to those who want to control them and the world.

I'm stopping here. Not only is the plot of the novel too complicated to summarize, I read it several weeks ago and I am already vague on the details. What I remember is a 450 page chase scene, with good guys, bad guys, changing alliances, and digressions that ranged from the amusing to the "let's get on with it" variety. And a feast of neologisms, most of which are so closely tied to the America we know that their meaning is instantly transparent and their aptness sometimes uncanny and disheartening. "Burbclave" is a personal favorite. Most members of my extended family already live in one. "Franchulates" are branch headquarters of the major franchise operations, and everything is now a major franchise operation. Except, perhaps, for the U. S. Government, which is largely superfulous, sometimes dangerous, and runs like an episode ofThe Office.. The "loglow" took me while to figure out, but it too came clear. Although Snow Crash takes place where there are still days and nights, most incidents are illuminated by the cumulative light cast by the endless array of neon signs.

I read Snow Crash as part of my participation in Off World, a reading group based in Dallas. The conversation continues in the Off World section of the WWEnd Forums. Please join in.