by Neal Stephenson
“You don’t respect those people very much, Y.T., because you’re young and arrogant. But I don’t respect them much either, because I’m old and wise.”
Snow Crash is a cyberpunk story set in a futuristic world where countries have collapsed into region-states, and the government of each region is left to whatever system of order the region prefers. There is Mafia-town, Fed-town, etc, along with a virtual (augmented) reality overlay called the Metaverse that our main character Hiro helped build and is an expert at navigating. Hiro Protagonist is a hacker and swordsman who finds himself working against a massive plan to forever alter modern man, related to the biblical story of The Tower of Babel where God forced man to speak in differing tongues so communication became nearly impossible and construction on the tower to Heaven halted. Hiro is beset on all sides, including by the murderous, unstoppable villain Raven, as he struggles to understand and interrupt the plan.
It’s a fairly large book but moves at a quick pace and made a splash in the 90’s running with themes like the internet (Metaverse) and all-encompassing virtual reality. The book contains a decent amount of complex philosophy, ramping up towards the end, and this actually adds a great deal of interesting information to the story instead of bogging it down. The book has a flaw in that you may never develop any attachment to the characters. And it’s not until near the end, when the philosophy becomes much heavier, where the readers’ interests become truly piqued, and this is less about any character and more about the intelligent, critical mind the author brings to bear on ancient history. Sumerian culture is explored and Mr. Stephenson takes multiple stabs at some of the mysteries surrounding that period. There was a lot of great food for thought in this one, and in a book where the characters are fairly flat, expanding even more on the philosophy might have been an even better thing.
Those with a special penchant for cyberpunk could easily have a more favorable reaction. One of the best things about the genre, and even science fiction in general, is it allows authors to magnify and examine issues we have today by exaggerating them in a future-tense, and there’s a good deal of that here. The cyberpunk author William Gibson kept coming up when researching this book, so fans of his writing might enjoy this book as well.
Despite being a bit flat on characters, overall it was enjoyable through quick pacing, a rather unapologetic look at the future of humanity, and thought-provoking themes of ancient history.
“In the real world-planet Earth, Reality, there are somewhere between six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field-stripping their AK-47s.”