Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Michaela Buckley0
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
With the surge of Cyberpunk novels in the late 80’s and early 90’s came Snow Crash, a hugely influential novel published in 1992 and written by Neal Stephenson. The novel is known for popularising (not starting) the use of the sanskrit term ‘avatar’ in technological context.
The novel is rather absurdist, particularly at the beginning, however tones down by the middle to become relatively normal, for a cy-fi. As well as covering widespread internet usage there are also themes of mythology, linguistics, memetics and socio-politics, all of which is pretty fancy sounding in direct contrast with and perhaps more accurately compared to the truest most basic nature of the story, which is the adventures of a Pizza delivery guy called Hiro Protagonist.
After wrecking a state-of-the-art pizza delivery car following a high speed run around the city, Hiro befriends a young girl who works as a street courier after she saves his pizza delivery. In an anarcho-capitalist world of mafias which control big corporate identities, Hiro is a nobody, but in the meta-verse, a 3D virtual environment in which there is even real estate, he is the c0-owner of the Black Sun, a trendy exclusive night club and part-time creator of all sorts of world-building codes.
Hiro is the self-professed “Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world.”, somehow this seems to for the most have escaped notice in the real world unless he directly points them to it on his business card, at which point people seem to take the claim at face-value, not even once asking where the proof of such a one is.
After discovering Snow Crash, a drug that has the ability to take down a user in real life while they are activating the Meta-verse, Hiro and Y.T. attempt to get to the bottom of it. Sort of. I say this because in actuality, despite the overwhelming agency and wealth of environment to draw from, the first half of the novel is really just fluffing around aimlessly, waiting for things to heat up enough to actually force the characters into action.
It’s all rather paceless and doesn’t make for very engaging reading. The biggest problem with Snow Crash are the info-dumps. There are ways of inserting background, story or just details without relieving the reader of their will to live, unfortunately Stephenson’s brazen disregard means he just waffles for pages about things until his world is bereft of life.
Some of the plot points are questionable, with lots of it being a little obvious despite the immediate weirdness of the premise. Uninspiring, bafflingly pretentious, as if he was the first to clock onto linguistic nature of computing, utilising an abstract and threadbare mythological element as the single dull backbone of the story, which is only tangentially linked to the agency of its characters.
It’s understood that some people view it as a satire, however it would do the novel more harm with this outlook, knowing that it neither excels at nor sheds any light on the cyberpunk genre, merely using it as the most relevant and fast-moving genre which would illuminate his work.
The highlights of the novel come from its fun and interesting tech, often in novels tech is used as a plot device or merely just some background flavour for a world, in Snow Crash we get to see the practical and exciting ways that it can be used to make an action scene which keeps you on your toes.
One or two characters make less obvious choices and are taken to unusual conclusions throughout the novel, it’s hard to tell whether this was intentional or not, but it nevertheless adds some depth, albeit a little too late, to some fairly one-dimensional characters.
A messy blend of the futuristic and the mythological, trashy and pulpy, there’s not much underneath the hood, but enough sparks to keep the infrequent reader mollified and the regular, ticking over.