Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson review


    If you want to read two novels to get a sense of the cyberpunk genre, I generally recommend either Neuromancer or Snow Crash. This is interesting because Snow Crash was meant to be a parody of the genre. An affectionate parody but a parody nevertheless. After all, how can you take seriously a story about Hiro Protagonist, hacker/samurai/pizza delivery guy? A story which opens with the fact he has thirty minutes or less to deliver a pizza or the mob will come down on him like the wrath of God?

    Despite this insane premise, it's actually a much more intricate tale about memes, language, religion, and information control. It's just these Neal Stephenson-esque ideas about such things take place in a world where there's rocket-powered skateboards, independent neighborhood countries, and routine katana fights. Oh and the main villain's henchman has an atomic bomb linked to a deadman's switch on his motorcycle. That's in addition to the co-protagonist being a fifteen-year-old delivery girl everyone wants to employ.

    Really, the book's appeal is being dumped in the profoundly weird universe of the post-collapse United States. I mentioned this is a parody of many common cyberpunk tropes like the rise of corporate power, badass cyborg protagonists, and action movies but it works also as a straight cyberpunk story. The best parodies have always been good examples of their genre and Snow Crash is no exception.

    The premise is, after the world's most epic pizza delivery, Hiro Protagonist dealing with the fact he's out of a job. Despite being an amazing coder and the world's greatest swordsman, he's somewhat of a failure in life. His best friends have gone on to become billionaires and Hiro is too proud to take their charity. Living in a shipping container warehouse turned apartment complex, Hiro spends most of his time in virtual reality where he's a big shot but longs for something more substantial.

    Hiro's dreams become irrelevant with the sudden coma and living death of a friend after he tries a virtual reality drug called "Snow Crash." Lethal only to programmers, it leads Hiro to discover a conspiracy which involves a global televangelist, ancient Babylonian secrets, Hiro's ex-girlfriend, and the US government's remnant. Y.T (Yours Truly), the aforementioned fifteen-year-old girl, also finds herself wrapped up in this plot as she's employed as a courier to get a sample of this deadly 'drug' that threatens to rewrite humanity.

    Call me shallow but I actually enjoyed the silly action movie elements than the attempt to be deep and meaningful with the Tower of Babel plot. I strongly enjoy the crazy madcap car chases, fight scenes, and weirdness over the discussion of whether it's better to have a book based or ectastic religion. The fact Snow Crash strongly takes the side of book based religion over ectastic also is something I'm not entirely behind.

    I also give props to the book for the creation of Raven who is a truly amazing character at being ridiculously "cool" while also thoroughly reprehensible and pathetic. A Pacific Islander mass murderer with glass wolverine claws as well as the aforementioned atomic bomb attached to his motorcycle, he wants nothing more than to avenge a decades old wrong by destroying the United States. You know, despite the fact the United States no longer exists and he's indirectly working for a branch of it. He's a repulsive human being but kind of mesmerizing, which is perfect as an opponent for Hiro.

    I'm also a big fan of Y.T. who is a free-range child doing her best to survive in a world which is not kind to teenagers, women, or delivery girls. Some readers may be uncomfortable with the fact she's a sexually active fifteen-year-old but the author doesn't fetishize her, it's just an element of the world they live in. The only characters who express anything more than fatherly or big brother affection (i.e our heroes) are the villains of the book. Still, this might be a trigger or source of squick for some readers so consider yourself warned.

    In conclusion, Snow Crash is an amazingly entertaining book and I actually like more than Neuromancer. Certainly, the book has an electric energy to it which carries the story from beginning to end. It's a bit of a hefty read but I wouldn't take any section of it out. If you want to read one or two cyberpunk works total, it's definitely something to put at the top of the list.

10/10

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