Friday, November 14, 2014

Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson
Completed 10/31/2014, Reviewed 11/1/2014
2 stars

Life happened after reading about 100 pages of this book.  My partner of 10 years decided to leave me.  This probably tainted my opinion of “Snow Crash”.  I was already having a hard time concentrating on anything, and I just wanted to explode out of my skin.  But rather than finding solace in reading, all the things about this book that were supposed to be great felt self-conscious and arrogant.  This book came out in the 1992.  So perhaps I needed a more 90’s sardonic mind-set, with less distraction by real life events that made this book feel like an exercise in narcissism. 

“Snow Crash” takes place in a dystopian future where the government has broken down and the country is organized and run by franchises of former entities:  the CIA/Library of Congress conglomerate known as the CIC, Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong, Bob’s Police Security, and Uncle Enzo’s Mafia franchise of pizza delivery chains.  The protagonist, Hiro Protagonist (yeah, talk about narcissistic choice), is a hacker who co-created a virtual universe used by millions of computer users.  By day, he lives in a storage unit, delivers pizza for the Mafia, practices sword fighting with his katanas, and mines data for the CIC.  After crashing the Mafia car on a nearly failed attempt to deliver a pizza in 30 minutes, he retreats to his Metaverse, where he discovers a computer virus that destroying the minds of other hackers.  Called Snow Crash, the virus practically destroys his former hacker partner, sending our Hiro on a mission to destroy the virus and its creators. 

The one thing I liked about the book was that the concept of the virus was based on Sumerian mythology.  I found myself trudging through the narrative, waiting for more discussion of the gods and the myth of the Tower of Babel.  This might be the boring part for some readers, being long, almost non-fiction accounts of the Sumerian myths.  But I found the opposite true.  I enjoyed those parts while finding the action tedious and difficult to follow.

I was really confused by the timeline of the story.  Time passes but feels unaccounted for, creating gaps in the development of the relationships in the story.  The secondary character, the 15 year old skateboarding Kourier named Y.T., which stands for Yours Truly (another ugh), is introduced when she gets Hiro’s pizza to its destination after he crashes his car.  From that point on, they become friends, with her eventually helping Hiro with his mission, and getting into trouble on her own as well.  Somewhere in there, this relationship developed, but I have no idea where.  Towards the end of the book, Hiro reflects on all the times he spent with Y.T., but I don’t remember any of that development. 

I liked a lot of the concepts of the book.  The Metaverse is an interesting prediction of the now ubiquitous MMORPGs like Second Life and World of Warcraft.  However, reading it over 20 years after publication feels like the book is nothing more than “a guy and his MMORPG character”, not unlike Stephenson’s later book “The Diamond Age”, which I loved, being dated enough to be reduced to a story about a girl and her tablet.  

The dystopian organization of the remnants of the U.S. was pretty interesting too, creating the environment for the bad guys to take over the world via Snow Crash and the Sumerian mythology.  But eventually, this felt derivative or perhaps like a deconstruction of a Robert Ludlum spy novel where some unassuming guy foils the megalomaniac. 

Perhaps I need to reread this book again in a few years.  Given a return to normalcy in my life, I might have a more open mind for this darling of science fiction fans and literary critics alike.  But it made me trepidatious about taking on Stephenson’s massive tomes like “Anathem”.  I give this book 2 stars, with the right to re-review sometime in the future when my own perspective is perhaps a little more tolerant. 

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