It’s time to review the featured book for March 2016. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson was selected as our latest sci-fi / cyberpunk read. As I found out while reading, Snow Crash is well celebrated as one of the pioneering cyberpunk stories. Being that it was released in 1992, it introduced many cyber based tropes that have become the norm even in reality.
If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up to the reader’s group if you’d like to be in with a chance of winning April’s featured book. It will be revealed tomorrow.
Snow Crash isn’t a book to read if you care about plot. Neal Stephenson is a concept writer, and this is clear throughout the book. Much of the first half of the book is a bunch of concepts and scenarios segmented between portions of info dumping and character profiling.
For many, this may not exactly be a bad thing. Snow Crash’s strength is that its world-building aspects are envisioning. Given that this book was published in 1992, much credit should be given to Stephenson for his accurate foreshadowing of technology.
The plot in Snow Crash follows samurai-sword wielding hacker and Pizza delivery driver Hiro Protagonist (an obvious Pun) and Y.T (Yours Truly), a courier. They cross paths early and build a friendship after Y.T helps Hiro with a late pizza delivery. The book then shifts between the perspectives of both characters as they get caught up in the politics of both the (somewhat dystopian) real-world and the virtual reality computer world known as the Metaverse. Later, Hiro recruits Y.T to help him collect intelligence (digitally and physically) and sell it to an organisation.
The plot that does exist leads to the emergence of a virus called Snow Crash. Without blowing the big reveal, it’s a bitmap based virus that can be viewed in the Metaverse and effect people in reality. It’s much more complex than that, and the info dumps clue you in on the psychology, history and ancient culture behind what drives this Snow Crash virus.
Though some may find the info dumping to be boring and tedious to read through, it’s actually quite meaningful and well thought out by Stephenson. Stephenson even writes about his extensive research practices in the acknowledgements of the book, and it’s easy to appreciate the amount of thought put into it.
Snow Crash’s strength despite its odd reading style is the way that the characters are written. Think Pulp Fiction, as the characters are quite quirky, and much of this book’s humour hits you subtly. It’s easy to read Snow Crash not expecting it to be so witty, but then a scene like Y.T’s mother reading the FBI toilet rationing notice will hit you to the point you can’t help but smirk a little as it parodies real world thinking so accurately.
Because of Stephenson’s weird writing style, I did get lost on what exactly was happening once or twice. It also doesn’t help that the story is told in third-person current tense, as this can often leave you confused on the perspective of characters. Stephenson spoke of his original intentions to make Snow Crash a graphic novel, which actually makes a lot of sense on why the book is written the way it is. Still, if we’re to rate this book on its writing, it’s definitely quite messy. But as someone who has an appreciation for tech and hacker stories, I found my perseverance was rewarded for sticking with it.
Since Snow Crash may be a chore for many to read in this day, an audiobook may serve some people better. But if you have a genuine thirst for Cyberpunk storytelling then this is a book you’ve either read already, or should read at the earliest convenience. It’s easy to see how influential this book has been to more modern cyberpunk stories, such as The Matrix and Ready Player One.
This book isn’t for everyone, but those who can appreciate its quirky technical concepts will likely treasure it.
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