Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: April 29 to July 26, 2013
Read count: 1
This is one of those books you should read with a group. There’s a lot to dissect and you’ll wish you had people to discuss it with. I read it for a book club and was amazed at people’s reactions to all the different things thrown into the story. My little group had many interesting discussions and one that got us kicked out of a cafe. Not because of anything we said, more because of how loud we got. So perhaps this book isn’t the best for public spaces.
The story opens with a high-octane pizza delivery chase scene that could very well give you whiplash. The whirlwind pace of the narration doesn’t last though—fortunately or unfortunately? It slows down to a more manageable speed after establishing an adequate sense of the world, and then it moves on to expanding characters and plot lines.
The world of Snow Crash is set in a near-apocalyptic future that’s entrenched in corruption and violence and controlled by technology. Much of the world is divided into segregated enclaves, many of them run by global corporations and interest groups—sounds familiar, yes? Everything is highly controlled and regulated, except for the groups in power doing all the controlling and regulating. Entering new enclaves without proper documentation can get a person shot on the spot.
Main events kick off with Hiro Protagonist—ha ha—on his way to deliver a pizza in record time or else. Like borders, pizza is also a serious business run by the mob in this world. Everything is serious business in this world, though very tongue in cheek. The pizza delivery sequence lasts about a couple of chapters and then the story moves online to the metaverse—live-action internet—and onto the mystery that is Snow Crash.
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* * * * spoilers below * * * *
Snow Crash is a virus that renders systems, both virtual and physiological, incapacitated after an individual comes into direct contact with it. Someone, or a group of someones, has been sending this virus out, via decoys in the metaverse, to take out high-profile hackers.
There’s a huge conspiracy simmering at the heart of this story because that’s what happens in stories about impending apocalypse. I won’t even attempt to sum up the rest of story, mostly because I’m not sure what to make of it.
The tone is very…there’s certainly a late-80s/early-90s feel to it. If you recall blue chip technology and the early days of the internet with fond memories, you’ll enjoy the early chapters. They bring back a certain “charm” I associate with that era.
Most of the fun of reading this book is in Stephenson’s use of language, which gives rise to a romping narrating style. He made up most, if not all, of the metaverse lingo, and I think he even predicted how we’d speak of the internet, about the internet, in the internet, while on the internet. If the narration had kept the speed and rhythm of the pizza delivery scene going throughout the story, this easily would have been a 5-star rating. Easily. Because any book that can maintain such a pace for 470 pages while telling a somewhat coherent story deserves a standing ovation.
On the other hand, info dumps, info dumps everywhere. This book is essentially a series of info-dumps squeezed into a story about IT and inherent systems failure. Stephenson’s version of a near-apocalyptic world is hilarious on the surface, but once you delve deeper into the story, you’ll see he’s raised a lot of fundamental issues to the surface. He doesn’t specifically take a stand on anything, I don’t think, and lets readers come to their own conclusions. I can’t say what these issues/narratives are exactly because, from my book club experience (screaming matches and all), interpretations vary across readers and individual experiences. Everyone takes something away from the story, and we pick and choose the issues that stand out most to us. The linguistic hook was what reeled me in; everything else was just a bonus.
This story doesn’t actually have an ending. It just cuts off abruptly. Just something to kept in mind. Made me think I bought a defective copy.
Flash and gimmicks aside, is this book worth reading? Yes, I think so. Highly recommended for when you’re stuck at the airport or family functions, or stuck anywhere really, and you want the hours to fly by.
It’s important to know an author’s political standings/leanings/inklings/opinions/involvement before diving into a text. I would’ve liked to know where Stephenson stands on immigration because context, especially in light of a story such as this, is everything.
Also, there’s no denying this book is a nerd power ballad.
Original review can be found here.