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Thursday, 26 March 2015

My review of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Deciding that it had been too long since I read some science fiction, I finally followed a recommendation made to me by some friends years ago and picked up Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.

It didn't take long to become immersed in the story, so I thought I would share my thoughts in case you'd be interesting in checking it out yourself.

Snow Crash, written in 1992, is a staple of the cyberpunk genre. What is cyberpunk? It's a genre of book, film, etc. set in the future, focused on the theme of "high tech and low life". In cyberpunk, technology is extremely important, and the characters are often "digital cowboys" living outside the law, or between bits (and bytes) of the system. William Gibson's Neuromancer, an amazing book written in 1984 is, for many, the pioneer of cyberpunk.

Snow Crash grabs you right away, with an adrenaline-pumping, information surging writing style that makes you feel like someone grabbed your brain and switched it to high gear. The world is disparate, yet incredibly familiar, where corporations rule territory like rival gangs. Neon advertisements everywhere, a world where the prompt delivery of a pizza is more important than life itself.

The story follows Hiro Protagonist (a hilarious name I know), a hacker and self-proclaimed "best sword fighter in the world", who discovers a deadly digital virus. Searching for the truth, dodging danger from pizza Deliverators, warring gangs and corporations, harpooning Kouriers, Hiro exists in the real world and the virtual world known as the Metaverse. 

The book contains elements of the tenets of cyberpunk (computer science, dystopia, and urban settings), but also archaeology, anthropology, history, religion, and neuroscience. The story does a fantastic job of going deeper and deeper into the real world and the Metaverse, allowing us to truly sample the aesthetics and tone, while also questioning history, religion, and the very way our brains work through its interesting take on those subjects. 

Many who begin the book may find the Metaverse environment too familiar to be refreshing. The Metaverse is explained with such care that it is obvious that the writer existed in a world much different than ours. Here, on this side of the technological dominance, closer to the Technological Singularity, we are surrounded by computers and constantly connected. The idea of simulated worlds, where you only exist as an avatar, is not only familiar, it is comfortable. In that way, the Metaverse may lose some of its glamour, but I personally found that it enhanced the tone of the book. While the Metaverse is strictly controlled and logically designed, the real world is fractured, a toss between No Man's Land and a corporate warzone.
I was immediately pulled into the story, loving the gritty, noir-like urban environments, the fast-paced action, and the characters. The middle part of the book drags somewhat, but that is to be expected with such an intense introduction. I love learning new, real, things while reading fiction and Snow Crash satisfied that craving. I learned some history, some linguistics, some neuroscience, and this was all done in a captivating way which drove the plot and spoke of something more sinister present in both our world, and that of Snow Crash.

If any of this sounds intriguing to you, I recommend you pick up a copy of Snow Crash. It is a fantastic cyberpunk ride which has helped return me to the genre of science fiction!  

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