A Review of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

snow crash neal stephenson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

Do you ever feel like strapping on a couple of samurai swords and diving headfirst into a parallel universe where pizza delivery is a life-or-death occupation? Interested in leaping onto a skateboard that can scale bushes and latch onto speeding cars? Have you ever wanted to go head-to-head with a nuclear-missile-toting ogre who has more strength in his pinky than the entire Justice League combined?

Get a copy of Snow Crash and your dreams will soon be realized.

This book was recommended to me several years ago by a co-worker who also happened to be a fellow fan of science fiction. I finally got around to buying a copy a couple of months back. I read the first chapter after a very long, hard day and it totally fried my brain. I put it down and didn’t give it a second chance for almost a month.

I only continued reading because it had come so highly recommended. And boy, am I glad! At first, there’s a lot of new vocabulary to absorb. As with most science fiction, the story is set in a pretty unfamiliar world, but what a world it is! Stephenson’s imaginings are not only insanely clever, some of them are spot-on predictions of the future when read in retrospect.

Originally published in 1992, just before the big Internet boom, Stephenson obviously wrote this book long before the full potential of the Web had been realized, so it’s uncanny how he describes the Metaverse. It’s very much like today’s Internet except its version of Second Life is called the Street, and it has clean, perfect functionality. Throughout the course of my reading, I was amazed at Stephenson’s foresight (trust me, you will be amazed too). I desperately want to get my hands on his futuristic badass computer equipment.

Hiro Protagonist is the enigmatic lead character. His nature is revealed slowly over the course of the story and you’ll have to read to the end to really decide whether he’s a bad guy or a good guy. Hiro is one of the last freelance hackers and most talented swordsmen in the world. YT is the charismatic fly-in-your face sidekick with more attitude than a band of Harley-riding Hells Angels. You’ll love her instantly, but at the same time, she’ll kind of insult you and leave you questioning your coolness factor. And there’s more–tons of colorful characters that are simultaneously over-the-top crazy and so real that you think you might bump into one of them on the street tomorrow, or perhaps next week.

This cyberpunk novel is well-spiced with dark humor and subtle commentaries about politics, culture, and social structure. Meanwhile it makes screaming observations about capitalism and corporate America. From the Wikipedia entry on Snow Crash: “Like many of Stephenson’s other novels it contains references to history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, and philosophy.”

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

Hiro used to feel that way, too, but then he ran into Raven.

-Excerpt from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

So what, exactly, is a snow crash? You’ll have to read the book to find out. When you do, come back here and let’s talk about it!

About Melissa Donovan
By day, Melissa Donovan is a web designer and copywriter. By night, she writes fiction and poetry.

Comments

12 Responses to “A Review of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson”

  1. I read Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon a couple years back and loved it (although the ending was a bit disappointing), so I’ll have to check out Snow Crash after such a cool review.

  2. Melissa says:

    @Francis, I am definitely going to read more of Stephenson’s books. I haven’t heard much about his other work but based on Snow Crash, I’m definitely interested in exploring more of his writing!

  3. Brett Legree says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Good science fiction, such as this, inspires young people to dream. They dream, then they grow up, and go on to create things from dreams.

    Science fiction writers can wield a lot of power. For instance, Arthur C. Clarke popularized the idea of the geosynchronous orbit:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geostationary

    It makes me think that once I’m finished my wife’s biography, I will write a sci-fi novel.

    Thanks for a great post today!

    -Brett

  4. I have re-read that book like clockwork every two years since 1996.

    It’s aged surprisingly well for a Sci-Fi Novel and it’s funny to see how the Net has actually developped since it was envision like the author did.

    Of all of Stephenson’s books, I prefer the Diamond Age… but I read Snow Crash more often because it’s more accessible.

  5. F_D says:

    Glad you posted this review. This has been one of my “Top 5” books for about 10 years now. My paperback disappeared a few years back with both front and back covers held on with duct tape (it had been read no fewer than 10 times by me and at least another 10 through its various loanings-out…)

    Tremendously awesome book. Has the style and pacing of a comic book (which makes sense considering the story’s origins) and manages to pull off some of the most blisteringly cerebral neurolinguistic scifi that’s out there. I recommend this book to everyone.

  6. Melissa says:

    @Brett, How I would love to write a sci-fi (or fantasy) novel! Yes, science fiction writers do have quite an impact on science and on culture. Just think of Star Wars! Or Harry Potter! While reading Snow Crash, I did wonder if the book had much influence on the development of the Internet.

    @The Chatty DM, I’m looking forward to reading more of Stephenson’s work. I will keep my eyes peeled for The Diamond Age. I also suspect I will read Snow Crash again in a couple of years and the second reading might be better than the first! It’s often during the second reading that a lot of little details you missed on the first read become apparent.

    @F_D, I heard this one was a classic and a keeper so I splurged for a used hardback. I’m glad I did! Oh yes, you’re right. The style and pacing is like a comic book or superhero movie. I hadn’t thought of that before.

    blisteringly cerebral neurolinguistic

    I just had to repeat that because I like those big words!

  7. Brett Legree says:

    @Melissa,

    There’s some pretty good stuff out there now too. I’m a Charles Stross fan myself, pretty interesting concepts in his books. You can download Accelerando from here http://www.accelerando.org/ if you want to check it out. I ended up buying it though 🙂

    I’m thinking I will, after I get a few other things written. I have what I think are some great ideas… let’s see if the world also agrees!

  8. Drew Beatty says:

    Melissa, I agree with you totally about Snow Crash. Somehow I missed it when it first came out, and I only caught up with it a few years ago – I couldn’t believe not only the talent in the writing, but also the prescience of Stephenson.

    I also heartily recommend Cryptonomicon – another must read, but not a lightweight book. Very different from Snow Crash, but with the same verve, wit and breadth of imagination.

  9. Melissa says:

    @Brett, And there’s another book for my wish list! I’ll check that out over the weekend. No promises though! Time is tight right now.

    @Drew, I’m not nearly as well read in sci-fi and fantasy as I’d like to be. So it’s always a treat when someone recommends an author or title. I can’t wait to read more Stephenson! Cryptonomicon is definitely on the list.

  10. Brett Legree says:

    @Melissa,

    The beauty of books, is that they’ll be there for you when you have some time. I’m sure you will enjoy it when you have a look.

  11. Melissa says:

    @Brett, Yes, that is one of the many beauties of books 😉

  12. James says:

    I read this book and was blown away. I love this book. All the action that is going on and the twists and turns is just great. Are all of Stephenson’s books like this because if so, I think I just found my favorite author.

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