Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson Book Review

Write on: Wed, 22 Nov 2017 by  in Charles' Reviews Be the first to comment! Read 2612


SNOW CRASH is a fascinating book because it is the only time I have ever seen a parody of a genre (which wasn't that serious to begin with) become a pillar of said genre. In this case, Snow Crash is probably the most influential cyberpunk work after Blade Runner and Neuromancer. It's also an enormous piss-take at the cyberpunk genre as well as its tropes.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing as one of the great sayings about parodies is that for it to be a truly good one, it not only has to make fun of the genre but also be an excellent example of it in the first place. It helps that cyberpunk is already a genre built on stylization and being incredibly over-the-top dysopian fiction that it's almost possible to separate the satire from the real thing. Just look at other seminal works in Robocop and Max Headroom.

For those unaware of Snow Crash, it's basically an attempt to take a lot of common cyberpunk tropes like a collapsed economically devastated corporate-controlled America, a bunch of badass criminal protagonists, and Japanophilia then putting them on steroids. The irony is it's become so influential as a model that many "straight" works of cyberpunk draw from Snow Crash. It's the absolute craziest the genre gets and has set the standard for the new weird in dystopian science fiction.

The premise is Hiro Protagonist, half-black/half-Japanese hacker as well as the greatest swordmaster in the world, is a pizza boy who works for the mafia. 30 minutes or your pizza is free and if not, then the mafia will kill the delivery boy. After badly messing up a job but managing to fulfill the letter of the law if not the spirit, he finds himself out of a job. It's then he discovers that someone is dealing a strange sort of code in the Metaverse (the inspiration for, I shit you not, Second Life in the real world). This code actually causes people to become nothing more than braindead puppets in the real world, somehow infecting them despite the impossibility of it. After his former partner and rival is infected, he decides to go investigate what causes this.

The second protagonist, Y.T. ("Yours Truly") is a fifteen year old sexually mature skateboarding delivery girl who survives moving from the armored compounds of post-collapse America while being ignored by her mother. Y.T. finds herself the object of interest for a number of people and we see her survive as a free range child while her mother ignores her to work for the mostly-pointless Federal Bureau of Investigation (since there's no United States and they have no authority anymore).

Opposing our oddball set of heroes is Raven, who is an Inuit warrior who rides a motorcycle with an atomic bomb strapped to and carries a pair of glass knives. His boss is a parody of L. Ron Hubbard and Ted Turner who has an interest in Ancient Sumerian Magic as well as religion, which he has figured out how to combine with computer code to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. This is, I note, only a DESCRIPTION of the characters and already it's absolutely insane.

Of the two protagonists, I'm far more fond of Y.T than I am Hiro. She's adorable and entertaining throughout despite some uncomfortable moments. I love her bribe of the two police officers with 500 billion dollars and how she basically water-skis behind cars in order to do her job. She's an authentic ridiculous character and I love her for it. Her brief"relationship" with Raven is creepy as hell but I don't think it's supposed to be anything but. Hiro is far too much of a Gary Stu and yes, I know that's deliberate as he's supposed to be the second baddest mofo who ever lived.

Part of my love for the book comes from the description of the Metaverse. It's how I would love virtual reality to evolve to in real life. The whole sense of it was predictive (not to mention influential) of how technology would go as well as how people would react to video games as a form of social interaction. Indeed, I think I would have preferred to spend some more time there rather than in the 'real-world.' It is, to quote Willy Wonka, a world of pure imagination.

Much of what's found in this book feels like it came out of a Cyberpunk 2020 or Shadowrun session and are the kind of things you'd expect to see player characters do. The action scenes are great and viciously bloody at times while also over-the-top to the point of breaking orbit. It's a world of badass with some amazing players even if some of them are elderly Vietnam vet mafia dons. This is the kind of book which has stuff like robot dogs with the brains of actual dogs and somehow that ending up touching rather than horrifying. It has the perfectly sensible explanation the world's greatest swordsmen in virtual reality is that way because he programmed it--only to reveal, no, he's actually that good.

It has religion, politics, and a delightful parody of anarchic capitalism all meshed together in one surreal cyberpunk smoothie. It's a book that never takes itself seriously, except when it does, and expects you to go along with it. There's talks about the destruction of native culture, the importance of religion, the bicameral mind, and more next to death traps built into someone's vagina. No, I'm not making that last part up and I wonder why you'd think that after everything else I've described.

There's a lot of interesting ideas about everything from Sumerian myth to religion to the two kinds of religion (book versus ecstatic). I tend to think of religion as better experienced than studied but that's not the way the author writes it. Either way the book is full of amazing fight scenes, crazy scenarios, and memorable characters. If you're a fan of cyberpunk then this is a must check out but the oddity may be a bit much if you're not.

Last modified on Sunday, 01 December 2019 20:17
C.T. Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".

He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.


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