Given all the rave reviews Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash has received over the years, it's a wonder that the book has been sitting there on my shelf for well over a decade now. I was getting more and more concerned with each passing year, for this work kept receiving such accolades that it raised my expectations to what I felt was an impossible level. I mean, a science fiction novel being selected as one of the 100 books to read in English by Time Magazine? It reached the point where Snow Crash had to be one of the very best books I had ever read, if not the very best, if it had any chance of meeting those lofty expectations.
Understandably, although it is an ambitious, intelligent, and entertaining novel, Snow Crash couldn't possibly live up to my expectations. It is a fun and thrilling read, no question. And yet, as much as I enjoyed it, I don't feel that it's the sort of literary work that lingers within your mind long after you have finished it.
Here's the blurb:
One of Time magazine's 100 all-time best English-language novels.
Only once in a great while does a writer come along who defies comparison—a writer so original he redefines the way we look at the world. Neal Stephenson is such a writer and Snow Crash is such a novel, weaving virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip cybersensibility to bring us the gigathriller of the information age.
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.
The worldbuilding is simply awesome. In a not-so-distant future, the USA has become a fragmented ensembles of smaller Burbclaves and city-states. As is usually the author's wont, the witty narrative is full of satiric social and political commentary. What's even more brilliant is the fact that Snow Crash was written between 1988 and 1991. To realize just how on the money Stephenson turned out to be regarding the information age and virtual reality, it's simply astonishing. The same thing goes for the technology now in use, both in terms of software and hardware. Truly, Neal Stephenson was a visionary.
The characterization is well-done, especially considering that having teenagers as your principal protagonists can sometimes be quite tricky. Yet both Hiro Protagonist, the Deliverator and katana-wielding hacker, and Y.T., a pesky Kourier, are well-defined characters you just have to root for. When Hiro is involved in an accident and is about to be late delivering a pizza, Y.T. delivers the pie on time, thus earning a favor from the Mafia and joining her fate to Hiro's, though none of them are quite aware of that fact just yet. Although the narrative follows the POVs of these two protagonists for the better part of the book, they are joined by a colorful cast of secondary characters that give Snow Crash its unforgettable flavor. Chief among those include Uncle Enzo, the Librarian, and Raven.
The pace is fluid and the chapters relatively short, making this novel a real page-turner. Indeed, there is never a dull moment. The early portions about the Sumerian myths and their importance are a bit more nebulous and hard to understand, but everything is explained later on in the book. Hence, for a while at least, you are sort of left in the dark as to what this new computer virus is all about. Be that as it may, you just need to buckle up and enjoy the ride. From beginning to end, Snow Crash remains a dense and surreal work of fiction full of humor that will make you think as much as it makes you laugh.
As I mentioned, what is even more impressive is the fact that this novel was initially published two decades ago. Discovering just how right Stephenson was concerning everything that has to do with the information age and virtual reality will have you shaking your head in bewilderment.
Snow Crash is a smart, cool, funny, witty, and action-packed adventure featuring a pair of unlikely heroes who must save the world from infocalypse. If you enjoy roller-coaster rides, Snow Crash is definitely for you! You will never again look at toilet paper quite the same way afterwards. . .
If, like me, you haven't read it yet, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash could be perfect vacation reading material for you.