Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

The novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson was published for the first time in 1992.

Hiro Protagonist makes do by delivering pizzas for the Mafia since being a freelance hacker earns too little to live on. He has very tight deadlines for his deliveries and during one of these jobs, he comes across a skater/kourier who calls herself Y.T. and works for another company, becoming friends with her.

In his free time, Hiro develops his activity in the Metaverse with his katana-wielding warrior avatar. A man calling himself Raven offers Hiro a hypercard containing Snow Crash, which he describes as a new drug. Hiro doesn’t trust what might actually be in it but his fellow hacker Da5id collapses after trying Snow Crash.

Neal Stephenson’s original idea was to create a graphic novel using the computer in collaboration with artist Tony Sheeder. That project took a path that at the time was unexpected and became a conventionally written novel that speaks of a future that was anything but conventional.

“Snow Crash” is set in a future that was near in which the economic power took over making the political one marginal. Corporations are the main authority and even the mafia is an official franchise. In the USA, there are still federal administrations but in the novel, their activities are described above all to make them the object of mockery.

In this unrestricted capitalism, Hiro Protagonist earns his living by delivering pizzas for the mafia but is also a freelance hacker. At the same time, he’s an agent of the CIC (Central Intelligence Corporation). In short, his life is complicated and when he can, he lives it in a virtual world in which he’s a warrior.

A significant part of the novel is set in the virtual world known as the Metaverse, which in that future is the successor to the Internet. It’s a concept that is familiar to us today precisely because Neal Stephenson had a remarkable influence in the world of information technology which thirty years after the publication of “Snow Crash” led to the project of an actual Metaverse.

The importance of the Metaverse and avatars, a concept that was already present in gaming communities and that Neal Stephenson popularized, leads to including “Snow Crash” in the cyberpunk subgenre. There’s actually much more, with many themes that are linked in various ways to the IT element.

The level of virtual reality and the connection possible thanks to the fiber optic network existing in the novel are still science fiction in almost all the world. Reading it today means finding a mix of elements that have become normal or almost normal, others that we hope remain science fiction, and some more that are the result of various types of speculation, in particular the Snow Crash drug/virus.

The story of the Snow Crash mixes computer science with history, linguistics, and religion with various social and political ramifications. The ideas connected to languages developed by Neal Stephenson can be very intriguing but probably each reader’s reaction depends greatly on their own personal ideas, especially regarding religion.

In my opinion, the combination of the many themes makes “Snow Crash” spectacular in some ways and at times very funny when the tones become satirical in some parts that are decidedly over the top. However, it’s difficult for me to consider it completely successful because it’s chaotic and heterogeneous not only in themes but also in its pace. There are action-packed parts alternating with very long infodumps. A sophisticated software called the Librarian is used for language-related infodumps, which are crucial to the plot.

Due to its characteristics, “Snow Crash” requires the reader to be able to get into that mix of the virtual and real world to appreciate it. The cyberpunk – or postcyberpunk? – side left its mark with an influence that few works had, and for this reason alone, it deserves to be read regardless of any genre and subgenre labels. It’s available on Amazon USA, UK, and Canada.

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