Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

So you should know by now that I am a big fan. This is, I think, the book that made Stepheson’s name. And I have to say, it’s a bit of a curate’s egg.

I’ve written elsewhere about the typical SF book leaving me pretty much totally baffled for 100 pages or so. And that’s fine, generally, so long as something interesting is happening, and so long as I trust the author to explain themself at some stage. But here, the first chapters are laced with exposition so thoroughly that there’s no danger of bafflement, and that’s much more frustrating. I know what an avatar is. I get “the metaverse”. Tell me the story! But I guess this book is that old that those things need explaining. It does pre-date the internet.

Which is probably why “the metaverse” doesn’t really ring true – it doesn’t behave anything like the internet that I know. And we’re treated to some ridiculous stuff – Hiro (really? the he0or’s called Hiro Protagonist? *sigh*) hacking people’s avatars into bits and them not being able to respawn until their corpse is disposed of and he controls the graveyard demons because he coded the bar they’re in? And he’s delivering pizza for a living? It’s nonsense.

But the bigger thing that annoyed me was that the Real World didn’t feel real in any way. The description of it was completely lacking. I could picture the loglow and the cookie cutter private estates and stuff, but the actual physical land it all sits on? I couldn’t see it at all.

The actual plot, once we got to it, was fascinating. Someone discovers a way to control people by using a machine-code level language (which is actually Sumerian). It’s tied together with the Babel myth (interesting interpretation of that, too) and the collapse of country-sized nation states (a theme that Stephenson also uses in The Diamond Age). And typically, some extravagant characters – Hiro himself, Raven (armed with a glass-bladed harpoon and a nuclear warhead), Da5id (nice pun) etc.

But overall, it was spoiled for me by the clunky exposition and areality of both of the worlds it was set in – nice ideas, below par execution.

See also:

Neuromancer – the definitive early cyberspace novel. Better produced, not quite such a powerful set of ideas, IIRC.

Through The Language Glass – how the language you think in determines how you see the world.


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