I first read this book roughly five years ago. Reality is tough & I decided re-reading this book would be an excellent excuse for escape.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.
Snow Crash starts in a manic frenzy as Hiro Protagonist speeds to make a pizza delivery for The Mafia. The Mafia control CosaNostra Pizza and pizza delivery is a life and death business. All of America is privately owned and the streets are lined with religious franchises like “Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates” and community franchises like “Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong.” The Mafia is just as legit as the next guy in this America.
“This is America. People do whatever the fuck they feel like doing, you got a problem with that? Because they have a right to. And because they have guns and no one can fucking stop them.”
But, this particular pizza delivery does not go as planned. Hiro crosses paths with the 15 year-old Kourier Y.T.–who delivers packages on her high-tech skateboard. Due to the details of the pizza delivery mishap, Y.T. becomes special to The Mafia and Hiro is suddenly in deep trouble.
Pizza delivery is not Hiro’s only job in Reality. He is a freelance hacker (aka computer programmer). He also wears (and practices with) Nipponese swords & lives in the U-Stor-It storage units. Hiro spends a considerable amount of time in the Metaverse, which he helped design. The Metaverse is a virtual reality type world where one “goggles in” and functions as their avatar.
“…when you live in a shithole, there’s always the Metaverse, and in the Metaverse, Hiro Protagonist is a warrior prince.”
(Side note: This was really cutting edge stuff back in the early 90s & Stephenson coined “avatar” to mean what it means today.)
But, another perspective on the Metaverse is offered by the intriguing (and underused) character, Juanita (also a hacker & Hiro’s previous girlfriend):
“But she has also decided the whole thing is bogus. That no matter how good it is, the Metaverse is distorting the way people talk to each other, and she wants no such distortion in her relationships.”
An unusual avatar offers Hiro some “Snow Crash” in the Metaverse. Another hacker takes the Snow Crash–experiencing a system crash in the Metaverse & extreme illness in Reality. This starts the research of what Snow Crash actually is and its implications if it infects the entire population. In fact, a large infected group already lives on The Raft in the Pacific Ocean. Hackers are specifically vulnerable to Snow Crash. And so Hiro & Juanita must find out what it is, how it spreads, and how to stop it.
And thus begins some mystic/history/religious discussion.
“This Snow Crash thing–is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?”
Juanita shrugs. “What’s the difference?”
“We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.”
Hiro switches frequently between Reality and the Metaverse in his quest for information. He is helped by The Librarian–a Metaverse deamon–to research the specifics. Y.T. continues to help Hiro on the quest of Snow Crash & of course gets into plenty of her own trouble (The Mafia included). Juanita goes on a quest of her own (only briefly summarized). And every character is in a constant spear-throwing/sword fighting/skateboard riding/historical quest/car-chase equivalent mode. There is also this problem concerning a very large Aleut man carrying around a hydrogen bomb.
The technology in Snow Crash is outdated–even to a non-computer geek. But, the book is still fast-paced, creative, loud, weirdly hilarious at times and generally enjoyable. The writing is clever, but hyper at times–meaning: You can read this book in 2 days if you have time. There is plenty of Reality & Metaverse violence…which often seem more video-gamey than real. I’m not sure if this is common in cyberpunk, since this is possibly the only cyberpunk genre novel I’ve read?
And there is a really messed up romantic/sexual relationship between 15 year-old Y.T. and an older man. Although the relationship is apparently consensual, it reeks of creepiness. Y.T. is a punk, strong-minded kid & of course she would be attracted to a dude with POOR IMPULSE CONTROL tattooed on his forehead. But, seriously. I just imagine that Y.T. is actually 18 and the 15-year old is a typo. Then she can (legally) consent in modern-day U.S.
Right. So, there is some weird stuff. But, this book is mostly good stuff. And slightly terrifying stuff. Likely because it is still all so blatantly relate-able. Maybe not the computer programming piece…but…in a larger picture sense.
“Rife’s key realization was that there’s no difference between modern culture and Sumerian. We have a huge workforce that is illiterate or alliterate and relies on TV-which is sort of an oral tradition. And we have a small, extremely literate power elite-the people who go into the Metaverse, basically-who understand that information is power, and who control society because they have this semimystical ability to speak magic computer languages.”