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Book Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson March 2, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Book Reviews.

My rating: 7 out of 10 – visionary, fun and inspired.

I guess every sci-fi writer would like to think of him or herself as chronicling future history to some degree, predicting events in 50, 1000 or 250 000 years from now. Some of them actually get it right every now and then.

Jules Verne is the obvious example. He got a whole lot of things right in From the Earth to the Moon, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days, although his luck ran out when it comes to Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Considering recent developments in online gaming, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is a remarkable piece of future history that has actually become a reality during the author’s lifetime.

If you haven’t yet heard of internet-based “virtual world’s” such as Second Life, in which millions of internet users interact and “exist” in an imaginary parallel universe, you’ve probably been too pre-occupied with living your “first” life.

In Snow Crash, Stephenson describes something remarkably similar, called the “virtual Metaverse”, ten years before the precursor to Second Life was started (Snow Crash was first published in 1992). The parallels are fascinating.

In fact, it turns out that the creators of Second Life set out to develop a world inspired by Stephenson’s Metaverse and so the process of writing future history has actually been inverted in a sense: the sci-fi writer pre-figures and initiates the future rather than predicting it!

Just like Stephenson’s other novels, especially Cryptonomicon and the astonishing Baroque Cycle trilogy, Snow Crash is a brilliant read. It’s cyberpunk for the whole family. There’s intelligent science-fiction, teasing intimations of romantic entanglements, social and environmental mayhem and disintegration and, of course, a swashbuckling anti-hero to safe the world.

North America in the not too distant future is run by franchised mega-corporations and crime syndicates. National governments have all but ceased to exist.

When Hiro Protagonist (yes, that’s his name… his roomate’s called Vitaly Chernobyl!) is offered a mysterious cyber drug called snow crash, his deep suspicions lead him on a dangerous mission with devastating consequences. Hiro’s path soon crosses that of our heroine, Y.T., the skateboarding teenage pizza delivery girl with lots of balls. I love Stephenson’s penchant for deeply flawed yet likable male main characters and independent and gutsy female leads, and Snow Crash is no exception.

This is a fantastic book, even if you’re not normally into sci-fi. Read it!



1. Glen - March 16, 2007

This is an awesome book. I read it sometime ago so am a bit sketchy on some of the details, but I seem to remember a community called the New South Africans, which was like the “Boeremag”, and they had a franchise on security “arrangements”!

Have you read “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood? A brilliant story also set in the near-future dystopia, and dealing with themes of genetic modifcation, xenotransplantation, commodification of life etc, etc.

2. Andreas - March 16, 2007

Ah, completely forgot about New South Africa when I wrote the review – of course, it’s one of the franchises (Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities or Burbclaves). There are other ones like Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong, Nova Sicilia, Narcolombia and Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates!

My wife (big Atwood fan) has been trying to get me to read Oryx and Crake and I guess I really should. Sounds brilliant. I tend to be a terrible snob when it comes to reading books and I’ve literally got a whole stack of to-be-reads on my bedside table. Will add O & C to it tonight! Thanks.

3. Glen - March 16, 2007

Yes the Burbclaves, that’s what they were called! “Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates”, “Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong”. Haha. Stephenson is totally brilliant. I think I read this around 6 or 7 years ago. I’d like to read it again, maybe I’ll shunt it to the top of the to-be-reads pile!

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