Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Snow Crash

In case you didn't catch my previous post, I'm out of new reading material for the moment and am looking to broaden my reading horizons. Unfortunately, I've either been busy or off my bike due to Seattle weather ever since, so I haven't been able to make a Half-Price books run. Until this weekend (hopefully), I'm contenting myself with some favorite books. Namely a classic by one of my favorite authors, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

Snow Crash is the Neal Stephenson book I would recommend most highly to the uninitiated. It's one of his best works, but unlike Cryptonomicon or Anathem it won't take you months to get through. (I finished my latest read in about 3 days; it's hard to put down) It is to cyberpunk roughly what Dream Evil is to power metal: at once a parody and excellent example of the genre. It takes the savvy interweaving of technology in the story, dystopian setting, and action-packed story of cyberpunk and mixes them with Neal Stephenson's exhaustive research, convoluted plot,  multi-page infodumps, and insanity. The result is, as usual, something special indeed.

The setting is the early 21st century. After hyperinflation, the United States government (and, presumably, the rest of the world's governments) has collapsed and become nearly defunct. Large corporations have taken over its duties, selling people protection and a place to live in their franchises. Law enforcement is handled by private mercenaries, different companies run competing sets of highway networks, and all mail is delivered by "kouriers" who travel on smart skateboards by magnetically "'pooning" larger vehicles and serving behind them. The mafia, with its emphasis on honor, loyalty, and family values, is the closest thing to "good guys" the story has.

The star of the story is the aptly named Hiro Protagonist--hacker, swordfighter, and (until the beginning of the book) pizza deliverator for the mafia. He and other hackers have built a virtual reality world called the "Metaverse" that is striking in its similarity to Second Life (the book predates it by 11 years). People can log on with custom-built or off-the-shelf avatars and interact in virtual space. If it all sounds old now, it's because the book was largely responsible for spreading the idea of a shared virtual world, as well as the term "avatar". Hiro's avatar also has a globe in his virtual house that seems to predict Google Earth. Early in the story, he befriends Y.T. ('Yours Truly'), a 15-year-old kourier with enough street smarts and self-defense gadgets on her person to plow through a small army of hired goons. The main villain is a towering Aleut harpooner with a deadly weapon (which I won't spoil) that makes him effectively unkillable and a grudge against what's left of the United States

I won't spoil too much of the actual plot. Suffice it to say that it centers around Neal Stephenson's extensive research in linguistics, Sumerian history, and psychology. Several chapters consist of nothing but infodumps in the form of Hiro's interactions with a humanlike librarian daemon in the Metaverse (they're still fascinating to read). The conspiracy theory at its core reminds me somewhat of The Da Vinci Code; it's about as believable, but still fun to read about if you suspend your disbelief. I highly recommend this book to anyone smart and crazy enough to read my blog. I can lend you my copy if necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Loved the Book, thought you might like my SnowCrash machinima film
    best wishes
    elf ~