Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

Second paragraph of third chapter:
But there are worse places to live. There are much worse places right here in this U-Stor-It. Only the big units like this one have their own doors. Most of them are accessed via a communal loading dock that leads to a maze of wide corrugated-steel hallways and freight elevators. These are slum housing, 5-by-10s and 10-by-10s where Yanoama tribespersons cook beans and parboil fistfuls of coca leaves over heaps of burning lottery tickets.
This popped to the top of one of my lists just at the moment that I have been reading some of the other award winners from 1994. Snow Crash was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award (won by Jeff Noon's Vurt) and the BSFA Award (won by Christopher Evans' The Aztec Century); also on both of those shortlists was Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, which won the Tiptree. The Hugo for Best Novel was shared between A Fire On The Deep and Doomsday Book, the latter winning the Nebula as well; Snow Crash was on the Hugo long-list, but nowhere for the Nebula. (It did win two awards in French translation, and one in Spanish.)

This is surely one of those cases where the awards in general (and particularly across the Atlantic) failed to spot the classic in the making: Snow Crash now has more owners on LibraryThing than any two of the other books named above combined (which is why I read it; see below). I think it's much the best of them. It's the very breathless tale of Mafia pizza deliverer and swordsman Hiro Protagonist, and teenage skateboard courier Y.T., in a fractured future West Coast America where sovereignty has been downsized to micro-nation enclaves guarded by cyborg dogs, and many people spend much of their time online in the Metaverse. In the middle of all this, an evil evangelical Christian leader is planning to take mass control of human brains through a combination of the latest software developments and an ancient Sumerian curse (the Snow Crash of the title). The whole thing is packed with lore in a way that Stephenson later went overboard with. I know that Neuromancer is generally regarded in high esteem, but I have always bounced off it, and Snow Crash is the archetypal cyberpunk novel for me.

There are some points that have not aged well. The Metaverse inspired many games (including Quake and Second Life) but in fact it turns out that virtual reality is as Balkanised as the meatspace of Snow Crash, with every company and franchise holding onto its own walled gardens. I can't see this changing; perhaps some virtual spaces in the end will grow and dominate, but there isn't an underlying systemic reason for them all to unite Internet-like. It's also notable that everyone who logs into the Metaverse arrives at the same point and then must virtually travel to their desired locations, rather than logging into the place they want to be. 1993 was probably the last year that a novel like this could be written without mobile phone technology; Y.T. has to find land lines to call her mother from. You can only log into the Metaverse from fixed terminals. Stephenson's characters zoom around California at high speed, but are more tied to the ground than we are.

Also it has to be said that apart from Y.T., all the major characters are alpha males (including the cyborg dog Fido). It's a book of its time. Apparently Amazon are making a screen version. Meanwhile you can get the book here.

This was the top book on my shelves that I had already read but never got around to blogging. Next on that list is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon.
Tags: bookblog 2018, writer: neal stephenson

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