Thursday, 1 May 2014

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Written in September 2013

Minor Spoilers Near the End

Somehow I am nine reviews behind, and although I wanted a day or two more to think about what to write about Snow Crash, if I don't force myself to do it, it won't get done! And then I'll be even more behind! (I started the summer twelve books behind on my progress towards my reading goal this year. Now I'm twelve books ahead. How did that happen?)

Thankfully, I can report that I quite enjoyed this one, and had none of the bumpy ride that Cryptonomicon gave me. The casual misogyny was nowhere in sight, thank goodness. Also, at only 400 pages, this was a much tighter story, and better because of that. Stephenson's still packing in a million ideas a minute, but that's okay, I can deal with that. In fact, I quite enjoy that.

Snow Crash sits happily within the cyberpunk tradition, on both the "cyber" and the "punk" sides. Sometimes I hear cyberpunk splashed around as a term too liberally, applied to anything with human alteration, transhumanism, or just a lot of technology. Let's not forget the punk side of the equation - not the music, of course, but the general feel that that term implies, the ways the world is and has and continues to go to shit. And here, complete with corporate takeovers of just about everything. You can be a citizen of a corporation, but that only applies on the small patchwork of turf they own.

Hiro Protagonist (guess what he is!) is a hacker, pizza delivery guy, and swordmaster, all in one. Both in the real world, and in the Metaverse, of which he was one of the first to stake his turf, and remains the best man with a sword (and can back it up with statistics.) But all is not well in the Metaverse. A digital drug is frying the brains of hackers, and in the real world, more and more people are falling prey to an outbreak of glossolalia. Are these two things connected?

(Pedantic historian of religion sidenote: Stephenson gets the terms right when he refers to both glossolalia and xenoglossy, but then attributes both to Pentecostalism. In fact, while early Pentecostals thought that the gift of tongues was actual other languages, like Chinese, and that that would help them greatly in their mission work, as they could go out as missionaries without ever bothering to learn the language, confident that God would provide the words, they were mightily disappointed when they tried it.)

Stephenson does an interesting job of weaving myth into his world here, with both overt discussion of Sumerian mythology, an open reference to one character's actions as Ishtar descending into the underworld, and more subtle aspects, such as Hiro's last name (okay, not that subtle), or Raven and his entire persona.

While I enjoyed the neurolinguistic digressions, I have to note that I know nothing of neurolinguistics, so they might send people who actually know into fits. The ideas were provocative, even if extrapolations Hiro made on them seemed, well, farfetched, to say the least. Wait, how would he know that the metavirus controlled the rest of the galaxy? Based on what?

At any rate, this was a lot of fun, even if I'm skeptical of some of it. I don't need to believe it, though. I just need to enjoy it. And I am very, very thankful that my second encounter with Stephenson was better than the first.

No comments:

Post a Comment