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Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Reviewed by Jaymonster

L 've been a fan of the cyberpunk genre ever since I first played Shadowrun on the Super Nintendo. There's something about the anarchistic culture of the hackers, the man-into-machine aesthetic, the gritty punk fashion and idealogy, the overwhelming presence of cyber-reality and equally overwhelming corporate commercialism; all of it merging into a blend of science-fiction that reflects some society's fears about the near-future. Precisely because it plays on plausible what-ifs, it becomes easier for a person to relate to a novel like Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. The setting is urban, the reader is kept on their toes with new concepts being thrown in without much background, and the characters are less morally-defined.

Cyberpunk is not traditional. As genres go, this is a rather serious one that examines and disects a lot of socio-political issues and then douses the whole deal in massive helpings of pop culture. Snow Crash doesn't stray far from this, but it also adds humor to the mix — from the only national pizza delivery service being handled by the Mafia (if the pizza is late, you get it for free but the delivery guy is never seen again) to the main character's living quarters (a storage compartment at the U-Stor-It). Even the names are a parody of sorts — Hiro Protagonist, Y.T., and Da5id. While the humor is often distracting, it helps move the novel along and makes the huge chunks of information that the reader must digest all the more palatable.

The world Hiro and Y.T. inhabit is ruled by corporations that are present in every aspect of its citizens' lives. People lives in "burbclaves" and work in "franchulates"; all neatly divided by social, ethnic and political differences. The federal government has lost most of its power and is now merely a dreary workplace where the employees function on the same level as gears in a hive-like machine and are regulated to the Nth degree (doesn't sound all the different from the present). But no matter how dreary your life is, you can plug into the Metaverse where and hang out with everyone else escaping their own boring lives. Hiro is a delivery-guy for the pizza company owned by the Mafia, who is saved from being late on a delivery by Y.T., a Kourier who delivers it for him. They end up facing off and working with various franchulates in a race to prevent the spread of a virus (the same as the title) that can get you whether you're plugged in or not. I won't reveal any more because one of the chief pleasures of this novel comes from turning the page and being confronted with a new twist that turns any previous notion you might have had on what would happen into dust.

The ending is a disappointment which, as far as I can see, is standard for every one of Stephenson's novels. He has the tendency to end them abruptly, which leaves me wondering what happens next. Despite this little quibble, it's the little moments in the story that make it worthwhile. Stephenson is a master of detail and he has put together a novel that not only links Sumerian culture, glossolalia and hacking but makes that link seem plausible and adds characters we can identify with.


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