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REVIEW: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

REVIEW SUMMARY: A well written, humorous, action-packed story, if you ignore the parts dealing with the whole Sumerian legend stuff.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Near-future, sword-wielding pizza deliveryman/hacker tracks down the people who infected his friend with the ?snow-crash? virus.

PROS: Vivid writing; successful blend of science fiction and humor; cool vision of the near future; a quick read.
CONS: A bit heavy on the Sumerian mythology.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun, well-written read with some great action sequences.

Snow Crash got bumped up on my reading list due to an upcoming trip to see the author at a book signing. Overall, it’s a very good story and an enjoyable read.

Set in a near future where the world consists of corporate-owned city-sates, Snow Crash tells the story of a man named “Hiro Protagonist” by day, a pizza delivery man for the mafia; by night, a sword-wielding hacker who is a freelance information collector for the Central Intelligence Corporation (CIC). In the virtual reality world known as the Metaverse, Hiro witnesses a friend infected with ?snow crash?, a virus powerful enough to harm the person in the real world. Hiro, along with wise-cracking 15 year-old courier Y.T., set out to uncover the truth about snow crash and its creator’s plans to rule the world.

As the story opens, you know this is not your ordinary science fiction story. Stephenson begins with a humorous sequence in which a Mafia pizza delivery has gone horribly wrong. From there, the reader is propelled high speed through a plot with awesomely written action sequences, cool future technology and the perfect amount of humor. (One extended passage details a memo about an office pool for toilet paper usage. Funny stuff that rivals Dilbert, when Dilbert is funny that is.)

Particularly enjoyable were the Metaverse sequences. Stephenson’s vision is believable and firmly rooted in technological trends and explanations. Also noteworthy are his futuristic inventions which include a skateboard with terrain-adjusting wheels, the weapons and, of course, the Metaverse itself. But all of this would be lost if it weren’t for Stephenson’s terse, vivid writing style. Even the slower parts of the book were made more palatable by the simple choice of words used or, when none were available to produce the desired effect, the creative use of made-up words.

As Stephenson describes it, the snow crash virus is able to harm people in the real world by communicating directly to brain’s “deep structure.” You see, there’s the learned language we all speak, but there is also an innate, subconscious language that we all know as well. Snow crash ?fries? the victim by speaking this subconscious language. This is all well and good for purposes of plot, but Stephenson wraps all of this in Sumerian mythos. In fact, he goes through long, painful lengths to explain this mythology to the reader in great detail. Those parts of the story really seemed to drag.

Additionally, I was a bit thrown by the introduction of Hiro as a pizza deliveryman. In reality, Hiro is a ?stringer? for the CIC and a damn fine swordsman. He is the action hero of every big-budget movie you ever saw. So there was a bit of ?Huh?? reaction when who I though was a young punk turned out to be a forty-year old action hero.

Still, these are minor detriments in an otherwise well-told tale. Snow crash is sure to please.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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