One thing I really like about Neal Stephenson’s books is how you never know just what you’re going to get. His stories are always so original and I always enjoy watching the plot unfold to see what new and unexpected direction we’re about to head down.
Snow Crash is a prime example of this and I love how Stephenson weaves the story of futuristic hackers living in a dystopian world with ancient Sumerian myths and linguistic theories. I adore ancient myths and linguistics as a plot device and here is a writer who has combined both to give me a bonus of two in one! Yay!
Hiro Protagonist (gotta love that name!) is a samurai sword-toting pizza delivery guy in a futuristic United States that’s more than a little reminiscent of the dystopian world in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. But in the Metaverse, a virtual-reality-style version of the Internet, Hiro’s an expert hacker and also the greatest swordsman in the Black Sun.
Now Hiro’s called on to aid his ex-girlfriend, the beautiful, enigmatic and intelligent Juanita Marquez, over the matter of Snow Crash, a new drug and computer virus that can affect the minds of people in both reality and the Metaverse. With the aid of Y.T., a highly precocious and streetwise 15-year-old skateboarding courier, Hiro does his best to untangle the mystery of Snow Crash and its links to an ancient Sumerian mythology and the Tower of Babel.
I mentioned Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series earlier and fans of the trilogy will definitely like Snow Crash, which at times feels like a more optimistic, lighthearted version of MaddAddam (but minus the environmental message) with a little bit of Matrix and Tron thrown in and a dusting of China Mieville-esque bizarro on the top. There’s all kinds of fun stuff in the book like adorable and deadly robot guard dogs, skateboarding courier garments with enough futuristic devices to rival James Bond’s spy gear, a Mafia-esque pizza franchise and a super cool virtual reality librarian that I wished I had in real life. There’s also plenty of likeable characters in the book too and lots of fun banter that made me laugh out loud more than once.
Readers of Neal Stephenson will readily acknowledge that the man’s not afraid of strong female characters (yay!). In fact, Y.T., the teenage female courier who acts as a sort of sidekick to Hiro, ends up stealing the show from him half the time. They make for a fun and entertaining sort of dysfunctional Batman and Robin. Also, did I mention Hiro is a POC? (He’s part Japanese, part African American). Hooray for diversity!
I only have two small gripes about this book: 1) while I like the overall strong female theme, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with Y.T.’s relationship with one of the baddies in Snow Crash, especially considering just how old she is. I know she’s super precocious and can take care of herself and I could also kind of see where Stephenson was going with there but still… that, combined with what happened to Nell in The Diamond Age, kind of makes me raise my eyebrows and ask if we really needed to go there.
Also (second small gripe), while I enjoyed the book the whole way through, the ending felt rather abrupt and left me wondering exactly what happened to a few of the characters toward the end (or if they were even alive).
However, these are pretty minor gripes and didn’t really interfere with my enjoyment of the book. Overall, if you’re looking for something fun and different to read and you like a bit of science fiction, I’d definitely recommend giving Snow Crash a go.