Tim Pendry's Reviews > Snow Crash

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Mar 17, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: north-american, popular-culture, science-fiction, twentieth-century

‘Snow Crash’ is Neal Stephenson’s third novel (published in 1992), although there are times when it appears like a first. If that seems lacking in respect - after all, it has rightly been influential on cyberpunk in much the same way as Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ - it is not intended to be.

There is no doubt of Stephenson’s creativity nor of his undoubted intelligence and, here, long stretches of factual presentation are pulled off (Sumerian religious practices included) but we see signs of his later didacticism and lengthy close detailing.

Elsewhere in his work, it can feel like you are being (to use my daughter’s phrase) ‘speech-talked’ by a post-grad who wants to tell you about his research when all you want to do is chill over a beer. The fun is then replaced by earnestness.

Perhaps the book, justifiably a classic in the sub-genre, is already about to flip over a line from being an exciting current read into being part of a canon, an item on a literature student’s reading list.

What looked amazing and imaginative in 1992 and perhaps prescient and hip in 2002 looks a bit historical and past-it in 2012. Er ... VHS? The virtual world of Snow Crash looks far more Tron than Second Life. The references back to men who had fought in Vietnam now seem dated.

Of course, all science fiction becomes the victim of a later reality – who now believes in the possibility of Gernsback-era rocket ships or that men might be shot into space by a giant gun Verne-style. So it is with cyber-space.

Still, it’s an enjoyable romp that reads well. Hiro Protagonist is oddly likeable, the finely tuned slacker-hacker of all geeky fantasy selves. Raven, the psychopathic Aleut, has a plausible back story that almost has you rooting for him.

But our skateboarding girl interest is as unreal as only nerd sci-fi writers can imagine young girls to be, even if she is engaging once you accept that she is a fantasy. The satire is also quite acute and very amusing at times.

The grey doggedness of what remains of a bureaucratic yet privatised US under a cipher President is grimly presented. The idea of the Mafia, in alliance with a private security operation and the Hong Kong Chinese, being the good guys is carried off cynically and brilliantly.

The technologies are imaginative – even if human flesh seems to have an absurd resilience and the lack of technological realism is often ridiculous. Let’s face it, we all laughed like crazy in ‘Independence Day’ when the laptop actually worked straight off in the alien ship!

Read it now for fun now before it becomes as conceptually distant to us as Wells’ ‘War in the Air’ or start reading it in preparation for that essay on the historical importance of cyberpunk in the pre-internet era. Either way, Hiro Protagonist is probably now firmly in the science fiction canon.

(GoodReads seems to have become a bit clunky about choosing the right edition but no matter – the text is the thing. For the record, I read the Penguin paperback reissue of 2011)

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Snow Crash.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.