Snow Crash is counted among the most important cyberpunk novels and sadly, I had not read it until recently. Though it was originally published in 1992, Neal Stephenson’s vision of America as a sprawling corporate wasteland still feels fresh and relevant. Given that we’re privatizing everything from prisons to pension programs, it doesn’t seem like much of a leap to imagine people living in gated “burboclaves” and doing all their shopping in drive through malls. In Southern California, we’re nearly there already.
Stephenson creates a clever, detailed future, populates it with equally attractive characters and tells a fast paced action story. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, but that’s not really what allows this book to age well. What really stands out it how well Stephenson understood the emotional interaction that people have with technology. In Snow Crash the Metaverse (similar to the internet) isn’t just a place for nerds and high-tech espionage. It’s a place where people go to escape their daily lives. People walk virtual streets, alter the appearance of their avatars, make business deals and go on dates, all in a non-corporeal space. Sound familiar? Our protagonist, Hiro Protaganist, is a pizza-delivering drone who lives in a storage unit in the physical world, but in the Metaverse, he’s the founder of a powerful club and co-owner of a valuable piece of virtual real estate. Many of the characters in Snow Crash have similar binary personalities. They’re one sort of person on line and quite a different person in “real” life. This dichotomy makes for intriguing character actions, but it also offers the reader a good opportunity to think about her own relationship with technology and what kind of person it allows her to become.
Whether you’re looking for a story pirates (real and cyber), car chases, computer viruses, evil corporations, or a chance to meditate on society’s relationship with technology, you’ll find Snow Crash a satisfying read.