Community Oracle's Cult of the Literati

I Got Yer Nam-Shub Right Here, Enki!

Snow Crash
By Neal Stephenson

I had very high hopes for this book. As the winner of several Sci-Fi awards, multiple recommendations from separate parties, and the author's continued popularity in more recent works, it seemed like failure was not an option. Well, perhaps that's a bit harsh. I wouldn't call Snow Crash a FAILbook, but...I dunno...meh? That's really the strongest emotion I can associate with the story.

Now, it's quite possible that I am biased. I prefer fantasy, I really do. I find it very difficult to associate emotionally with stories that are very technologically driven. The cold, clean lines of space and/or the future seem to create a forcefield (Eh? Get it?) around the story that prevents me from getting inside and making myself comfortable. I thought that maybe this was because I hadn't met the right Sci-Fi story yet and I had to go out and play the field...maybe sign up for one of those sites on the interwebz where you have to take a 300 question personality test, pay out a whole paycheck and some computer will match me up with the correct Sci-Fi novel that will be compatible with my personality. So, when Snow Crash was put before me, pre-screened (as it were) for quality, I couldn't help but say yes.

Before I start listing out my issues with the book, let me first say that Stephenson is, without question, a great writer. His work is intelligent and funny, and he appreciates irony. These are very good qualities for a writer to have. The book tells the story of Hiro Protagonist (yes, yes... that's the main character's name. Hiro...Protagonist.../sigh), a hacker who spends equal time in the regular world as he does in the Metaverse, a virtual-reality world that can be accessed by anyone and everyone. The Metaverse is, in many ways, preferable to the real world, where everything is corporatized: housing, food, religion, crime, etc. and is seconds away from complete social collapse. Hiro is trying to find out the source of a new drug, Snow Crash, that is killing people in both the 'Verse and IRL and seems to be directed specifically at hackers.

My very first impression of this book was that it was a bit like watching The Jetsons, or Bladerunner...or riding Space Mountain at Disneyland. Basically, it struck me as a vision of the future that was written in the past. This book was written in 1992, right as the Internet was gaining popularity, but before it became embedded in our lives as it is now. Reading this book today, knowing what we do about the internet, hackers, and technology, some parts of this book (which I'm sure at the time it was written were nothing short of visionary) just seem dated and absurd. I think that was a contributing factor in my inability to connect with the story.

The underlying theme of the story is the concept that language itself is a virus, spreading from person to person over time, and that the people affected by this 'virus' will become susceptible to a sort of re-set code that will allow them to be controlled remotely by an outside source. I think that this concept is fascinating, BUT the way it is conveyed in the story is, IMO, very clumsy and heavy-handed. The story is split in two, alternating between actual plot and large chunks of Hiro in his "librarian" unloading huge information-dumps about ancient Sumerians, the origin of language, and someting called a "nam-shub." Now, I can certainly handle a large amount of historical fact in the stories I read, and I'm pretty good about keeping it all straight, but it seems like Stephenson didn't really know how to integrate all of this knowledge into the actual plot of the story, so he separated it out into these info-dumps which do little to drive the story forward and only come into play at the last possible minute.

So, overall, I was disappointed. I really dislike disliking books and I'm willing to make a lot of concessions, but I find it hard to ignore sloppy storytelling. Maybe I need to read it over again to pick up the nuances that really bind the book together. Is there anyone out there who really loved this book and can shed some light here? Anyone?

Tired of the same old fantasy and sci-fi books? Care to keep up with the Oracle in her quest for wordy-goodness? Follow along so we'll have something to talk about! Here's what we have on deck for next time:
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

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