book-reviews

Snow Crash

by Neal Stephenson

Rating: ★★★★

Snow Crash is a blockbuster novel set in a post-national world where the US Government really is just one gang among many, and not even a cool one. Corporations are the real powers, now. Low-level warfare is a fact of life, and people swear their allegiance to one or another franchise, trying to find a life that suits them.

The bad news is that the book's driving premise, a sort of conspiracy theory constructed from neuro-linguistic programming, religion and allegories about viruses -- with an extra and only partially relevant bit about hackers thinking like computers -- is not very coherent, and you end up having to let them handwave a fair bit about Sumerian religion and the magic words to control human brains.

The good news is you don't really need any of that except as a mystery overtone to drive the action. The novel is laden with brazen flair, throwing out scenes with an audacity I can only applaud, albeit from some 12-year-old core. Our pizza-delivering main character is Hiro Protagonist, a kickass hacker who also happens to be the greatest swordfighter in the word. His supporting cast includes a 15-year-old high-speed courier called Yours Truly (or Y.T. for short), a homicidal spear-throwing Aleut called Raven, who goes around with his brain wired to a nuke, and a friendly Mafia boss called Uncle Enzo, who is very committed to your pizza's delivery time. It's absurd, raw and gripping good fun.

Snow Crash paints a detailed picture of the future, drawing out a number of modern trends in national identity, technology and immigration to strange conclusions -- some of which are no doubt less odd now than when the novel was written. It uses this as the setting for a slightly befuddled plot about memetic hazards, and uses this whole backdrop as an excuse for some straight-out awesome action. As light reading, with interesting elements for the sci-fi fan, this is great.