Review – Snow Crash

Snow CrashSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Synopsis from GoodReads:
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.

I read Stephenson’s Diamond Age back in high school and, while I enjoyed it, I had one major problem with the novel: the ending.  In the last 20-30 pages, Stephenson wrapped up everything he had been building towards, leaving too many things dangling and too many implausibilities, at least to my mind.  Now, having read Snow Crash, I am beginning to wonder if this is a habit of his.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Snow Crash.  It took a while to get into, and the first couple chapters didn’t help with their timeline jumping, but after I got past that the book really took off.  The characters are entertaining if a bit odd (particularly Y.T.), the setting is semi-believable for a dystopian cyber-punk novel (the tech feels a bit too advanced for how close to now that it’s set, but that’s a minor quibble since the novel was written back in the 90’s), and the mythos/philosophical discussions were enjoyable for me but possibly not everyone’s cup of tea.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of telling compared to showing, especially in the final fifty or so pages, when everything’s wrapping up.  The climactic fight between Raven and Hiro didn’t have a lot of energy, description, or tension.  Same for the events going on in Reality at the end.  And the final scene, while acceptable, just felt so incongruous with everything that came before it that I couldn’t really believe that was how the novel ended.

Furthermore, there were a couple of chapters that were pure info-dump.  Basically, one character would spew out everything he knew or had learned about the bad guys’ plot.  Sometimes it would come in the form of a discussion between two characters (notably Hiro and the Librarian), which made it a bit more acceptable since one of those characters was seeking information, but I didn’t feel that I actually needed to have Hiro sum it all up at the end for other characters.  Those pages could have been devoted to wrapping up other issues, or actually showing the fights, or showing what Juanita was up to.  Because darnit, I really want to know what she did and went through between going to Oregon and her appearance at the end of the book.

Snow Crash, like many cyber punk books, has a bit of a learning curve with the language.  They drop a lot of terms on you, especially in the chapters following Y.T. around, without always explaining them.  I would say that it’s easier to pick up than the language in A Clockwork Orange but harder than the occasional Japanese/Engrish terms thrown into Neuromancer.  And it certainly helped set the scene.

Clearly a lot of research went into Snow Crash, and I highly appreciate that.  From the ‘religions of the book’ and their origins to Sumerian religion, archaeology to computers, I didn’t come across a single thing that made me go ‘that doesn’t sound right’.  Except for one thing.  And this is going to sound very nit-picky, considering how much effort must have gone into the research for Snow Crash, but this one thing just pushes my buttons because people do it so often.  Not just authors – you hear it on the news, read it in magazines, everywhere.

So.  People.  A caduceus is a winged staff with two snakes, one on either side with their bodies twined together around the staff.  This is the symbol of Hermes/Mercury, the Messenger God who conducted souls down to the River Styx.  It is often confused for the medical symbol of a single staff with a snake twined around it, the symbol of Asclepius, a demi-god whose healing powers could bring people back from the dead until the Greek gods sent a snake to kill him.  I get that it’s a lot easier to say ‘caduceus’ than it is to say ‘rod of Asclepius’, but there is a difference.

Sorry for the mini-rant, but it really does drive me out of my reading zone when the terms are used incorrectly.  Especially since, in this case, Stephenson was referring to how a staff or branch with a snake can refer to other deities associated with snakes.

Putting that minor matter aside…

Snow Crash is a good book.  I can’t say it’s great or that I loved it, unfortunately, but I really enjoyed it.  The world was believable and internally consistent, most of the characters were endearing in their nuttiness, and a lot of good questions were raised, specifically about the distance between man and machine and what, exactly, can be programmed – or infected with a virus.

4 out of 5 stars.

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