Friday, August 22, 2008

SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash is a cyberpunk science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson, originally published in 1992. It involves virtual reality and computer science, religion (particularly ancient Mesopotamian religions, Sumerian in particular), linguistics, and philosophy.

Stephenson writes in the present tense, a technique that is typically annoying and inferior, but which Stephenson pulls off reasonably well. This is not to say, however, that Snow Crash would not have been better served by being written in the standard past tense. It's close.

The world Stephenson has created is vivid and interesting. Society has degenerated into anarcho-capitalism; virtually every aspect of government has been relegated to the private sector. Elements of Stephenson's Metaverse are present in today's internet. Stephenson holds the reader's interest with his colorful characters, including his main character, the sword-wielding hacker Hiro Protagonist. 

A cast of interesting people doing interesting things is, ultimately, enough to carry the book, which is good, because Stephenson's take on philosophy, religion and linguistics falls flat. Stephenson obviously did a lot of research, which he presents as page after page of lecture from the Librarian character. He's gotten some things fundamentally wrong, however, most notably the development of early Christianity. And his concept of a real-life virus as code is downright silly.

Ultimately, Snow Crash is seriously flawed, but well worth reading.