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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson

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To purchase Snow Crash

Title: Snow Crash
Author: Neal Stephenson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992
Length: 468 pages
Availability: Snow Crash - US
Snow Crash - UK
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Our Assessment:

B+ : an entertaining read, with many clever ideas, decently presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Scientist A 25/12/1993 David Barrett
The NY Times Book Rev. B 14/6/1992 .
The Washington Post . 28/6/1992 John Clute

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr. Stephenson unwisely lets the narrative bog down in a series of lectures that read like Umberto Eco without the charm. But the bang-up ending gets the priorities just right; in cyberpunk, faster is better." - The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is cyberpunk as it ought to be, and almost never is." - David Barrett, New Scientist

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Snow Crash is a fairly impressive display of the possibilities of science fiction (as fiction). Stephenson's literary ambitions (or abilities) are not exactly overwhelming, but there is a considerable amount of attention to literary craft. The result is a book that is actually fairly readable.
       That is a good thing, though it would nearly be worth reading just for the neat ideas Stephenson comes up with. The details of this science fiction are what is most fun about it, and Stephenson plays them to the hilt, with a deadpan sense of humor that keeps it all rolling along at a nice pace. That the true plot of the novel is a bit over-complex and over-explained does not do the novel irreparable harm.
       Set in some near future the world has become a very different place. The worlds, actually. There's the real world, where America is split up into so many burbclaves -- suburban enclaves, almost all absolutely identical -- and the Federal government is just one small (and still mighty inefficient) nation-state among many others. Then there is the Metaverse, the Internet as it might very well look in the future, a world that can be accessed through any computer, in which one can move about as an avatar, looking as one wishes (within certain limits -- such as: one's avatar can't be taller than one actually is, to prevent the Metaverse being crowded by giants).
       The main characters are trendy young things. Stephenson actually names one of them Hiro Protagonist -- even acknowledging it is a name assumed by the character himself, not his real one, it is still a daring (and initially certainly pretty off-putting) step in a work of fiction. A young pizza delivery man cum hacker, of mixed parentage, Hiro was one of the early denizens of the Metaverse. He wrote some of the code in the early development stage, which means he knows many of the tricks of the place -- especially of the Black Sun, one of the earliest structures on the Metaverse's main drag, the Street.
       The other leading character is a fifteen year old skateboarding Kourier, Y.T. (often, naturally, mistakenly called Whitey), who spends her days navigating the streets, (har)pooning rides to tow her on her skateboard from delivery to delivery. Bar-code visas for the many independent states are affixed to her uniform, so that she can be scanned on the fly as she whizzes across the borders of these new disUnited States.
       There is Mr Lee's Greater Hong Kong, the ultra capitalist territory -- no guns allowed. Then there is New South Africa, regressively racist. And so on.
       Hiro, our hero, starts out as a pizza delivery man working for the mob. Uncle Enzo runs the CosaNostra Pizza company, all deliveries guaranteed within 30 minutes. If the pizza comes late, it is a major, major deal. And Hiro gets himself in a position where he will not be able to make his delivery on time. Y.T. bails him out of this problem, which also means the Mafia now owe her a big favour.
       So begins the entertaining tale. Hiro, hacker (and swordfighter) extraordinaire, also earns extra cash selling intel -- intelligence/ data/ information of any sort -- to the new version of the CIA. Hiro soon finds himself with another threatening problem in the other world, the Metaverse. Someone offers him a hypercard -- information that would be transferred to his computer -- there: Snow Crash, the latest drug, and intel of a very dangerous type.
       Hiro avoids temptation, a former colleague does not and gets his brain fried. From there the novel amounts to a race to avoid the spread of Snow Crash, which turns out to be both a computer virus and a real virus -- of a very unusual (and pretty clever) sort.
       Colorful characters abound, including Raven who is packing a thermonuclear weapon linked to chip in his head, so that if he gets killed everyone goes up in a nice mushroom cloud. There's also the L.Ron Hubbard-Oral Roberts-Pat Robertson figure, L.Bob Rife, a preacher man / business man who has had great success in finding new converts, including, lately, lots of hackers..... There's even a Fido, a dog of sorts with unusual (and admirable) abilities.
       Paths cross, and everyone is involved -- though it is not clear whose interests (and loyalties) are where, or why certain people do certain things. But a novel of this length has to keep up the suspense, and for most of the way Stephenson does that ably.
       Stephenson's explanation for the virus -- what it is, how it came about, what danger it poses -- is ingenious, and one admires his attempt at something serious. However, he does get bogged down in explanation, and he cannot quite make the virus come alive (which is a shame, because it is a darn clever idea).
       What Stephenson is very good at is the Metaverse, which he handles extremely well in all its facets. All the scenes there are a success. The other aspect of the novel that is exceptional is his description of what the world has come to, everyday life in the disorganized remnants of America. Not all of it is completely convincing, but he balances between writing for laughs and writing social commentary very well. None of it is too didactic, and little of it too over the top.
       The technology is neat throughout, though aspects unlikely -- especially the high-speed skateboarding across pretty much all surfaces, even with supersmart wheels. But it is all the gadget scenes, whether in the Metaverse or the real world, and regardless of how realistic or not, that are certainly the most fun. (And generally most of what he describes has at least the ring of strong plausibility.)
       The novel collapses into a race against the clock -- a little too simple, a little too predictable -- but it is still fairly exciting.
       The chapters basically alternate between Hiro and Y.T., with them barely running into each other, each doing their part. We would not have minded a bit more interaction there, but Stephenson's method seems fair enough. The ending may also seem a bit abrupt. Personally we would have also liked the more daring ending -- not the fairy tale one but rather the (surely far more likely) white noise / Snow Crash ending -- tough to write, but packing a hell of a bigger punch -- but maybe he is saving the characters for a sequel.

       Snow Crash is an entertaining read, and we certainly recommend it it -- strongly to those interested in science fiction, but also to those curious about where our world is headed. Stephenson has many interesting thoughts, and he writes engagingly and often well.

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Snow Crash: Reviews: Neal Stephenson: Other Books by Neal Stephenson under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Neal Stephenson was born in 1959. After his novel about academia, The Big U, he wrote "the Eco-thriller" Zodiac and then began writing true science fiction, with which he has had great success.

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