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Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 25, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 22/09/2012

Publisher – Penguin; Year of Publication – 1992; Pages – 350

Neal Stephenson is an author who has the habit of writing very long complicated multi threaded novels. Most of his works will have an average of thousand pages with at least five story lines running parallel to each other with no apparent interconnection. But the plots would be so fantastically set and high tech that it will be difficult for an avid reader to not finish his books once started. So instead of scaring you from Stephenson, I will review one of his simpler yet path breaking novels.

I am sure most of us have had the misfortune of facing the Blue Screen of Death while working on our computer. Snow Crash was the term the author used to describe the crashes on his Apple Macintosh. It is a screen that many of us have seen as well – only on the television though, when there is no signal. Snow Crash is a book about a computer virus that can cause your brain to crash.

Neal Stephenson churns out a tale immersed in ancient Sumerian mythology and biblical stories bridging it with hacking (Both with computers and with swords) and internet avatars. The protagonist of the novel, aptly named Hiro Protagonist, is a pizza delivery man during the day and a computer hacker by the night. He is also an expert swordsman having acquired a set of samurai swords from Japan. It is up to him to unravel the mysterious virus that is leaving everyone in its way, be it virtual or real, as blabbering idiots. Helping him in his quest is a courier girl who goes around on a rocket powered skateboard and stopping them in their way is a psychotic Eskimo whose harpoons are as deadly as the nuclear bomb he carries around.

Stephenson traces the stories about the Tower of Babel and glossolalia practices of certain sects of Christianity to add a historical touch to the novel, but it is the author’s work on the metaverse and avatars that makes it a path breaking novel. In fact, the usage of avatar as a representation of your internet presence gained popularity because of its use in this novel. The Snow Crash metaverse is a virtual world where users interact using avatars in a manner akin to the real world, even if they are separated by vast distances in reality. This theme was later used by the website Second Life, to develop a considerably successful online world.

Another interesting theme of the novel is the breakup of USA into a private enterprise and development of sovereign residential enclaves with their own laws and security forces. Even the Mafia is a sovereign nation. Private enterprise is the king and everything from the army to postal work is done by private entities.

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One Response to “Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson”

  1. […] Published on 09/09/2012 27)  The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien – Published on 16/09/2012 28) Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson – Published on […]

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