Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second time I’ve read this book. This first time was something around 20 years ago and it was definitely a 5-star book to me at the time. I’d never read anything like it. Reading it in 2020 is very interseting. Some of the things have come true and other, like the Metaverse, seem to be on the cusp of actually happening.
Given the way 2020 is going, Stephenson’s neo-liberalistic view of the world with burbclaves (an idea he continues in The Diamond Age) seems realistic and every time I read about for-profit prisons I think back on this book. Yet, for a book “in the future” it’s just so interesting to see the anachronisms – lack of smart phones, in fact stating that very few folks have computers or internet access, the fact that hackers would necessarily be affected due to being able to understand binary. Not so much anymore – there are many hackers like myself who primarily use higher level languages. Even game designers, who used to be the last holdouts of C are using C++ and C# (in Unity) and even Python-like languages (in Godot).
I used to hate Stephenson’s early books (like this one) for the way they abruptly ended. It’s definitely not just me – it’s almost a meme among his fans. But reading this again, it’s actually kind of a perfect ending to this book. The world goes on, mostly unaware and unaffected by the events of Snow Crash. It makes sense for the ending to leave so many loose ends. The world is a messy place, even moreso in the world of Snow Crash. Also, from a meta level, it was originally meant to be a graphic novel – that last line seems like the last line of a comic, movie, or TV show. It also makes sense for Stephenson being a member of The Long Now – a group that looks at time on a much longer scope (see his book Anathem for more on that).
This book, along with The Diamond Age were my entries into cyberpunk and cypherpunk. I still haven’t gone back and read Gibson and the other Godfather and Godmothers of the genre – I’m somewhat afraid they won’t age well. They awakened in me an understanding of how vast SF could be and that it could have something specifically tailored to someone like me. I think it still mostly holds up, especially if you look at it as taking place in an alternate universe (which it has to because characters have parents who were in WWII, it can’t take place in some indefinite future like other SF books). If you’re willing to look past some of the Zeerust, I think it’s definitely worth a read.
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