Mar 31, 2011

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash

It was the best of dystopias, it was the worst of dystopias. Snow Crash mixes some of my favorite common elements of this sort of cyberpunk romp - sprawling, corporate rule, youth fads, a magic internet, random violence, hero girls - with my least favorites - programmer babble, religious pseudotheory. And it's hard not to just see it as Stephenson's take on William Gibson. I mean, Y.T. might as well be a younger, less modified Molly Millions. The franchise properties, where someone could cross the country by going from parking lot to parking lot, stand in pretty handily for The Sprawl. And so on.

But Neal's got his own ideas, his own take on the whole thing. Granted, he was writing in the 90s and had Gibson to springboard from, but he's enough of an author that I'm not trying to take anything away from him.

So, taking Snow Crash out of that context and on its own, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Except for the hacker blah blah. It's just not my cup of tea. I've never been a gamer, never been a programmer, and could care less about hearing someone talk about fucking around with computers on that level. It just leaves me flat and bored. So, actually, the fact that I dug a novel with so much of that as the main thread does say something positive.

The characters were a good time, even the side guys. The whole thing with the mafia ("You've got a Friend in the Business" - love it) as a legitimate corporation tickled me. It makes sense, of course, that in a situation where money talks and the government has little to no influence, the mob would have the structure and cash flow to be a major power player. In fact, I would love to read more about Uncle Enzo and his crew. Does Stephenson revisit them? And, of course, the Raft. I'd love to read an entire novel set there. Or maybe I have - take out some of the tech elements and you've got The Scar by China Miéville. I wonder how much of an influence this book was on that one.

Now, the religious/cultural parts. Well, hmmm. Sure, it makes sense as written. I'll buy that. It's as good a paperback theory as any I've seen. It didn't exactly knock windows in my skull, but I bet it would have given me plenty to chew on if I'd read it as a younger man.


Doc said...

Yup. Over-hyped. A "decent" (and I won't go higher than that) cyberpunk read. In comparison to contemporaries like Noir and Altered Carbon, Snowcrash is rambly and shallow.

John M. said...

I loved Snow Crash. It's best taken on the level of a comic book. It's not the deepest stuff one will encounter, but it's full of interesting insights and humorous interludes. It's sort of like the "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" of cyberpunk. It's a romp, plain and simple.

I think he's more influenced by Thomas Pynchon than anyone else. I see very little in the way of any influence coming from William Gibson. The big difference being that Stephenson is a scientist and knows tech. Gibson wrote Neuromancer on a manual typewriter and was probably the least tech-savvy science fiction writer of all time. (that's not to diminish his prescience and insight into society and its use of technology, he just didn't know shit about it - he was winging all that stuff. by his own admission.)

Another interesting point: In my experience, Stephenson was the first to tout China as an emerging player while Gibson and everyone else were still waxing on Japan. His take on it seems to come more and more true to light every day.

I loved the Eskimo guy, too. The Sumerian root-language stuff was a bit woo-woo.

I like The Diamond Age even more and Cryptonomicon was fantastic, although if you're not into computers or cryptology, you'd probably not enjoy it as much as I did.

Ms. Moon said...

When are you going to write The Great Dystopian Novel?

John M. said...

Did I ever mention "Dinner at Deviant's Palace" by Tim Powers? Definitely in your bailiwick. Not my favorite book by him, but it throws some fresh twists into the genre.

downtown guy said...

Doc: I placed it a little above middlin'. It took me longer to read than the material warranted, because I sort of kept losing interest, but it kept my interest well enough that I finished it and didn't feel ripped off.

John: I think I would it liked it better as a graphic novel, honestly. I did love the character of Raven, although I didn't mention him in my review. I'd like to revisit his adventures. I've got Diamond Age at home and plan to get to it in the next month or two, so I'll see how it rates for me.

Mama: don't think I'm not thinking about it.

John, again: That looks right up my alley. I added it to the lists. Thanks!

Doc said...

Shout out to you:

OlmanFeelyus said...

Doc, I don't think it's correct to call Noir or Altered Carbon contemporary. Snow Crash came out much, much earlier, in the nascent days of cyberpunk. It's the first real "party" cyberpunk novel and a lot of people (like me) read it in their younger years with only Neuromancer before. So it did have a lot of impact and that's where a lot of its reptuation comes from. Stephenson has continued to grow and has done some great stuff (though he's way too geeky for me now). So while I don't think Snow Crash is a masterpiece by any means, I also don't think "over-hyped" is fair.

downtown guy said...

Doc: thanks! I can't comment from here on that blog (something about the formatting my computer doesn't like) but I'll be following.

Olman: I sort of got the feeling, reading it, that I should have come across it earlier, both by date and in my life.