I read The Diamond Age not too long ago and really liked it, so I thought I would read Snow Crash next. Like Diamond Age, Snow Crash is a hypercomplex story with many characters doing all kinds of odd things, often at the same time.
It took me several tries to get all the way through Snow Crash. The general ebb and flow of the story is confusing, the super stylized world baffling, and the general idea that humans can adapt to such a rapidly changing reality, let alone thrive in it, is a tad hard to believe. But then, would someone living in 1870 believe that men would walk on the moon in a hundred years and routinely travel by flying?
Snow Crash was written in 1992 and the world has changed in all kinds of odd and interesting ways-but we have not yet broken into a gazillion tiny nation states and moved in mass to a computer generated reality called the Metaverse that seems to be one of the first incarnations of The Matrix. Like all cyberpunk writers, Neal Stephenson thought Virtual Reality was going to be the Next Big Thing.
The two heroes of Snow Crash are Hiro Protagonist and Y.T. (short for Yours Truly) Hiro is half black/half Japanese-his dark skin occasionally comes into play as he meets racists of one sort or another in his extended travels. Y.T. is a young woman who works as a Courier and somehow ends up entangled in a massive conspiracy involving The Mafia, Mr Lee’s Greater Honk Knog, The Feds, and the love of a ferociously powerful Rat Thing. She also pretty quickly partners up with Hiro in his quest to solve the mystery of the nam–shub of Enki.
A big part of the challenge of Snow Crash is that right from the opening sentence, you are on unfamiliar ground. Hiro starts out as the Deliverator who delivers pizzas for Uncle Enzo and meets Y.T. when she poons his car as he cruises through a burbclave. It all sounds cool and hip, and once you the hang of the slang that makes up the bulk of the proper names in Snow Crash, it is fun. But in the beginning, very little makes sense and we are never told more than snippets of how America fell from grace and became a collection of tiny counties-some only a few blocks in size-that each have their own laws and armies and so on and so forth. It seems that it had something to do with online shopping not charging taxes and all governments going broke because of the loss of revenue.
In the end the countless little story lines and the endless historical drone about ancient Sumeria and the dozens of larger than life characters all meet, both in the Real World and the Metaverse and bring about a very satisfying resolution.
Snow Crash was a bit more work than I usually like to put into a novel, but I did like how Neal Stephenson wrapped it all up.