Snow Crash

Snow Crash is one of those books I could not escape reading. I’ve been a fan of William Gibson and Cory Doctorow for years. When you have either of those authors in your list of things you’ve bought on Amazon, well, you get recommended Snow Crash just about every day until you actually buy the book.

Short Version: One of the best books I’ve read in a while.

Long Version: In a world where everyone lives in a Burbclave that is actually its own sovereign nation franchise, the President of the United States is someone no one really knows or cares about.

Hiro Protagonist is the world’s greatest swordsman and hacker (that’s hacker in the computer user sense, and the swordsman one). He teams up with a punk named Y.T and they seek out information to sell and are also on the trail of a guy named L. Bob Rife who wants to use an ancient Sumerian text to turn the entire world into his drone army.

In Rife’s employ are piles of people and an Aleut named Raven. Hiro and Y.T must fight Raven and co in the real world and in the Metaverse (think Second Life), sometimes at the same time.

The top three characters in this story are Hiro, Y.T., and an AI program in Hiro’s employ that is simply known as “The Librarian.”

The best quote that describes the world Snow Crash inhabits is found on pages 190-192 in the version of the text I have, and it reads thusly:

The franchise and the virus work on the same principle: what thrives in one place will thrive in another. You just have to find a sufficiently virulent business plan, condense it into a three-ring binder – its DNA – xerox it, and embed it in the fertile lining of a well-traveled highway, preferably one with a left-turn lane. Then the growth will expand until it runs up against its property lines.

In olden times, you’d wander down to Mom’s Cafe for a bite to eat and a cup of joe, and you would feel right at home. It worked just fine if you never left your hometown. But if you went to the next town over, everyone would look up and stare at you when you came in the door, and the Blue Plate Special would be something you didn’t recognize. If you did enough traveling, you’d never feel at home anywhere.

But when a businessman from New Jersey goes to Dubuque, he knows he can walk into a McDonald’s and no one will stare at him. He can order without having to look at the menu, and the food will always taste the same. McDonald’s is Home, condensed into a three-ring binder and xeroxed. “No surprises” is the motto of the franchise ghetto, its Good Housekeeping seal, subliminally blazoned on every sign and logo that make up the curves and grids of light that outline the Basin.

The people of America, who live in the world’s most surprising and terrible country, take comfort in that motto. Follow the loglo outward, to where the growth is enfolded into the valleys and the canyons, and you find the land of the refugees. They have fled from the true America, the America of atomic bombs, scalpings, hip-hop, chaos theory, cement overshoes, snake handlers, spree killers, space walks, buffalo jumps, drive-bys, cruise missiles, Sherman’s March, gridlock, motorcycle gangs, and bungee jumping. They have parallel-parked their bimbo boxes in identical computer-designed Burbclave street patterns and secreted themselves in symmetrical sheetrock shitholes with vinyl floors and ill-fitting woodwork and no sidewalks, vast house farms out in the loglo wilderness, a culture medium for a medium culture.

The only ones left in the city are street people, feeding off debris, immigrants, thrown out like shrapnel from the destruction of the Asian powers; young bohos; and the technomedia priesthood of Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong. Young smart people like Da5id and Hiro, who take the risk of living in the city because they like stimulation and they know they can handle it.

Reads a lot like our world, doesn’t it? And Neal Stephenson describes it perfectly.


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