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Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson


Finally getting back to some of the books that were on NPR’s Science Fiction and Fantasy list, I picked up Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash,” only belatedly realizing that he is also the author of the wildly-popular-a-few-years-ago “Anathem,” one of those intimidatingly fat books that I have yet to attempt.

The protagonist of the novel, in fact named Hiro Protagonist, is a biracial Japanese African living in what once was Los Angeles, inside what once was a storage unit; these units are now converted into housing of varying quality. When the novel opens, Hiro is a pizza delivery boy who prides himself on never taking longer than twenty-one minutes to arrive at his destination; outside of this job, he spends his time in the Metaverse, a virtual reality world which the wealthy and technologically savvy inhabit. As one of the latter (sadly not the former, having cashed in his stocks to pay for his mother’s care), Hiro is intrigued by rumors of what seems to either be a new drug or a computer virus dubbed “Snow Crash.” But when one of his friends is suddenly struck down before his eyes, Hiro finds that “Snow Crash” is far more insidious and dangerous than it seems.

There are so many things about this novel that I liked; realizing that it was first published twenty years ago makes it even more impressive. The levels of technology, the virtual realities and interfaces described are eerily familiar, from the avatars and software to the transfer of information and the integration with reality. In particular, I loved the interaction that Hiro has with the Librarian, a software program which helps him conduct research and make connections between the things he is learning in both reality and the Metaverse. The portrayal of the Library of Congress, the takeover of the roads by private companies, the privatization of the governing bodies and police — so many of these possibilities are quickly becoming real in our own world, and to see how they are portrayed in this futuristic novel are fascinating. I did get bogged down in the middle of the novel when Hiro and the Librarian are wading through ancient civilizations and trying to make sense of the slowly unfurling connections between mythology, religion, and other stories. However, This novel, a leap into Stephenson’s blend of science fiction, mythology, society and virtual reality, turned out to be one of my favourites from the list thus far.

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