Snow Crash is an audience splitting work of science fiction. To some a cyberpunk classic, to others it’s poorly written and just plain bad.
Snow Crash is one of the best books I’ve ever read, which is why it’s on my list of best science fiction books ever. This is due both to its virtues and its flaws and I’m using this post to explain why. If you have already read Snow Crash, feel free to skip the synopsis.
Snow Crash – A synopsis
Snow Crash is an early ’90’s classic science fiction novel. Actually calling it a ‘science fiction novel’ doesn’t really do it justice. It’s really a mind-bending science fiction/social commentary encompassing linguistics, sociology, archaeology and philosophy. It also completely ignores a lot of narrative conventions. To give you an idea of how little Snow Crash cares about your so-called rules, the hero protagonist is called Hiro Protagonist. Seriously.
Hiro is a hacker and co-creator of the Metaverse, a totally immersive online world. We follow Hiro as he uncovers the mystery behind the strange online narcotic ‘Snow Crash’ and the imminent collapse of an already dystopian society. On the way, we take a tour of this strange post-collapse America and learn more than you ever thought you would about Sumerian culture.
Now you’ve read the synopsis: here’s why you should read the book.
It’s a beautiful mess with hidden depths
Reading Snow Crash is like riding a roller-coaster while someone shouts a psychology lecture at you through a megaphone.
On your first reading you’ll be taken in by the coolness of the book. You’ll whoop while you follow the adventures of Hiro Protagonist, you’ll struggle to take in the magnitude of the world Neal Stephenson has created and you’ll wish the real internet was like the Metaverse. It’s awesome in the true sense of the world.
The character of Raven
Raven is the baddest mutherfucker in literature. Capable of ripping through bullet proof vests with his special knives, he’s equally lethal with improvised bamboo spears as he is with a harpoon. He is considered a sovereign state in his own right, and a pretty terrifying one at that. In the words of Hiro:
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world… Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.
It shows the dangers of defining yourself by an extreme
When I wrote about Neuromancer, I discussed how the characters used body modification and other future advances to pare down their personality to whatever their core motivations are. Stripping away the complexities of being human as best they could.
In Snow Crash, however, many of the characters slowly conform to stereotype. Mafiosa act like TV Mafiosa and Government ‘feds’ act like the worst stereotype of the Government. This idea of assuming a group personality as your own is particularly relevant to the world we live in. It’s not too difficult to look at groups like the Tea Party in the US, the far right parties in Europe and the far left Momentum in the UK to see how easily people are willing to throw away logic and accept an extreme position if it makes them feel safe.
This idea is reflected in a key theme of the book, which covers how vital free thinking (rather than group thinking) was to human evolution. Which leads me to my next point.
It’s a paean to free thinking
Amongst all of this madness is actually quite a positive point. Rather than conform to stereotype and succumb to group thinking, our hero is a celebration of diversity, uniqueness and free thinking.
The hacker Hiro is the product of three parents: his black father, Japanese mother and the US army. As a product of all three, and a hacker to boot, Hiro fails to conform to any group or stereotype. Similarly his nemesis, and baddest man on the planet, Raven is not really part of any group. He is, very much, his own man. Perhaps more than any other characters in Snow Crash, Hiro and Raven are able to affect change in the world around them. For, while there may be safety and security in a group, if you want to be an agent you will have to think for yourself. This is a point that gets more relevant with each passing year.
A simple, yet important, point. Snow Crash is entertaining. At its heart it’s a mystery set in a dystopian future. What’s not to like about that? You could read Snow Crash and simply enjoy it as a page turner. Well, the sections on Sumerian myths might be a struggle, but other than that you could read it at its most basic level. Then you could go back and read it again to pick up some of its themes.
These are only some of the reasons you should read Snow Crash. If you like the sound of Snow Crash you may also be interested in The Diamond Age (also by Stephenson) or our cyberpunk reading list. If you’d like to read more articles like this why don’t you head over to our section on classic science fiction?
- Snow Crash Rating