Hiro Protagonist is the leading man of insane cyberpunk classic Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.
If you’re on this page, it’s safe to assume you’ve read Snow Crash, and you’d like to learn a little bit more about the character.
He has the coolest name in literature
Only Neal Stephenson would have the chutzpah to name his hero protagonist, Hiro Protagonist. And we should take a moment to reflect on how cool that is.
He’s not a typical cyberpunk hero
From Gully Foyle to Takeshi Kovacs, cyberpunk is littered with heroes who would be villains in any other genre.
Hiro Protagonist is different. He’s badass and more than capable of defending himself, but he’s still a genuine hero. He is selfless in trying to enter the raft and stop L. Bob Rife and he cares deeply for those around him.
When we first meet Hiro he is The Deliverator. Or, as others might put it, a pizza delivery man. Yet this is how he is described:
“The Deliverator is proud to wear the uniform, proud to drive the car, proud to march up the front walks of innumerable Burbclave homes, a grim vision in ninja black, a pizza on his shoulder”
In part, this sets the tone of the novel. But it’s also a very cyberpunk description of what is a very mundane job. Replace the pizza with a gun and this could be a description of your typical hard-boiled cyberpunk hero. We expect a cyberpunk hero to be described in such terms, we just don’t expect him to be delivering pizza.
This is Stephenson playing with his readers’ expectations. And this is him deconstructing, and poking a little fun at, the standard cyberpunk hero. Hiro has some of the trappings of cyberpunk. He’s a hacker and he’d prefer to be on his own than as part of a group. But he still has a good heart and isn’t particularly jaded.
Hiro the hacker and freethinker
Hiro is a hacker and a free-spirited one at that. His code played a key part in the creation of the metaverse, yet he’s now a freelance hacker living in a glorified storage unit.
He is an individualist. He’s not truly part of any group and in the world of Snow Crash that makes him almost unique. The America Hiro lives in is split up into micro-states, often along ethnic lines and often conforming to stereotype. Yet Hiro doesn’t conform to any of these stereotypes nor does he fully belong in any of these micro-states. He’s the half black/half Japanese hacker who doesn’t neatly fit into any group. Nor does he want to.
Like another Stephenson protagonist, Nell from The Diamond Age, Hiro is a freethinker. He’s not bound by a need to confirm. Like Nell, it’s Hiro’s willingness to stand apart from society that enables him to see it more clearly than others. It’s this ability that allows him to see the truth about L. Bob Rife’s actions and their connection to ancient Sumerian legend.
The greatest sword fighter in the world
We can’t talk about Hiro and not mention his sword fighting. He’s the self-proclaimed greatest swordsman on the planet. In the real world, he’s good enough that people think he may go after Raven. And Raven is the baddest man on the planet.
He’s also the greatest swordsman in the metaverse. Although he may have a somewhat unfair advantage, given he wrote the software.
Top Hiro quotes
“When the Deliverator puts the hammer down, shit happens.”
Sounds awesome, but remember, he’s only delivering a pizza.
“The sight of the bare katana inspires everyone to a practically Nipponese level of politeness”
Especially when he’s the greatest swordsman in the world.
“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. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.… 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.”
Hiro is talking about Raven in this quote. But it’s worth including here nonetheless.
“You’re a dead man,” Rife shouts. “You’re stuck on the Raft, asshole. I got a million Myrmidons here. You gonna kill ’em all?”
“Swords don’t run out of ammo,” Hiro shouts.
Hiro, cool in the face of danger.
Snow crash is also on our ultimage science fiction reading list.