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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - Sumerian Computer Drugs

Pros: Um...different.
Cons: A lot of little things (style, dated, abrupt ending, etc.)

The Bottom Line: It was an interesting book, but it's not as good after you've already experienced similar things.

For the May book in Calico Reaction's 2011 Book Club, Snow Crash got chosen. I picked it because it sounded like a good time and I wanted to read something by Neal Stephenson. Wish granted, though I'm pretty indifferent on the results.

I started reading this book late and actually only finished yesterday. A lot of times I had to force myself to pick it up and keep reading because I just wasn't all that into it. You know when you get a book that's interesting and has some nifty stuff going on, yet it doesn't do it for you? Yeah, it was one of those.

Hiro Protagonist (yep, that's his name) delivers pizzas for the Mafia and is the greatest swordsman in the Metaverse (think the Matrix...or maybe Tron). He's pretty handy with his sword in reality too. A new drug is circulating - Snow Crash. And it's doing some pretty funky stuff. Though he's not too excited about getting into the mix, Hiro has no choice but to deal with a wildcard guy named Raven whose brain is hotwired to a nuke, a Kourier girl named Y.T. who can skateboard (if you can call it that) like no one else, the Mafia, and an ancient virus that's about to bring about the Infocalypse. Heavy stuff man.

Sound weird? Well, it is. In the world Stephenson creates, there's no nations anymore - at least, not like we know them. Everything's run by giant companies and all sorts of weird stuff. The United States is pretty much gone, with land cut up into areas for everyone else like the Mafia, Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, and plenty of others. Advertisements glow in your face, technology is everywhere and nowhere all at once, and generally it sounds like a place where I'd probably have to shoot myself. It doesn't sound like there's open land anywhere. Frankly, I kept wondering where people were getting their food. The whole place sounded like one bit city with tons of roads and slums and all sorts of junk. Overpopulated and overloaded. It sounds like the sort of society that, once it began, would only run for about 20 years before folding and collapsing in on itself. But I digress.

Snow Crash is sort of like a Dan Brown novel mixed up with Blade Runner with some crack thrown in. It takes technology and tries to blend it up with Sumerian theology and then some. While reading it, I thought that Stephenson must have done a heck of a lot of research (at the end he acknowledges that this book was really hard to write - which I believe). There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, yet I still failed to see quite how the Sumerian bits matched up with what was going on in the present. I mean, I know what Stephenson was doing, but I just don't see how it could work. I wasn't buying what he was selling.

Because this book was written in '92, there is some dated stuff in there. I found the timelines confusing, because people were in WWII and Vietnam, and yet it sounded like the time Hiro lived in should have been well into the 2000s. Instead it sounded more like he kept it in '92 - just a radically different version of '92. It didn't work for me. And I about keeled over when one girl said (twice), "Smooth move, Ex-Lax." Are we doing that? REALLY? Ugh. That was a stupid phrase when it came out. Why would you even include that in your book? And because I've already seen and read so many things that do what Stephenson does, even if he did do it first (or was one of the authors to do it first), the impact is lost on me.

I also wasn't a big fan of the style Stephenson went with. It's written in present tense, which is often reserved for first person "I" format. Instead, we're in third person. And it was almost like Stephenson waffled between the typical third person view and an omniscient style. It was hard to get into. Personally, I'm not a fan of present tense, but I've read plenty of stories where the author does it well. Here, I don't think it worked very well.

The beginning was a little confusing because of it - I didn't know if we were following some random pizza dude or the actual main character. Things eventually got more interesting, but it seemed to take a while for the story to get where it intended to go. About two-thirds of the way into the book things got a lot more interesting and I found it harder to put the book down. But then I hit the end and actually said out loud, "Wait - that's it?" I flipped a few pages to make sure I really was at the end of the book. It was really abrupt and I was still left with some questions. The sudden ending made it seem like everything that had happened wasn't really such a big deal after all. And it felt strange not to end with Hiro and use Y.T. instead.

It's different enough and strange enough with some great use of language and innovation to merit the four stars. Despite all my fussing, it is above average. I can't relate to people who loved it bunches, and in truth, the head of the Book Club herself kept falling asleep while reading it - which I can understand. It appeals to a certain audience I think, which is fine. So I do recommend it, but if you find you can't work your way through it, you might as well stop and move on to something else. But otherwise, you might end up falling in love with it. I did really like Y.T.....


Originally posted on

Notes from the playlist: "Break Your Heart" by Taio Cruz


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