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The Prodigal Nerd: A Review of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

Did you, like me, think that being quarantined at home would give you more time than usual to catch up on stuff you’ve been wanting to watch or read? Did you, like me, realize very quickly how wrong you were? That working from home along with a spouse and two small children would actually leave you with less time for such pursuits?

Well, despite the (and I mean this absolutely literally) constant cacophony that a 4-year old and a 5-month old can create, I managed to finish a book I’ve had in the hopper for awhile – Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash.

As I seem to end up doing more and more these days, I picked up Snow Crash because it had a cool cover. I bought the Kindle edition that has the cool purple and white circuitboard design with the pink katana on it. The cover told me what I thought I needed to know about the book; that it would have some sort of technology orientation, as well as sword fights. Win-win.

In these two respects, the novel does not disappoint. The setting and landscape of the novel are typically cyberpunk, one might say Gibson-esque.

It is a near-future where the global political structure has collapsed and a small number of super-corporations control most aspects of life, where those with means spend their time goggled into the metaverse, and where the richest technocrat of them all has hatched a plan to take control of it all.

Trying to describe this book without it sounding completely bonkers is impossible, so I’ll just lay it out and we’ll go from there…

A Review of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

The protagonist, literally named Hiro Protagonist, is an incredibly gifted hacker who gave up the successful life to deliver pizzas. After watching his friend Da5id (not a typo…) be ravaged by a mysterious new drug called Snow Crash, his ex-girlfriend Juanita puts him on the trail of the man distributing Snow Crash around the Metaverse and in real life, a man called Raven.

Hiro gets connected with a courier named Y.T., who has been recruited by the Mafia. Hiro and Y.T. eventually meet Raven, only to discover that he has a nuclear warhead from a decommissioned Russian submarine tethered to his heartbeat, and is therefore unkillable, unless someone were willing to obliterate a major city in the process.

Hiro and Y.T. research and discover that Snow Crash is actually a virus meant to infect its victims with information in order to make the public vulnerable to thought control from the evil technocrat villain, L. Bob Rife. Rife has been using the Raft, a massive collection of boats centered around his own yacht (the USS Enterprise nuclear aircraft carrier) to indoctrinate refugees and import them to America. Y.T. is captured by Raven and taken to the Raft, where they end up sleeping together.

Hiro makes his way to the Raft and, with the help of Y.T. and Juanita, recovers a mysterious Sumerian artifact called the Nam-Shub of Enki. After reading the nam-shub Rife’s control over the Raft is broken and he flees, taking Y.T. as a hostage. Inside the Metaverse Hiro chases Raven and is able to neutralize the virus, while in real life the Mafia lays a trap for Rife, killing him and ending his plans.

A Review of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

It is truly a testament to Neal Stephenson’s talent that the above mess of strange sentences ends up being not only a coherent story, but a surprisingly deep conversation about language, ideas, religion, and viruses.

All of this is interspersed with some really fun fight sequences featuring Hiro and his swords. Because he actually is apparently the best sword fighter in both reality and the Metaverse.

Overall, I’m giving Snow Crash +2 cannarfs. I have high expectations of everything I read from Stephenson. The first half or so of this one felt a little derivative of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but when the philosophical stuff got going I was hooked. Add in some neat decapitations and a big chase or two, and it all added up to a very fun read.

Snow Crash has been optioned for television by HBO. Here’s where you can grab the dead tree versions.

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