SNOW CRASH, by Neal Stephenson was put before me by a member of my sci-fi book group. It’s my second exposure to cyber punk (novels) and I enjoyed the ride (in part). This novel, if turned into film, would likely be rated R. I recommend SNOW CRASH with reservations.
My Review in Two Parts
Why read SNOW CRASH?… 4 Reasons for YES!
- The world-building is remarkable and for many sci-fi fans Neal Stephenson is a must-read author in the cyberpunk sub-genre. I absolutely loved the beginning. The entry into this world felt fresh and dynamic. The first 50 pages (at least) will have you riveted.
- The action scenes are numerous and mostly well-timed and well-written. The action begins on page one and sets the tone for the rest of the story.
- The intersection of virtual reality (Stephenson calls VR the Metaverse…he claims to be the originator of this term) and physical reality feels fluid and actually not that weird now (though it was a genuinely futuristic concept when he published the novel in 1992).
- Stephenson unearths some original and fantastical ideas. Some folks will love the philosophical bent of the story, having to do with ancient and current religions, computer coding, language as code and viruses that cross from virtual reality into the physical world.
Why avoid SNOW CRASH?…4 Reasons for No!
- Shallow characters inhabit this book. The world-building went deep, but the emotional depth and intelligence of the characters bored me.
- (related to reservation 1) The characters, especially the main characters, did not have any real physical or mental weaknesses, sort of like superheroes. In fact, the protagonist is called Hiro Protagonist. By naming his main character Hiro, Stephenson is channeling the comic book/superhero genre. I read about the development of the novel. Stephenson began this book hoping to make it a graphic novel, it did not evolve in that form. However, even superheroes will have angst or some kind of existential danger. Every Superman must have his longing (Lois), his vulnerability (kryptonite) and face a villain who understands how to use these vulnerabilities to press the hero to the point of making a moral choice about his/her power. Though Stephenson’s characters get banged up here and there, I never felt they might actually be in danger or that they feared for their own lives. They took their beatings in stride. Moreover, I never felt there were emotional stakes for either of them (the secondary character is called YT…she is a skateboard delivery person). Hiro’s and YT’s motivations for putting everything on the line to save the world did not seem to connect to any ounce of characterization that I understood.
- Stephenson’s bad/shallow theology was disappointing for me. I will assume that Stephenson did his homework in regard to Sumerian religion and philosophy. (I deduce this from reading his acknowledgments). However, I hang out with a number of Christian thinkers because I’m married to one, and Stephenson’s characterization of Biblical theology is weak and ill informed. I don’t mind critiques of my religion…I even enjoy them if they are well thought out. Stephenson’s were not.
- The info-dump sections were enormous, boring and preachy. A cyber librarian is the character in the Metaverse who does the explaining to Hiro Protagonist, therefore to us. It’s a clever idea to use the librarian, but his information still comes in large swaths and awkwardly disrupts the drama. The info-dump is a huge temptation for sci-fi writers. I struggle with it myself. It’s difficult to build the world, explain the conflict, the problem that will drive the narrative and incorporate all your own ideas/themes without taking up scores of pages explaining stuff to your audience, but great writers tell us that the info dump method is lazy writing. There are other ways to do it! See an earlier post on allscifi that discusses Jemisin’s chosen method for handling backstory in the narrative. Good friend and fellow sci-fi writer, Lit Prof Liam Corley is a Jemisin fan and wrote the post a couple of weeks ago.
In short. If you’re a sci-fi nut/nerd, YES…read SNOW CRASH, but if you’re a literary person wandering around in sci-fi…read Octavia Butler, Jemisin, Le Guin, Vandermeer, Scalzi…almost anyone, but Stephenson.
To buy SNOW CRASH…click here.