SNOW CRASH, by Neal Stephenson.

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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!

  1. Shallow characters inhabit this book. The world-building went deep, but the emotional depth and intelligence of the characters bored me.
  2. (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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

A Danish star is born. Alba August as lead character, Simone

I recently binge-watched the final 5 episodes of the NETFLIX series THE RAIN…finishing the first season. Here is my take on the potent Danish production, dubbed for English-speaking viewers. By the way, I wasn’t annoyed by dubbing. I thought it was done well.

This series might earn an R rating if released on the big screen, so beware parents. This story contains some great characters and interesting ideas for discussion, but there are a few non-explicit sex scenes, some nudity and a lot of f-bombs…it is the end of the world, after all.

THE RAIN’s genre designation is probably more speculative fiction than science fiction. The story is driven by new science, so this is where the overlap lies…no aliens or spaceships (at least none so far), but there is a biological discovery that rests in the hands of a few and this technology is about to transform the world. The future tech is an element that would appeal to many science fiction fans…(Think TERMINATOR). And now for my review.

First, a short review without spoilers…

Season 1’s narrative follows a sister and brother pair, Simone and Rasmus Anderssen. They survive a deadly virus that infects the population through the rain. Their physician father is somehow in the know and connected to a biotech company called Apollon. They understand little about what is taking place, but they slowly discover the truth, as does the audience with them. Here are three reasons to consider watching THE RAIN.

  1. See the world’s end through the eyes of the Danes.  Sure, THE RAIN follows a well-worn storyline, but rather than the typical American/Canadian or British view on the apocalypse, but this time, we see survival through the eyes of Danish youth. I appreciated viewing their wanderings through cities, towns and topography I don’t typically see on the screen. Moreover, the survivors’ attitudes about who they will be in this new, empty world are also markedly more Scandinavian than American.
  2. The main players in the drama are well written and interesting. Similar to a few other speculative dramas, like The 100, the youth are smart, naive at times, attractive and slowly becoming a family.
  3. The overall plot makes sense, yet some mysteries are withheld in a good way. The narrative shows potential for a longer, more complicated drama, including the introduction of a sinister villain by the final episode.

And now for the longer review, with a few spoilers…

Martin, played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard,

Simone (about 16 yrs) and Rasmus (about 10 yrs) enter the bunker having never seen its like before. Their father brings them on the first day of the rain, but then leaves, saying he can help with finding a cure. He promises to return to them, but never does. Their mother dies early as the rain touches her skin. This is the most dramatic reveal to Simone and the audience. The rain is absolutely toxic.  Simone watches as droplets fall from the sky, strike her mother’s skin and within moments, she convulses and dies.

For a short time, Simone is able to connect with a few individuals outside the bunker via the internet, but that contact comes to an end within hours as civilization breaks down. Simone and Rasmus are alone and know nothing of what is happening outside the bunker.

Simone raises her brother, holding onto the belief that her father will return for them at some point, but six years pass. When food begins to grow scarce and Rasmus shows signs of going berserk from being cooped up underground, Simone sneaks out of the bunker one night to explore a local town and figure out if there is safety outside. She finds decayed corpses and an abandoned town.

Without knowing someone has been watching her, she returns to the bunker. Three young men and two women follow her back. They sabotage the ventilation system forcing Simone and Rasmus to emerge. The sister brother pair face a group of strangers, all of whom are desperate for food.

The strangers seem bent on killing Simone and Rasmus, but a quick witted Simone convinces them that she knows where there are other bunkers and where there are bunkers…there is food.

The unlikely group sets out. Discovery takes place with each new bunker they find. In addition, episode by episode the audience becomes acquainted with the backstory of the various characters and so doing, the viewer learns some of what has transpired outside the bunker following the apocalyptic rains.

The backstories all come via flashbacks. This particular story-telling method has been utilized by many tv and film types, including the creators of LOST. However, I thought the short snippets of flashbacks in THE RAIN felt less heavy-handed than those in LOST and contributed to multiple layers of the plot, besides revealing character. So, if you’re not a fan of flashbacks…never fear, I don’t think they were overused.

Martin’s story (see photo) is presented in episode 2. Martin is the gruff leader of the survivors, former military and not afraid to kill anyone who endangers his group. He, along with Jean, Patrick, Lea and Beatrice and finally, the father to Simone and Rasmus, receive screen time that explains some of their history.

Specific spoilers included in paragraph below, but pay attention if you are a writer of speculative fiction

Regarding the writing of this series and typical tropes that populate end-of-the-world narratives, one can find many in THE RAIN. For most of us, we like them and don’t find them annoying. I also appreciated the little deviances around the various tropes.  For example: 1. the chosen child who will save humanity and must be protected at all costs, he’s actually the one who can also kill everyone 2. the evil corporation that sees its technology as a way to control humanity is seeding storm clouds with a virus…such a sophisticated weapon of mass destruction. 3. having sex just might just lead to your death…especially, if you’re even remotely slutty, but THE RAIN’s slut is a really sweet character and finds her way into our hearts before she is killed off 4. those seemingly happy survivors who are really a cult that practices cannibalism, they allow our young survivors to choose in or to leave freely…So humane! So Scandinavian!

Overall, I recommend THE RAIN. Add it to your Netflix queue and enjoy a wet winter!