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on April 29, 2004
For many years people have been telling me to read this book. Many people told me it was the best book in the cyberpunk genre ever written. So I dove in and I was surprised how this is not really a cyberpunk book at all.
It is a deep book but very scattered. One gets the feeling that the whole of the story is not as important as the tiny vignettes of the story. In other books this can work but the structure of this book feels a little scattered. Many times I found myself wondering when the story would advance again and not sidetrack. It does pay off in the end when all is said and done. I do not think this is the best cyberpunk book ever written as Necromancer is far beyond it in many ways. What Gibson has that Stevenson does not is a love of English and it's fluidity. As in all cyberpunk books what we miss is any sort of character depth. All players are very much like avatars. One is the hero, one is the skater girl with no growth or depth to any of them. At the end, they are the same as when the started. This could be a commentary of all books in the cyberpunk genre but it could also be a commentary of all Sci-fi books as it deals with ideas and not people. It is a good book with some fun ideas but it's not some great tome or anything.
I noticed some people were offended buy the religion in the book but I think this is a case of not being able to see the trees thru the forest. The religion is a story point, nothing more. There is no message in the end. Or they may be one and my brain is just immune to it.
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on February 27, 2004
This is a very imaginative book, full of details about a highly digital future Earth, complete with an Internet-based simulated world called the Metaverse. A mysterious menace by the name of "Snow Crash" is unleashed upon the Earth and the Metaverse. It seemingly turns people into stupid herd creatures that speak in tongues. It can also make smart hackers totally lose their minds and turn into vegetables. Our hero and heroine set out to fight this evil not really knowing what it is: is it a computer virus, a disease, or a drug? How are an unbelievably macho thug, the President of the United States, and the world's greatest monopolist connected to "Snow Crash"? And why are some 4000-year-old clay tablets from Sumer the key to the whole mystery?
The book is set up really well. The initial premises make a lot of sense, unlike a certain other famous cyberpunk book. This initial phase lasts for about 100 of the 470 pages. The rest of the book is full of either uninspired Hollywood-esque action (chases and violence) or else outrageous conjectures about Sumerian mythology and their connection to the Three Great Religions (excuse me, Mr Stephenson, ever heard of a part of the world that lay to the east of Sumer?). Stephenson clearly took pains to research his material. I know this, having read one of his sources about Sumerian civilisation. But all research is useless if you are going to use it for PSEUDOINTELLECTUALISM and alas, that is exactly what you get from this book.
Eventually, this religion/mythology thing gets so irritating that one is glad to return to the straightforward fights and flights. Our hero and heroine eventually save the day and kill the badguys, so all ends well. (Or does it? There's that unfinished business with the nuclear bomb.)
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on November 20, 2003
I wouldn't normally review a book that already has been reviewed by hundereds of readers, but none of the reviews on the first page seem to notice what utter nonsense Stephenson's ideas about language and viruses are (and I don't have time to read the rest of the 500+ reviews, so sorry to anyone who already has done this).
You know there's a problem when a writer supports his conclusions about historical events with pseudo-historical anecdotes and Biblical scripture. ("The Bible says it, so it must be true" may work for Fundamentalists, but not so well for the rest of us.) Some of his central premises (Humans should naturally all speak one language, for example, or that there was no sickness in the world until a "metavirus"--perhaps from outer space? caused biological viruses to be created as well as making people susceptible to them) are so obviously fallacious as to be completely laughable. Inconvenient aspects of his arguments are just ignored. This pseudo-intellectual garbage so irritated me that I almost disposed of the book (and books are sacred in my family, ordinarily we do NOT throw them out!).
That said, most of the actual plot-driven parts of the story are great fun. His satire of American society is spot-on. A lot of the book is just awesome head-on thrill-ride chase scenes. Those parts work! and I LOVE the character of Y.T.
It's funny that all along, I envisioned the story as a cartoon (some things in it are just such broad caricatures, I couldn't help it). When I got to the end, I discovered in the acknowledgement section, that the thing was originally conceived as a graphic novel. I guess the ideas are kind of "comic book" -esque, you know--sort of like how getting bitten by a radioactive spider could give someone super powers.
If you like a good action story, and you can ignore ridiculous ideas and gaping holes in logic, then you will enjoy this book! But not for the delicate of sensibility--extreme violence & foul language, among other things.
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on October 7, 2003
The book is quite a rollercoaster ride. It's mostly a showcase for images and ideas, tons of them, thrown at you a mile a minute. The breaks in the narrative, and even the Sumerian mythology dissertations, didn't distract me. I even liked those parts, and felt they gave more substance to the book than it would have otherwise had. Granted the "language is a virus" riff was copped straight from William S. Burroughs, but Stephenson played it well.
The characterization and plotting reminded me very much of an anime, something that other reviewers have pointed out accurately. Unfortunately, I don't care for anime very much. Most anime is thinly plotted and poorly characterized, and Stephenson's book suffers from the same problem. To be honest with you, the character I sympathized the most with was the cyber-dog.
Stephenson created an interesting world that I liked spending time in, but he didn't seem to know quite what to do with it, and overall "Snow Crash" is overwhelmed by its author's florid imagination. Sadly, Stephenson followed this tendency in his subsequent writing instead of focusing on learning how to write plots and characters. His work since "Snow Crash" is imaginative, but didactic to the point of being incomprehensible, and plots and characters are low on his priority list.
"Snow Crash" is by far Stephenson's best work, and because of this it remains the only one that most science fiction readers know him for. Hopefully one day Stephenson can get his imagination under a bit more control, learn more about plot and characterization, and produce more humanistic and less manic work. Until then, this is his best, and it's worth reading.
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on September 20, 2003
...nothing in this book is particularly new. Neal Stephenson's vision of a comically fractured near future has been treated by a number of more talented authors, notably William Gibson. His weird "plot twist" about language being a driving force behind human development, is, well, courtesy of William S. Burroughs and his "Word Virus" concept (at least in the context). Don't get me wrong, I love to see authors borrow each others ideas in this kind of fashion, but when I read this I got the feeling that Neal Stephenson's prominence in the science fiction genre was due to one of those minor upheavals in preference and styles that come and go about once every five years or so...he doesn't do anything original, but he does it capably well, and at the time that happens to be enough. His later efforts have not notably proved me wrong. Even I can't deny the man's talent as a storyteller, though. Even though every fifty pages or so I had to burst out "oh, come on!" I kept turning pages...and isn't that what it's all about? One day Stephenson may find a way to keep us turning pages without those outbursts...I hope he finds it soon.
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on May 26, 2003
The beginning seemed interesting - an alternate American reality where roads have become towns, people live in storage lockers, toxic wastes sitting around with no one to care anymore and violence gone out of control it's everyone for themselves in this society. Also the concept of the Mega-verse was fascinating. However...
The characters were cardboard and seemed to me unbelievable as real human beings, I could only imagine them as animation figures. In a world where the most advanced weapon technology can been had by anyone that can afford to pay for them, Hiro Protagonist, our main man, is able to fight all his battles with swords. He is the best sword fighter in the world, apparently descended from samurai, as well as a computer genius. Then there's the main villain, Raven, he has a nuclear bomb inside his body who fights with glass swords able to cut through armor. And YT, 15 years old, young, blond and attractive with the strength & fighting skill of several grown men put together, and the wisdom & vision of a seer. The plot too was weak, almost non-existent, the same old simple good versus evil battle, the Sumerian legend theory seemed far-fetched and ridiculous, even embarrassing.
Maybe just not my kind of book?
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on April 22, 2002
This book was defiantly something new for me as science fiction is not an area I read at all. The book was given to me as a gift and came highly recommended. That being the case I gave it a shot and found that I really enjoyed it. The biggest issue I had was getting into the completely fictionalized and make believe world, once I stopped saying "but that can't happen" I found I really got into the book and enjoyed it. The author has done a great job in making the lead character into a cross between the Harrison Ford character in Blade Runner and Joey from Friends - both dark and at the same time fun to be around.
The book is about this run of the mill not overly successful guy in the real world that finds he is much better in a cyber world that has been created and is as real to people as the real world. The "real world" in the book is rather dark and not very nice so you understand why the character would spend time in the cyber world. So once in there we have an action / mystery story that is fun and fast paced. The story is enjoyable and is easy to read. If you are looking for some escapism then this book will fit the bill. One caution, as I do not read SF, I have no idea how this book compares to others in the field.
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on January 20, 2002
Most of the premises of this book were familiar to me already from reading William Gibson, so I cannot say that it struck me as particularly original in any way. The Metaverse, privatization run amok, corporatization of organized crime, even the treatment of Sumerian myth (which was interesting, though it could have been presented in a more artful way than a 40 page discussion between the protagonist and a research librarian) is a conceit that Gibson had previously used (although in Gibson's case, of course, it was voodoo mythology).
Stephenson's writing style is certainly enjoyable, and it was pleasant reading straight through. I read it in one sitting (a very long flight), and found that I was never bored. Still, one gets the impression that, especially at certain points later on in the book, Stephenson was virtually racing through prose in an effort to make plot elements come together, a task which he really did not accomplish. Stylistically he often makes up for the plot defects (which with a modicum of suspension of disbelief are really not that bad anyhow), but at points the writing becomes quite uneven and the level of detail and discussion very thin. This perhaps points to the author having bitten off more, plotwise, than he could chew.
Still, I'd certainly recommend this as airplane reading. As a sort of cross between Neuromancer and Illuminatus, how bad could it be, after all? But if you put any more effort into it than that, or have higher expectations than just an enjoyable romp, you could come away disappointed.
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on September 10, 2001
Snow Crash is the tale of a future America that's so over-the-top that it's entirely believable. Our hero, Hiro Protagonist, navigates a franchised America, where everything (and I do mean everything) is part of a chain. In this America, he has to fight to stop a new virus, Snow Crash, from infecting both the hackers and the rest of the world.
This is where the writing is uneven. In his descriptions of future franchised-to-the-teeth America, his writing is impeccable and fresh. But in his long-winded descriptions of the new virus, he delves into myth and theories of language that are better suited to an academic text than to a cyberpunk novel. The plot alternates between a breakneck pace and a long leisurely stroll. The strolls make you wonder what's happening elsewhere, because the real action can't possibly just stop while Hiro goes off and chats with his Librarian.
For all its flaws, it's a reasonably good book, and one that I always recommend to my geek friends, as one geek to another.
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on August 15, 2001
After reading "Cryptonomicon" and "The Big U" I'm convinced that Neal Stephenson is one of the greatest satirists in print today. Picture a Michael Crichton with interesting characters and a smart-a** sense of humor.
"Snow Crash" opens with the same kind of hilarious thrill that those other novels contained. We're given a world turned around, mixed up, inside out... Suburbs are armed nation-states. Pizza delivery is the most ambitious career in the United States. It is a joy.
So, what happened? In his notes, Shephenson states that he intended "Snow Crash" to be a one-of-a-kind computer-generated graphic novel, but the techonology fell through and he went back to writing a regular novel. This makes sense because "Snow Crash" feels pristine on the outside, hollow within. Stephenson creates such a weird and incredible world that he has to spend too much time explaining it to us while the plot stalls.
And there isn't much plot to begin with. Hiro Protagonist is out to stop a psycho who about to infect the world with an "information" virus. The plot moves in spurts, but Stephenson resorts too often to a tired technique that he is far above- using character dialogue to roll out expository info. In one fragmented sequence, Hiro learns about the origins of the virus from a virtual reality guide. Problem? As good as Stephenson's research into Ancient Sumaria is, 100 pages of exposition is a sloppy mistake.
"Snow Crash" is never boring, but it is a fascinating failure.
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