Snow Crash is a science fiction novel written by Neal Stephenson and published in 1992. It is his third novel. It follows in the footsteps of cyberpunk novels by authors like William Gibson and Rudy Rucker, but breaks away from this tradition by having a heavy dose of satire and black humor.
Like many postmodern novels, Snow Crash has a unique style and a chaotic structure which many readers find difficult to follow. It contains many arcane references to history, linguistics, anthropology, religion, computer science, politics, geography and philosophy, which may inspire readers to explore these topics further, or at least consult relevant reference works. Set in a world with a political-economic system that has been radically transformed, the novel examines religion along with its social importance, perception of reality versus virtual reality, and the violent and physical nature of humanity.
The title of the novel is explained in Stephenson's essay In the Beginning...was the Command Line, as the term for a particular software failure mode on the early Apple Macintosh computer. About the Macintosh, Stephenson wrote that "when the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set — a 'snow crash.'"
The story takes place in the former United States during the early 21st century. In this hypothetical future reality, the United States Federal Government has ceded most of its power to private organizations. Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts, and private security guards preserve the peace in gated, sovereign housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads rather than the competitors', and all mail deliveries are done by hired couriers. The remnants of the government maintain authority only in isolated compounds, where it transacts business that is by and large irrelevant to the booming, dynamic society around it.
Much of the territory ceded by the government has been carved up into a huge number of sovereign enclaves, each run by its own big business franchise (such as "Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong" or the various residential burbclaves (suburb enclaves)). This arrangement bears a similarity to anarcho-capitalism, a theme Stephenson carries over to his next novel The Diamond Age. Hyperinflation has devalued the dollar to the extent that trillion dollar bills, Ed Meeses, are little regarded and the quadrillion dollar note, a Gipper, is the standard 'small' bill. For physical transactions, people resort to alternative, non-hyperinflated currencies like yen or "Kongbucks" (the official currency of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong).
The Metaverse, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson's vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Although there are public-access Metaverse terminals in Reality, using them carries a social stigma among Metaverse denizens, in part because of the poor visual representation of themselves via low-quality avatars. In the Metaverse, status is a function of two things: access to restricted environments such as the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club, and technical acumen which is often demonstrated by the sophistication of one's avatar.
Plot summary and major themes
The hero and protagonist whose story the book follows is Hiro Protagonist: "Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world". When Hiro loses his job as a pizza delivery driver for the Mafia, he meets a streetwise young girl nicknamed Y.T. (short for Yours Truly), who works as a skateboard "Kourier", and they decide to become partners in the intelligence business. The setting is a near-future version of Los Angeles, where franchising, individual sovereignty and automobiles reign supreme (along with drug trafficking, violent crime, and traffic congestion).
The pair soon learn of a dangerous new drug, called "Snow Crash" — both a computer virus, capable of infecting the brains of unwary hackers in the Metaverse, and a drug in Reality, being distributed by a network of Pentecostal churches via its infrastructure and belief system. As Hiro and Y.T. dig deeper (or are drawn in), they discover more about Snow Crash and its connection to ancient Sumerian culture, the fiber-optics monopolist L. Bob Rife and his enormous Raft of refugee boat people who speak in tongues, and an Aleut harpooner named Raven, whose motorcycle packs a nuke triggered by a literal dead man's switch. The Snow Crash meta-virus may be characterized as an extremely aggressive meme.
Stephenson takes the reader on a tour of the mythology of ancient Sumeria, while his characters theorize upon the origin of languages and their relationship to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Asherah is portrayed as a deadly biological and verbal virus which was stopped in Ancient Sumer by the God Enki. In order to do that, Enki deployed a countermeasure which was later described as the Tower of Babel. The book also reflects ideas from Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976).
The characters speculate that early Sumerian culture used a primordial language which could be interpreted by human beings through the deep structures of the brain, rendering the learning of what he refers to as "acquired languages" needless. This theoretical language is related to glossolalia — also known as the phenomenon of "speaking in tongues" — stating that the babbling of glossolalia is in truth a truncated form of the primordial language. A comparison is made to computers and their binary machine code, which exists on a much more basic level than, for example, the human-readable, high-level programming languages, and as such gives those with the ability to speak the language great power.
In the Snow Crash interpretation of Sumer mythology, the masses were controlled by means of verbal rules called me. The characters of Hiro and Lagos compare me to small pieces of software which could be interpreted by humans, and which contained information for specific tasks such as baking bread. Me were stored in a temple and its distribution was handled by a high priest, referred to as the en. Within this context, Enki was an en who had the ability of writing new me, and is described as the primordial hacker. Also, the deuteronomists are supposed to have had an en of their own, and that kabbalistic sorcerers known as the Baalei Shem (masters of the name) could control the primordial tongue.
Me were erased from people's minds by a meta-virus (see the definition of meta-), a fact theoretically explaining the Tower of Babel myth. Enki then wrote a me called "The nam-shub of Enki", which had the effect of blocking the meta-virus from acting by preventing direct access to the primordial language, making the use of "acquired languages" necessary. The meta-virus did not disappear entirely, though, as the "Cult of Asherah" continued to spread it by means of cult prostitutes and infected women breast-feeding infants. This form of infection is compared to that of the herpes simplex virus or to the way religion is acquired.
|U.S. version cover shot, illustrated by Bruce Jensen.|
|Cover artist||Bruce Jensen|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||Bantam Books (USA)|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-553-08853-X (first edition, hardback)|
posted by VeeJay Burns at Tuesday, February 13, 2007