Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Large Hadron Collider does create Black Hole

Earlier this week I ran into a highly succesfull build, of which I blogged the real life counterpart a number of times. What I'm talking about is the Large Hadron Collider, the multimillion dollar project that has about every scientist going crazy at CERN, Switzerland. A group of performance artists recreated the LHC in Second Life and got it to work before the real thing actually launched.

The Virtual LHC was created by Second Front, with special credits to Man Michinaga for this specific story and build, which was primarily done for the GOGbot Steampunk Festival in Enschede, Netherlands.

Yesterday I had an extensive talk with Man Michinage to find out more on the build and the work theyre doing at Second Front.

The install was for the international RL media fest Gogbot ( and the theme was steampunk. Therefore we had to come up with something, and the hadron collider was a current event. We work in context of the situation we are asked to perform in.

One cannot compare the works of Second Front to a normal theatre group of actors who perform their works over and over again. Every performance is a unique event and requires a unique setting.

None of our work lasts in SL, usually no more than a couple days and we usually only do performances once. This is very unusual. Most of our work is documented in print, video and painting, along with blog for RL audience. Also we create so much stuff we woudl need a lot of sim space.

Let's have a look at this particular build and the performance.

Fau Ferdinand created the first part of it, the torus and the landscape given that this woudl be a very bare stage from which we woudl create the story. I thought of Jules Verne, Goeorge Pal's The Time Machine, and I am currrently reading the Difference engine by Gison and Sterling. The script was improvisation, out of my head

The story as it played out was the actual activation of the Large Hadron Collider to find out about the origins of the Universe, the Metaverse in this case.

Its real life counterpart in Switzerland has been powered down for an unknown period due to some technical problems. This one actually passed the tests and ready to let some particle beams collide. Find out about the creation of the Universe or the existence of the Higgs particle.

Critics in the real world fear experimenting with the higgs-particle may be a bad idea, as it may create a black hole. Well, the test proves they're right.

About Second Front

Second Front was originally formed as a seven member group of artists from Canada, the US, UK and Italy who create performance based work in Second Life and other the pioneering performance art group in the online avatar-based VR world, Second Life. Founded in 2006, Second Front quickly grew to its current 8 member troupe that includes Lizsolo Mathilde, Man Michinaga, Bibbe Oh, Fau Ferdinand), Great Escape, Gazira Babeli and Tran Spire.

Taking their influences from numerous sources, including Dada, Fluxus, Futurist Syntesi, the Situationist International and contemporary performance artists like Laurie Anderson and Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Second Front creates theatres of the absurd that challenge notions of virtual embodiment, online performance and the formation of virtual narrative. Created in 2006, they have already performed extensively, including in Vancouver, Chicago, New York, and has been featured in publications including SLate, Eikon, Realtime Arts (Australia), and the popular The Avastar magazine.

Most of the artists have real life experience in Performance Acting, but as a group they work primarily in Second Life, although they've done performances in other worlds.

We are primarily on SL, although we have used Opensim and World of Warcraft. I think the difference is whether we're installation artists, SL artists or conceptual artists who use SL. We love the SL community, but we're contemporary artists before SL.

What is so special about the Second Life community, how does it differ from the World of Warcraft community as an audience?

Different aims. Pretty basic, SL isn't so much a gaming community - it's much less homogenous. You have everyone from the evangelized to the casueal user whereas in Wow, everyone is there to play in the WoW universe.

Our Real Life audience is much more specific. Then we're really talking to the contemporary/performance art crowd. The SL crowd, many have no idea who Marina Abramovic or Guillermo Gomez-Pena is.

Me neither, so to exit this blogpost, a quick defintion of Performance Art.

Performance art is art in which the actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. It can happen anywhere, at any time, or for any length of time. Performance art can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body and a relationship between performer and audience. It is opposed to painting or sculpture, for example, where an object constitutes the work. Of course the lines are often blurred. For instance, the work of Survival Research Laboratories is considered by most to be "performance art", yet the performers are actually machines.

Read the Original Snapshot Story at the Second Front Blog, or view other performances at YouTube

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Opening the Gates to Stargate Worlds

When the motion picture "Stargate" came out in 1994, starring Richard Dean Anderson, the personification of MacGyver, most of us did not take it very seriously. If you're hardcore Science Fiction, travelling between worlds doesn't work this way. Stargate was not SciFi, rather a mix of fantasy, nordic mythology and quasi religion.

Quasi religion? Yes. The basic premises of the movie is the discovery of an ancient device in Egypt which allows you to travel between worlds. This has been inspired by Erich von Däniken's theory of a godlike race visiting earth at the beginning of time with their spaceships being the pyramids.

Von Däniken founded his theory upon loosely interpreting three biblical passages from the Book of Genesis. Firstly, the creation of mankind is told two times, leading him to believe we have been created in a laboritory by genetic manipulation. The second attempt was succesfull and we're now clones of the 'gods'. The second verse he refers to is in which he sees the Aliens walk the earth.

"And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. " [Genesis

Well, it's not exactly rocketscience, but good enough for an adventure series and the Stargate SG-1 (1997) and Stargate Atlantis (2004) tv-series proved immensely popular. A Third series now is in production.

Now finally there's a fully 3D MMORPG coming out dedicated to the Stargate Worlds. It's been long in coming, but it is a very logical step to bring the series to the web. The series offer a wealth of worlds, scenario's, cultures and plots - and the means to go there through teleporting through the stargates. Last year I build myself a stargate in Second Life to let it act as teleport hub, but playing the real thing is of course a lot better.

Here some screeners from the official game by Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment which announced that Stargate Worlds will go into private Beta on October 15th. Already over 200,000 people signed up for Beta Testing this cool-looking MMORPG.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pratchett to touchdown in Second Life

Although my latest entries to this blog may speak a different language, this blog still primarily deals with virtual worlds, with occasional outings to other fields of interest, such as good reading stuff. Occasionally there's a cross-over when great authors visit Second Life (we've had Gibson in the past), this time it's Terry Pratchett, author of the hilarious Discworld series.

"Terry Pratchett is to make an appearance in the virtual world Second Life. Pratchett will feature in a sim version of a South Pacific tropical island, modelled on the island Nation which features in Pratchett's new novel, NATION.

The island will be created complete with scenes and locations from the book. Pratchett will appear on the Nation and take part in a live question and answer session with fans on 9th October at 8pm.

The month long Second Life promotion, which runs from 11th September to 10th October, will enable visitors to take part in themed quiz nights, special events and fancy dress competitions. A treasure hunt will lead users through a series of clues to find virtual books and treasure as well as real, physical prizes.

An exhibition will be organised in Second Life to promote the new book, and free e-book samplers will be available in Random House UK's own bookshop on the Elysian Isle, from where visitors will be able to travel to Terry's websites at and

NATION will be published in the UK on 11th September by Doubleday, price £16.99 and in the US on 30th September by HarperCollins."

Thanks to @Torley Linden for pointing it out.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Will LHC answer Asimov's Last Question?

Scientists at CERN have sucessfully run a first test on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and several particle beams made a looping. In the previous article I wrote about some people running about shouting "Doomsday Coming", but we're still here. For now...

For now, as this was only a stationary run of the LHC. After a series of tests they will start shooting multiple beams into the tube and corresponding crashes might still trigger a black hole to appear in Geneva. So please pick your favourite date for doomsday fast.

The thing is, after watching this testrun almost become a new media-hype memories of an old tale came back to me, a story written by Isaac Asimov - in the days that Gates and Jobs didn't even know the smell of diapers yet - which is called...

"The Last Question"

This story first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly and was reprinted in the collections Nine Tomorrows (1959), The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973) and Robot Dreams (1986), as well as the retrospective Opus 100 (1969).

The Last Question” is a story of a computer with exceptional intelligence, the Multivac, presented with a recurring question through many stages of history, “Can entropy ever be reversed?”

Without spoiling the story, “The Last Question” is a wonderful glimpse into the technological singularity towards which we are accelerating.

Apparently, it was one of Asimov's own favorites as well:

Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn’t have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer. Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they think I may have written, and tell them where to find it. They don’t remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably “The Last Question”. This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, “Dr. Asimov, there’s a story I think you wrote, whose title I can’t remember—” at which point I interrupted to tell him it was “The Last Question” and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after. I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles.

-Isaac Asimov, 1973

You can read the full story at Multivac. Ever since I read this story I have wondered why an acclaimed scientist and outspoken atheist like Asimov would conclude with the very words of Divine Creation "Let There Be Light"

The Question the short story deals with, is "can entropy ever be reversed?" I wonder what Dr. Hick's view would be on this. Would the LHC hold the answer to Asimov's Last Question?

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LHC: Higgs and Hubs

Beam me up Scotty

Today is a hail from a different verse. It's not from the one of the virtual worlds of the metaverse, nor even a representation, a shade of our own in the paraverse, but hypothetically a glance back into the birth of our own universe: It's the first LHC beam day at CERN, the European Institute for Nuclear Research.

I received updates of the first beam-day through @CERN on twitter:

  • It's LHC first beam day. Beams at the door of the LHC, ready for first injection.
  • 9:30. First beam injected and stopped at 1/8 of a circuit. Loud applause in the control room.
  • 10:00 The beam has now done half a lap. Still going well. This is the big moment. Next injection should one full circuit.
  • 10:25, 10 September 2008. Historic moment. The LHC first beam has just circulated. Amazing moment.
  • 13:55, the LHC's second beam is now on its way.
  • 15:02, that's it. Second beam all the way round and the LHC is up and running.

The big question is, what's so special about this LHC, or Large Hadron Collider in full. The LHC is a 27 km. tube circling around (or actually under) Geneva where 9.000 scientists at Cern pull a stunt with boosting a particle beam almost at the speed of light. The particles should round the circle about 10.000 times per second, so it's over before you know it even started.

The thing is, it costs over 6 billion and it took 30 years to build this thing which has all sorts of nice gadgets, like the Atlas, a snappy photocamera which makes about a million snapshots per second to try and 'capture' particles crashing into eachother. Does this make sense to you? Well here's a little cartoon to explain a little more.

Today was first beam day, so only one particle beam was shot, it'll take some time before they actually start shooting beams at eachother, but expectations are that what happens then either resembles armageddon or the start of the galaxy, just after the 'big bang'. Problem is, they don't have verified testdata on how stuff looked like back then.

Higgs and Hubs

One of the key elements scientists will be seeking is the mysterious socalled Higgs-particle (dubbed the 'god-particle' by some) which should be the basic building block for all matter in the universe. Every self-respecting Physicists will be examining testdata from the LHC in the coming years, and they're estimating several Petabytes of data will be pumped round the world a year. Central distribution point for every non-European institute will be the Netherlands:

But we'll have to wait and see if there still will be the Netherlands, as some see doomsday coming when CERN actually starts crashing beams. Some say there's a risk, that when the beams collide a black hole will start to form in Geneva. Here's Dr. Kenneth Hicks view on things:

"I have been asked by friends if the LHC poses a threat to mankind. Some scientists have predicted that miniature black holes could be produced when so much mass is created in such a small volume by the collision of two high-speed protons.

Mother Nature can answer this speculation. So-called "cosmic rays" constantly pelt Earth. These rays actually are high-energy protons accelerated to high speeds by galactic forces, such as supernova explosions.

While the exact physical mechanism that ramps up cosmic rays to nearly the speed of light is unclear, the fact remains that some cosmic rays can exceed the speeds of even our most powerful accelerators.

Such rays are rare, but they do hit Earth.

Nature has been colliding protons all along at energies that exceed those created by particle accelerators. Miniature black holes might gobble up Earth in a science-fiction movie, but not in real life.

The advantage of the LHC is that protons can be collided in a controlled way, surrounded by huge particle detectors. The goal is to probe a new range of matter and perhaps discover new forms of matter.

Many particle physicists are expecting to see a new type of matter at the LHC, called super-symmetric particles. It is possible that the lightest of these particles might be connected to the dark matter of the universe.

If these new particles are discovered, they might explain the subatomic structure of dark matter."

Read the full article at the Columbus Dispatch.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

In a world...

"In a world where man fought machine... and machine won...".

Imagine this to be the opening line of a movie trailer, with the voice of Don Lafontaine, the king of voice-overs who just passed away, and you'll be sitting up straight, ready to watch a blockbuster movie, like Terminator - Judgement Day. Well, maybe you are. We're watching the Terminator-Google Mashup.

The Google Empire

Yesterday I blogged about the newly released Google Chrome browser ready to take on Internet Explorer and Firefox. I'm noticing I'm using Google products more and more often. It almost scares me how much I like Google products. It probably started because of my dislike of Microsoft, being too big and too dominant, but now Google itself is becoming such a monolith. Google gets into your life.

  • Google Search: They know what you do on the internet, know your interests (even your most private ones).
  • Google Mail: They get into your email, know your contacts and the contents of your mail.
  • Google Docs: Now they know even the things you don't mail and it won't be long untill the Google writer and spreadsheets move into the office space.
  • Google Android: Has the power to compete with the top producers of the mobile phone market. Now they can also follow your phone conversations and know where you are.
  • Google AdSense: They try to gigure out what you do, add sense to it and create desires in you to buy. It won't be long untill AdSense gets into your banking account to cross-advertise on every purchase you've made.
  • Google CheckOut: Now they're not only advertising you tyo buy products, they actually start making the transactions too.
  • Google Maps: Along with their mobile technology they know where you are, and where you wanna go. project this into...
  • Google Earth: and they'll have a 3D rendering of you and everything around you. It's Big Brother watching you.

It's SkyNet

Is Google turning out to be the Skynet of the present, moving towards domination? In Science Fiction and Cyberpunk novels (such as Neuromancer) we see that massive companies rule the world and have taken over command from national governments, often creating a dystopian society. The question is: "is it Science Fiction, or is it becoming reality?"

If you read Adjiedj Bakash, Hollands premier trendwatcher, it is becoming reality. he observes the birth of a new economic world order as one of the big megatrends of the next decade. I'm not sure if we're there yet, but it's starting to look very creepy with Google at the helm. Maybe it isn't Paradise lost yet, but it sure is Privacy Lost.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bantam Dell: a little lack of creativity

It's been a while since I look in the area surrounding the Electric Sheep Island, but early this morning I scrolled by and noticed the Bantam Dell island.

Probably depending on which writer to promote and which audience to target the mothercompany Random House uses one of their many subsidiary imprints as a stand alone publisher or a combination. This time it's the Bantam-Dell combination, which are both respected publishing houses.

Probably best known of all the Random House imprints is Bantam which has published major science finction writers such as Isaac Asimov, Jean Michel Auel and the early metarati such as William Gibson and Neil Stephenson.

Bantam has published the entire original run of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of children's books, as well as the first original novels (aimed at adults) based upon the Star Trek franchise, publishing about a dozen such books
between 1970 and 1982 when the licence was taken over by Pocket Books. Bantam also published a dozen volumes of short story adaptations of scripts from Star Trek: The Original Series. Bantam is the American paperback publisher of The
Guinness Book of Records.

The other part of this imprint is Dell Publishing, most notable for publishing works by H.G. Wells and Alfred Hitchcock.

Dell Publishing was an American publisher of books, magazines, and comic books. It was founded in 1921 by George T. Delacorte Jr.. During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, Dell was one of the largest publishers of magazines, including pulp
magazines. From 1929 to 1974, they published comics under the Dell Comics line, the bulk of which (1938-62) was done in partnership with Western Publishing. In 1943, Dell entered into paperback book publishing with "Dell Paperbacks". They also used the book imprint of "Dial Press", "Delacorte Books", "Yearling Books" and "Laurel Leaf Library".

The Bantam Dell island is an excellent build, as far as building goes. The island is set up for 6 builds, but only half of it is build: The Bantam Dell Bookshop & Cafe, the central plaza and the auditorium.

The main venue is the Bantam Dell Bookshop & Cafe which is an excellent build and breathes the atmosphere of a classic bookshop and lounge. The books on display aren't the ones I'd buy at Bantam though.

As for interactivity there isn't much beyond clicking the books and opening the corresponding webpage (old fashioned style with an external browser) and a HUD promoting the Bantam Dell podcasts.

There are event lawns which are currently empty and asking for ideas. This is pretty much a disappointment for me as the Bantam Dell combination has a wide range of authors that would fit in with this new media of virtual worlds. I'd suggest they combine elements and scenes from the aforementioned writers to create an immersive experience, a tour of the future rather than settle for an old fashioned bookshop.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Halting State

In real life I had a day off. Not to lean back, but to take care of the kids who were down sick. This afternoon when they were asleep I just had time to immerse and join the Information Week session on Dr. Dobbs island where Mitch Wagner, a.k.a. Ziggy Figaro interviewed SciFi author Charles Stross.

Stross has always known he wanted to be a Science Fiction writer and started writing in his early teens and sold his first bit of wordplay in 1986. After a few stories sold, the dip came and Charles went back to University (Bradford) and did a postgraduate in computer science and hopped from techjob to techjob slowly crawling towards Edinburgh and suddenly went into web consultancy - This was right about the time of the dot com crash (if not the cause to it). He managed to establish himself as a proper Linux and Free Software journalist until...

"Even more implausibly, after fifteen years of abject obscurity, his fiction
became an overnight success in the US, with five novel sales and several Hugo
nominations in the space of two years. "

Charles, or Charlie, talked about the world of 'Halting State', a world set in our near future where Metaverses and augmented reality are part of our daily routine. Mitch Wagner says:

It's really hard to predict the future on the scale Stross does. Imagine yourself in 1996. Back then, would you have predicted the ubiquity of smartphones, user-generated content on the Internet (blogs weren't even invented yet), Facebook, MySpace, the massive American entertainment industry grinding to a complete halt over a dispute over Internet video, and post-9/11 geopolitics? Could you have imagined, in your bones, what it would be like to live in that world?

One of the things Stross sees is that in a few years from now it'll be mobile all the way. A large percentage of the computers on the world right now are already cell-phones. In a few years they'll have gigs of bandwidth. As Dr. Dobbs was quite maxed out with visitors, we were all yearning for that extra bandwidth as Second Life almost came to a halting state with clothing taking its time to download, or just plainly go missing.

Unfortunately I had to take care of one of my kids, so couldn't keep track of all the exciting things and visions Charles shared with the crowd, you'd best check out the Ugotrade blog in a few days to find a smashing recap.

Read more on this session at Information Week here. Now I have to run to be on time for my own presentation on Second Life (in Dutch) at the NGI island (slurl).

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

It's not World of Warcraft, not even a virtual world or online gaming experience, but a plain animation that caught my eye today.

This is the Paramount announcement:

"Dragonlance fans -- We’re sorry that it has taken this long to get a trailer
out. We had been waiting in hopes that we could show you the final trailer but
unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances (i.e. key talent issues etc) we
have not been able to cut the final trailer together and get 100% approval. Ever
since we showed this piece at GenCon and DragonCon there has been a huge demand to see the trailer so we figured it’d be best to show you the rough version
instead of having everyone wait even longer. We appreciate your patience.

It's been a while since I read the Dragonlance Saga by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, must have been somewhere near 1999 while I was working on my thesis "the Alternate Word" a study in correlation between bible, mythology and fantasy literature. It'll be fun watching the tale again. Really looking forward to it.

Also from a virtual world and gaming aspect I've been keeping an eye on Margaret Weis as she's got a new startup, MWP (Margaret Weis Productions - obviously) which is bringing the Battlestar Galactica roleplaying game.

see also the Dragonlance website here

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Æon Flux

Yesterday, after finishing Neuromancer I had to blow of some steam and watched the Æon Flux dvd with Mrs. V.
Æon Flux is the main character of this story, played by Charlize Theron and is largely about a Utopia gone wrong (i.e. dystopia)

The plot is very basic; The world is destroyed (in 2011) and only 1% of humanity survives in the city of Bregna. The city is being led by the Goodchild dynasty for 400 years and it's about 2400 when the people of Bregna start to revolt. At least, a small group called the Monicans. Aeon is sent on a mission to kill dr. Trevor Goodkind and they fall in love, and save the world.

Well, actually, there's a bit more to it (but don't wanna put up the spoilers), making it a good watch after all.

The movie is not an original, but an adaptation of the original animation series that aired on MTV in the early 90's

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Otherland is a four-volume science fiction epic by Tad Williams. The story is set in the mid-to-late 21st century where technology has advanced somewhat from the modern day. The most notable advancement has been the development of the ability for people to attach themselves fully to a computer via a nerve interface in order to experience an online world, called simply “the net”, as virtually real. Tad Williams weaves an intricate plot spanning four thick volumes and creates a picture of a future society where virtual worlds are fully integrated into everyday life.

His proposed ability to immerse oneself fully in a simulation gives him a great deal of artistic freedom, and the story winds through alternate interpretations of many classical literary works such as Through the Looking Glass, The Odyssey and The Wizard of Oz, which are in the book available as entertainment simulations.

The story begins when young Stephen Sulaweyo, a boy living in the South African city of Durban falls into a coma while on the net. His older sister Irene (nicknamed Renie) investigates what has happened and starts discovering strange goings-on in the net, among them the constant reappearance of a mysterious golden city. With the help of her bushman technology student !Xabbu, Martine Desroubins, a French woman she meets over the net at the advice of her mentor, Dr. Susan van Bleeck, and the last surviving technician who created Otherland, Singh, she breaks into the Otherland network to reach the city. Once inside, she meets several other people all gathered together by a man named Sellars, who says he has called them together, but before he can tell the group everything he means to say, the golden city is attacked and all of the characters are forced to flee into the network—and discover that they can no longer unplug themselves to exit the net.

Sea of Silver Light paperback cover.


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.

Snow Crash
U.S. version cover shot, illustrated by Bruce Jensen.
Author Neal Stephenson
Cover artist Bruce Jensen
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Bantam Books (USA)
Released June 1992
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0-553-08853-X (first edition, hardback)

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