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Neal Stephenson – Snow CrashHere's another previously published review (on the now-defunct Diversebooks reviews site) - this time for Snow Crash, a Cyberpunk classic by Neal Stephenson, apparently “the Neuromancer for the 90s” as it was billed (curse the marketeers), with a slightly far-fetched plot, but since when did this stop a good SF story? Great book, compulsive reading, a classic, if you can (still) abide yesteryear’s ‘latest thing’, ie Cyberpunk.

Hiro Protagonist (the name is either pure genius, or an unconditional capitulation to the classic question what shall I call my Hero/Protagonist?) is a Freelance Hacker, part-time Pizza Delivery boy for the Mafia, the world’s best sword fighter, and currently at lose ends and broke.
Y.T. (as in yours truly) is a 15 years old girl, working as Skateboard Kourier, using a magnetic harpoon to surf in fast moving traffic, and make her deliveries to her customers in the Burbaclaves; to you and me that's parts of independent states, spread across the land like patchwork, connected by Motorways.
Together they form a partnership that supplies data/information to the CIC, the Central Intelligence Corporation; a follow-up organization to the Library of Congress, holding huge amounts of all kind of data in a glorious variety of types of media.

Nearly everyone is independent these days: the various Churches, the Mafia, Ethnic communities etc. Police forces are all contract bodies, which take major credit cards for bribes. And then you get sovereigns like Raven, a huge Biker of Aleutian descent, who rides a Harley with a side car. Except that the side car is a tactical nuke, wired to his EEG – try fighting an opponent like this… exactly why he’s a sovereign.

Hiro is one of the authors of the Metaverse, a 3D online world where people interact with each other via their avatars. Think a MMORP like EQII, but with (even more) socializing, better facial control to convey emotions, ads from all major multinationals jumping in your face (at least you’re able to show disgust!), and, given Hiro was involved, a top notch sword fighting simulation ability.

Alas, all is not well in this world – someone is handing out free samples of Snow Crash. Snow Crash is twofold – on the one hand it’s a computer virus that also affects programmer’s brains (as they’re used to thinking in binary); a snow crash is when your screen shows static (no BSOD in this world!). On the other hand it’s a viral drug that makes people susceptible to a fiendish plot involving Sumerian/Babylonian/Judean references, sub-linguistical structures of the brain, and Neuro-Linguistical Programming.

This is a great book, very inventive, very engrossing. On the cover it’s hyped to be “the Neuromancer for the 90s” – I think it is great, and it tries hard to be Neuromancer, but it doesn’t live up to that challenge. Then again, there aren’t many books that do IMHO.
The characters are decidedly Cyberpunk: underdogs, living on the sidelines of society, but with special talents that get them involved in something huge. If you’re a tech geek, a grunge fan, a martial artist, or a skateboarder then you will definitely identify with the characters. I can’t really tell what will happen if you’re not ;-)

What I can reveal is that the plot is well paced, interesting, and full of unexpected twists and turns. The bits where the action isn’t driving forwards is when Hiro and his friends do research into the background of the threat they’re facing – and it’s worth paying attention to these parts, as this is what drives the story.

To my knowledge this is the book that invented the usage of the word Avatar (not the word itself) in a VR environment. I also enjoyed the classical Stephenson approach of having Global brands, but extremely fractured and small nation states – it makes a difference from the ‘Unified Europe/Unified World/Unified Solar System/Unified Galaxy’ tack you get all to frequently (nothing against the EU, of course. er.  ;-).
The actual plot and the underlying philosophical and neuro-biological structures are a bit far-fetched, but highly entertaining and thought-provoking.

Would I recommend reading it? Unless you can’t deal with modern SF or are allergic to Cyberpunk yes, absolutely. Else go and read some Jules Verne (as will I, looking at my to-be-read pile ;-)

More Neal Stephenson

Title: Snow Crash
Author: Neil Stephenson
Reviewer: Markus
Publisher:  ROC/Penguin
Publication Date: 1993
Review Date: Nov 2005
ISBN: 0140232923
Price: UKP 5.99
Pages: 438
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Cyberpunk


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