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What I’m Reading: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

26 Oct


I listen to more books than I read these days.  I listen when I run.  I listen while I drive.  I listen while I garden. NPR is great and it’s great to feel like an informed citizen, but I never look forward to the radio, like I do audio books.

I’ve been on a serious science fiction kick as of late.  About a year ago, I listened to Michael D.C. Drought’s audio course, From Here to Infinity: An Exploration of Science Fiction Literature, which left me with a long list of science fiction novels to consume.

One of these was Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, a fun romp of a book, which has already started to seem dated, though its only twenty years old.  The action seems to be set in the early twenty-first century, roughly now.  The reason it seems dated is because it’s so quintessentially 90s, reminding me of how much I was influenced by all the cultural touchstones of Generation X.  (Would I be a great success now, I wonder, if I hadn’t idolized Nirvana and watched Clerks?) There’s the 90s slacker-hacker protagonist, the grand conspiracy worthy of The X-Files, and the evil CEO mastermind who is in every way the opposite of the protagonist.

The protagonist of the novel is cutely named Hiro Protagonist, a pizza delivery person when the book opens.  He carries around a pair of samurai swords in real life and in the metaverse, an online world that is way cooler than the crappy internet we have here in the real future.

Y.T., the other strong character, is a teenage girl with a delivery job.  She gets around the city by pooning—latching onto cars with a magnetic harpoon.  In the real future, this is also not as glamorous—skitching, as real-world pooning is known, has led to a few deaths.

The humor in the book stems from the setting—a libertarian dream, which is, in truth, a nightmare.  Everything is privatized, including the police the Library of Congress and the CIA.  No one is safe. Nothing works.  And the Italian Mafia are the good guys.  There’s obvious social commentary here.  The descriptions of the burbclaves—suburbs hidden behind razorwire and defended by watchmen—are all too real.

The Brilliance Audio production, read by Jonathan Davis, is the most highly produced audio book I’ve ever listened to—which wasn’t a bad thing.  The chapter breaks are marked with strange noises—nonsensical babbling and radio noise—that take on meaning as the novel progresses.  Davis understands the tone of the novel and the fact that he never takes it too seriously helped me to enjoy it.