Friday, June 24, 2011

Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson

"Wait a minute--this snow crash thing, is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?" Juanita shrugs. "What's the difference?"

Snow Crash is not a good book. It somehow made it onto the Time Top 100 novels list, it’s widely considered one of the best of the science fiction genre, but it’s so full of missteps, poorly thought out ideas, and convoluted writing that I’m at a loss to explain why.

First, the good: Snow Crash, in the early going, serves as a pretty funny satire of cyberpunk in the style of William Gibson. It follows a samurai pizza delivery guy, Hiro Protagonist (haha), who’s a slacker in the real world but a hero in the “Metaverse”, a virtual world that seems Stephenson’s answer to Gibson’s Sprawl. It’s silly, but for the first half of the book, the silliness at least seems intentional. However, when the titular “snow crash”, a drug that is chemical, physical, and digital, is introduced, the book strives for a more serious tone that fits it very poorly.

Introducing elements of linguistics, Christianity, and microbiology through reams and reams of dialog-based exposition, Stephenson lays out the science behind the ideas which is ultimately far too far-fetched (and, for anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of Christianity, factually inaccurate) for me to buy into. It reads like Stephenson had a lot of ideas, but rather than organically integrate them into the narrative, they are shared in endless dialogs between Hiro and a computerized librarian. I was also fairly skeeved by the sexualization of the 15 year old co-protagonist, Y.T., which includes a fairly explicit maybe not-quite-consensual sex scene.

On a more personal note, I was somewhat offended by Stephenson’s dismissal of Christianity. The following exchange, between Hiro and Juanita, a self-described devout Catholic, is so condescending that it makes my condescending organ ache:
"Do you believe in Jesus?"

"Definitely, but not in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus.", said Juanita.

"How can you be a Christian without believing it?"

"I would say, how can you be a Christian with it? Anybody who takes the time to study the gospels can see that the bodily resurrection is a myth that was tacked onto a real story several years after it was written. It's so National Enquirer-esque, don't you think?"

Snow Crash climaxes with a battle between two characters that are introduced in the last 70 pages of the novel, but it somehow seemed fitting: after a book full of characters with no real humanity, it's appropriate that the ending should feel like it doesn’t mean much at all.

No comments: