Book review: Snow Crash

Book cover for Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

As part of my reading list for the year, I make it a point to include “classic” science fiction. I consider pretty much anything written prior to the year 2000 as classic.

One of the other elements I look for in these classic works is their ability to stand the test of time. I’ve read books from Asimov, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Peter Hamilton, Joe Haldeman, Orson Scott Card, and others. I find it fascinating how many things these authors foreshadowed in their novels that have come to pass or are close to happening. It’s even more amazing when you consider that some of these novels were written over 50 years ago, and some are even older!

For my latest classic science fiction read, I read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. A good friend and former colleague suggested I read Stephenson’s works, and he strongly recommended that I start with this one.

As you would expect with any classic sci-fi book, Snow Crash is centered around a future technology known as the Metaverse. The Metaverse is very similar to the modern day game of Minecraft on steroids. It’s a virtual world created by a group of computer programmers that people plug into, assume an alter ego, and live in a world where the normal rules of physics and reality are loosely followed, with the emphasis on loosely.

The story has dystopian undertones. Modern day governments have been superseded by corporate entities. Wealth and power has been concentrated in a handful of powerful corporations and their owners and shareholders. The economy has transformed into a mostly virtual one where computer programmers are a valued commodity and arguably the most valuable asset a company possesses.

The story follows a character by the name of Hiro Protagonist, who, as one would expect, is our story’s hero. Hiro is a programmer who operates by his own set of rules. While those around him have profited handsomely from their skills, Hiro’s timing is impeccably poor. How poor? Even though he was one of the primary programmers of The Metaverse, he cashed out before it got big. Fortunately, he remained friends with his former co-workers, and he spends a lot of time in The Metaverse hanging out and hacking with them which allows him to maintain a somewhat superstar status in this alternate reality. When Hiro stumbles upon a computer virus that will allow one corporation to control the Metaverse, he takes it upon himself to stop the virus from spreading and achieving its ultimate goal.

Snow Crash is a fun read, especially when you put it in perspective. The book was written in 1994, just before the internet really took off. Stephenson did a really good job in Snow Crash projecting how the internet would transform human interaction, the concentration of power, and the dangers inherent in a world driven by software.

I’d recommend Snow Crash as a good entry into Stephenson’s works. It does get a little slow in the middle where Stephenson builds the motive for the various characters actions. Fortunately, I was able to power through that portion and was rewarded by an entertaining ending. It has me looking forward to adding another Stephenson work or two on to my future reading lists.