Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

*Spoiler Warning* I’m not spoiling a lot, but I’m not going out of my way to avoid discussing later plot points.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I originally read Snow Crash ages ago. Maybe when I was in high school or college? I didn’t like it very much, though I also didn’t remember much about it except vague impressions of being confused and irritated. So for years whenever anyone recommended it or it came up in conversation I’ve remembered that I didn’t like it but thought: well, maybe that’s because I was younger and didn’t understand it. I’ve enjoyed other Stephenson books (Anathem, The Baroque Cycle, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves) so much more in my 30s and 40s, maybe it’s time to revisit Snow Crash to see whether it doesn’t make more sense now. Maybe I just needed to grow into the novel?

Well, that was optimistic, but misplaced. I still don’t like the novel very much and getting through it has been a bit of a slog. There are things I have liked. I like the main characters, Hiro Protagonist and Y.T.. I like the setting, a futuristic America after the United States has functionally ceased to exist, replaced by multinational franchises. I’m both fascinated and a little irkedirked by the proto-internet. The physicality of it I find baffling, how they have to “physically” move through virtual space and cannot jump around, constrained by having to go through points B, C, and D in order to go from A to E. But I can get over that. I realize it’s the internet as if it were a virtual reality game, but I kept getting thrown out of the action when it took people time to get from one location to another and they had to ride virtual monorail or motorcycles to get somewhere quickly. I’m not sure why it was irritating here where it wasn’t in Ready Player One, say; but somehow there was a dissonance that kept throwing me out of the book. Maybe because in RPO they are clearly playing a game whereas Stephenson’s Metaverse doesn’t feel so game-like. It’s more like the Internet that I know, where people conduct business as well as pleasure and there isn’t much gamification of the experience.

But what I really disliked is the brain as computer extended analogy and the metavirus. The brain as computer metaphor was probably a new and exciting when the novel was written, but I’ve been reading convincing articles about the basic wrongness and fundamental limitations of the metaphor and they really rub against the book in a way that takes me out of the narrative. (The Empty Brain, Your Brain Is Not a Computer, A Response to a Response)

And I especially detest the eisegesis of the Bible and ancient Sumerian myths. Eisegesis is interpreting a text in such a way that the reader introduces his own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. Stephenson’s biases are against anything supernatural or divine. The ideas of good and evil are human constructs introduced by human agents to control human behavior. His reading interprets the Resurrection as being a foreign element introduced later in the NT text rather than a historical event. It’s just too jarring. My belief in the divine origin and eternal truths of the Bible are too fundamental to my worldview to be able to easily set them aside— I don’t *want* to set it aside for the sake of a story. I guess the bottom line is I didn’t find the notion of the metavirus interesting enough to suspend my disbelief, especially to put aside my most fundamental beliefs for it.

I think there was something interesting in Stephenson’s idea of the me— proto-memes?— as self replicating ideas, as a sort of virus. But ultimately my response is mostly akin to Han’s in The Force Awakens: “That’s not how the Force works!”

As usual with Stephenson’s work I felt like the book just ended abruptly without a satisfying conclusion. He doesn’t feel any need to tie up loose ends. The pace is frenetic right up to the last page and then suddenly it’s over. I guess Uncle Enzo died killing Raven? I wanted to have a bit more time with him. I guess Hiro survived and got together with Juanita? Again, it would have been nice to say goodbye. And I wanted to know more about YT’s mother and their relationship. Simply calling her mother to pick her up just didn’t seem to be enough to carry the weight of the lack of resolution. Stephenson’s novels are like the guy who slips out of the party before it’s over so that he doesn’t have to say goodbye. It’s a jolt when you look around and realize he’s gone and you never got a chance to finish your conversation or ask him that question or introduce him to your friend. All that unfinished business just left hanging. . . .

Like what was the purpose of Raven and Hiro finding out that their fathers had met and gone through an experience in a Japanese internment camp? It was kind of a cool moment… but there was no payoff that I could see. I wanted it to matter to the contemporary story, but it didn’t seem to make a difference to Raven and Hiro’s battle.

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