Neal Stephenson is a very polarising author in my view. His novels often cover a lot of serious academic disciplines, with some seriously complex stuff hidden within the plot. Snow Crash on the face of it revolves around a guy named Hiro Protagonist and teenage girl Y.T.as they deal they adventure around in a virtual reality version of the internet known as the Metaverse, which is beset by a drug known as Snow Crash. Snow Crash seems like a computer virus but at the same time it is not, with its effects bleeding into reality. However Snow Crash is more than just a story, it is a work examining a number of topics at an academic level including linguistics, religion, computer science, politics, philosophy and cryptography. More importantly it is a vision of the internet’s future as Neal Stephenson saw it, and the explores the evolution of technology.
In terms of narrative Snow Crash is written in an unusual third person present tense style, a rarely used point of view in fiction. It gives the work a sense of immediacy but at times it feels clumsy and not properly executed, with times where it shifts to past tense where it isn’t necessary. I feel that the novel might have been stronger if it had been written in the past tense instead. I am also not fond of the long dumps of information present throughout the narrative, which while sometimes necessary for the plot, I feel like it is a lazy narrative technique and a lot of the time it interrupts the plot. Since present tense point of view, in my experience, benefits a more immediate narrative the info dumps seemed more jarring than usual. The book has a unique feel and the narrative is unlike anything I have read, but I am unsure as to whether or not this is a good thing.
The characters are interesting although I have a few gripes. Hiro is generally a rather witty and capable protagonist but at the same time I feel like he is a bit too overpowered. I feel like his status as a capable swordsman both in and out of the Metaverse is a bit strange, particularly outside since it leaves Hiro without any real physical flaws. Y.T. is similarly witty but I can’t help but feel that she is a bit lacking in terms of personality, being little more than an unusually mature teenage girl. My biggest gripe with her however relates to some of her actions during the climax, where she seduces one of the villains, Raven, who is over twice her age. To make matters worse she is only fifteen, not even at the age of consent in some countries. While Raven is knocked out before intercourse this is entirely by accident meaning Y.T. seduced him of her own free will and had ever intention of having intercourse with him. This irked me a lot needless to say. This might have something to do with the fact that I didn’t like Y.T. that much to begin with, but there was something about the incident which made me dislike her.
Raven, is one of the primary antagonists of the novel. He is probably one of my favourite characters in the novel, even towards the end. Bearing in mind that he was perfectly willing to sleep with a fifteen year old girl this is quite an achievement on Stephenson’s part. This because he defines crazy badass both in and out the Metaverse, which is a trait that I very much admire in a villain. He is not the main villain, but this is a good thing since he probably would have been weaker as the central villain of the piece. The real big bad is L. Bob Riffe a leader of a new religion movement. I didn’t like him as much since his motives were more bland and generic, being of the take over the world variety. However he functions, which is all you can ask for and since Raven does a lot of the leg work his character doesn’t have a huge effect on the plot.
Snow Crash is a strange novel. It has interesting characters and plot, but it can at times get muddled amidst the tonnes of academic subjects beyond the level of the average reader and the way it affects the pace of the novel. I find myself divided on what to think of it, similar to my opinions on Neal Stephenson’s work as a whole. However I must acknowledge it as a unique and revolutionary work in the cybperpunk genre and one which brought the genre into the modern day, which is something I must commend it for. It’s too flawed to be a masterpiece, but it is a great novel which I enjoyed reading.
IN A WORD: STRANGE