Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Classics of any genre can be unapproachable simply by being deemed ‘classics.’ It’s accidental - because of their (possibly ill-deserved) popularity they are often spoiled by well-meaning readers. Or perhaps someone doesn’t spoil the book exactly, but gives so thorough a synopsis that the urge to read the book is diminished, pushing it to the bottom of a reading pile. But eventually some time passes, and the spoilage is forgotten, or the book happens to be at the top of the pile.

I finally read the cyberpunk classic Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. It had never been spoiled for me, but escaping the mention of Hiro Protaganist and the Metaverse is pretty hard working in IT. And far from wanting to devour the book, I had avoided it for a while because I felt that it could never live up to its hype. I loved Cryptonomicon, and In The Beginning Was The Command Line, yet didn’t want to give Stephenson the benefit of the doubt that Snow Crash could manage to deliver the goods again.

Then there’s the matter of length. 400+ pages is investment of time, and at any given time I am in the middle of reading 20+ books (to the mute disgust of my wife, who must ignore the books I’ve scattered all around the house). What I feel like reading changes at the drop of a hat, and it takes vacations and long weekends to whittle down my in-progress stacks. Some books I read in an afternoon, some take 2 years or longer to finish. A 100 page novella could take decades, depending on the mood. I have accepted it like the mess on my home office desk - a hazard of how my brain operates.

That said, I read Snow Crash in two weeks, and while I could have read it faster, I was actively savouring it. Hiro and Y.T. are great characters, and the minor characters have a substance that allows them to inhabit asides that are expertly woven into the story. The pace of the book builds well right to the end, and Stephenson keeps the complexity well-managed - doing a better job in Snow Crash than in Cryptonomicon (though to be fair, the Snow Crash story is linear).

The Metaverse concept is getting all the closer to reality. Virtual reality via worlds like Second Life paired with the Oculus Rift is already here, and while the technology is basic now, it’s getting better by leaps every month. It’ll be interesting if we ever see something like Snow Crash in the next few decades.

Anyway, if you’ve been holding off on Snow Crash, trust me, it’s still good after all these years.