Neal Stephenson,
Snow Crash
(Time Warner, 2001)

You know, it is easy to get your reading done while you do the housework, walk the dog or even have a shower -- as long as the book is on audio tapes, that is. This adds a whole new dimension to term "reading" and, while I was kind of surprised at the number of tapes (12), I couldn't replace tapes fast enough after one ran out. Thankfully, this didn't break up the continuity of the story at all.

Snow Crash is also available as a book. I know, I tracked it down out of curiosity. For a work from 1992, I was surprised at the high demand -- there is a waiting list at the library! This novel is bouncing around my fair city every two weeks. Thankfully, I could relax and not worry, listening to Jonathan Davis's wonderfully rich and expressive voice tell me the entire tale of Hiro Protagonist, allowing me to close my eyes and visualize it for myself. Or as stated above, to get the housework done!

Hiro Protagonist is a very, very interesting character. He is of mixed racial descent: half Negro, half Asian. His father was in the military, and Hiro uses his father's Japanese swords with honour. The katana and the smaller wakizashi are a set; one is for fighting, the other for a ritual disembowelling should one lose honour or a battle. Hiro uses these blades in real life and in the Metaverse, where he is a warrior prince. The Metaverse is a rather interesting place where everyone wants to be ... sure, it is made up of computer-generated graphics, but it is much better than the real world.

Hiro is also a freelance hacker who helped to devise a wonderful "bar" in the Metaverse. He now sells information to the "library" where he receives cash if someone requires the information. Business has been rather slow of late. Hiro's life takes an abrupt turn for the exciting when his Deliverator car is ruined, and a young Kourier named Y.T. has to help him deliver the pizza on time. You don't want to upset Uncle Enzo, since tangling with the Mafia on any terms is downright dangerous. And in this day and age, the Mob runs the pizza delivery service. The world is a really strange place in Neal Stephenson's future!

Snow Crash is a virus ... one which has been around since the time of Babel, if I've understood correctly. This virus is cutting down hackers left, right and centre, and Hiro is on a race to track down the shadowy villain who has been spreading it. Y.T. ends up lending a hand because she's worried about her mother, who works for the Feds. The two chase back and forth through reality and virtual reality, both easily distinguishable, in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Facing down a giant Aleutian named Raven, who is rumoured to have a nuclear device upon his person that will detonate if he's killed, the pair discovers that the mastermind behind the whole scheme is one L. Bob Rife, a rich and already powerful person who craves complete and utter control of the world and all those in it. Hiro has a close call, but he develops "snow scan," which will detect snow crash and won't allow it to open.

This virus doesn't affect just computers, but the users! And once they're infected, their blood can be used to pass it around to other innocents. This is a nasty one, folks, and I don't think Norton or McAfee can be of any aid. There are ties to the beginnings of religion, when we all spoke one language and learned from binary codes how to survive. It is a twisted and yet very logical pathway for this plot, and I've got to hand it to Stephenson for creating such an interesting piece of literature (which I believe either has become, or is in the process of becoming, a cult classic).

If you use a computer, you might want to read this. And to be honest, you really ought to read it, just in case. Take a look at the future of our world, it is unmistakable! And if you can't track it down, you might want to save yourself some time and get the audio version. Find out if Hiro can be the greatest hacker and stop the spread of the virus. Perhaps Uncle Enzo will destroy him for trashing a Deliverator car ... they are very costly, after all. There are a number of factions at work in this fast-paced piece of "mall mythology," all striving for one ending or the other, leaving readers to guess who will win in the end.

[ by Naomi de Bruyn ]
Rambles: 2 February 2002

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