Only once in a great while does a writer come along who defies comparison—a writer so original he redefines the way we look at the world. Neal Stephenson is such a writer and Snow Crash is such a novel, weaving virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between with a cool, hip cybersensibility to bring us the gigathriller of the information age.
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous…you’ll recognize it immediately.
The protagonist is the aptly named Hiro Protagonist, whose business card reads "Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world." When Hiro loses his job as a pizza delivery driver for the Mafia, he meets a streetwise fifteen-year-old girl nicknamed Y.T. (short for Yours Truly), who works as a skateboard Kourier (courier), and they decide to become partners in the intelligence business (selling data to the CIC, the for-profit organization that evolved from the CIA's merger with the Library of Congress).
The pair soon learn of a dangerous new drug called "Snow Crash" that is both a computer virus capable of infecting the machines of unwise hackers in the Metaverse and a crippling CNS virus in Reality. It is distributed by a network of Pentecostal churches via its infrastructure and belief system. As Hiro and Y.T. dig deeper (or are drawn in) they discover more about Snow Crash and its connection to ancient Sumerian culture, the fiber-optics monopolist L. Bob Rife, and his aircraft carrier of refugee boat people who speak in tongues. Also, both in the Metaverse and in Reality, they confront one of Rife's minions, an Aleut harpoon master named Raven whose motorcycle's sidecar packs a nuke wired to go off should Raven ever be killed. Raven has never forgiven the United States for the way they handled the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands (see Aleutian Islands Campaign in World War II) or for the nuclear testing on Amchitka.
Many Native characters have used the name Raven--like Eagle, Hawk, Wolf, and Bear--before. Marvel's mutant villain Harpoon used the whole "Alaska Native throwing harpoons" shtick six years earlier. It's not a great power; why not use automatic pistols instead?
Because a fanatical harpooner like Captain Ahab or Raven is a man outside civilization. He revels in hunting with primitive weapons, skewering his foes like meat on a stick. This barbaric preference suggests a basic lack of humanity.
As does his willing to incinerate millions of people for something done to his people generations ago. This is mass-murderer territory. Although the bomb never goes off, it demonstrates a Holocaust level of depravity.
In short, Raven is a sophisticated savage. He reminds me a little of John Rainbird, the relentless Native assassin in Stephen King's Firestarter. Both characters are more than two-dimensional cardboard but less than fully realized humans.
Overall, Snow Crash was entertaining, although it fizzled some at the end. If it were set 50 years in the future rather than in the 1992 era, I'd say it was a provocative take on what's coming. Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.
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