This is a little bit of a follow up from last week. Ready Player One has gotten alot of hate online. I didn’t mean to add to that with my last post, I am a just little baffled by all the love. After reading it I talked to friends about why they liked it and most answered with, “It was really fun.” While reading reviews online one book kept coming up, Snow Crash. Usually it was in the negative reviews but it popped up more than once. Snow Crash was written by Neal Stephenson in 1992. It is a science fiction/cyberpunk novel that focuses on two main characters, Hiro Protagonist (yeah, I know) and Y.T. (Yours Truly). It takes place in a 21st century dystopian America where capitalism is king and the US has been cut up by corporations and businesses. The different suburbs, or territories, are owned by and ran by corporations that style and rule their neighborhoods according to their cultures. For example, Mr Lee’s Greater Hong Kong neighborhoods are very organized, clean areas that are policed by high tech animal/machine hybrids. The book opens with Hiro delivering pizzas for Uncle Enzo, who’s business is actually the Mafia with the friendly face of a delivery chain. Within this world computer programmers, or hackers as they are called, have created a virtual world where people can login using VR goggles and equipment. Sounds a bit familiar right?
I was hesitant reading this book. First of all the protagonist is actually named Hiro Protagonist. To make matters worse he is a hacker who carries swords. The fact that programmers are always referred to as hackers was another thing that kind of drove me nuts. Hiro thinks he is cool and in the virtual world he is the best sword fighter who ever lived. This made me think of Ready Player One and how the main character just seemed SO arrogant and above all others. The other protagonist is a 15 year old girl who is a skateboard courier. Their basic descriptions would be enough to drive me away from the book in fear of eye strain due to rolling them so hard but I stuck with it. The world that developed was clever enough that the good outweighed its more ridiculous aspects. Y.T. was a fun character. She was tough, resourceful, funny and likeable, but Hiro’s character really grounded the book. Although he was this badass hacker who could beat anyone in the Metaverse, his skills didn’t fully translate to the real world. This added tension and grounded the characters.
I ended up loving this book. It was one of those science fiction books that are about more than just the story. I don’t know how much of the history or ideas that they dig into are real or accurate but at times the book feels like a youtube or wiki hole. Hiro has a library with a computer program that acts as an assistant. It is able to reference almost any information in the world that has been digitized. Because the program has the characteristics of a person Hiro interacts with him in conversation digging into different books and cataloged materials. The interactions are written so that as Hiro is figuring out connections and making epiphanies you, as a reader, are too. It’s almost like Stephenson wrote this section and then wrote the story around it. The book moves between the two worlds in a way that doesn’t get bogged down or monotonous. Where Ready Player One lacked a real world that was compelling, Snow Crash makes them feel united and both are informed by one another. Each world has its limitations which actually ties them together making them both feel more grounded. There are times when it is hard to believe this was written over 20 years ago. Many of the ideas and technology are commonplace today. It reminded me alot of The Mote in God’s Eye in its ability to not only predict the future of technology but also how we would use it and its limitations.
The downside was this was not a light read. Ready Player One was fluff and read as fluff. I think it took me a week or two to read Ready Player One but this took me a good month and I couldn’t put it down. I am a slow reader, which is a whole different topic, but still. I’m sure it isn’t for everyone but I enjoyed the heck out of it… maybe this is how people who really loved Ready Player One feel.