crap i have read recently #22

sumerian art

SPOILERS, always with the SPOILERS…

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Snow Crash (Stephenson, 1992):  This is another book that sat on my reading list for years for no good reason.  I finally decided to read it because I started one of Stephenson’s other books while spending the weekend at a bed and breakfast.   Quicksilver is a huge book (900+ pages) and it’s the first of a trilogy of equally ginormous novels.  Although I liked what I read, it was kind of a commitment and I thought I’d read Snow Crash first to see if I liked the author’s style.  Short answer: yes.   Longer answer:  Best book I’ve read in a long time and it’s precisely because the author goes on at length about interesting things that I didn’t know about and yet manages to keep the plot progression unusually lively.   Despite being two decades old and taking place approximately in 2005 it never feels even remotely dated.  I rarely read books that I can’t put down but this one came closer than most.  When I wasn’t reading it I wanted to be and I was sorry when it ended.

Hiro Protagonist (you read that right) is a thirty-something hacker, master swordsman, and pizza deliveryman for the Mafia.  Y.T. (short for Yours Truly) is a 15 year old skateboard courier who makes her way from delivery to delivery by harpooning (pooning) cars.  They meet when Y.T. poons Hiro’s company car while he’s on a time critical pizza delivery.  In his efforts to shake her he manages to crash the car into an empty swimming pool.  His job is over but Y.T. delivers the pizza on deadline, thus saving the Mafia a ton of money and earning their gratitude.   In this brief, tightly written, and pretty damn funny opening sequence we learn several things about this near-future (or perhaps alternate future) world.  There is basically no United States anymore or really any sort of organized government.  Instead people have coalesced into franchised neighborhoods like Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong or residential areas called burbclaves, each of which has its own rules and law enforcement.   The Mafia is a more or less legitimate business with pizza franchises all over the world.   The CIA merged with the Library of Congress and formed a giant for-profit communications and intelligence business.   Some things haven’t changed though.  The world still considers thirty-year old hackers to be over the hill.  Skateboard technology is very advanced.  Traffic in LA is still bad.

When he’s not driving cars into swimming pools Hiro spends time in the Metaverse, the 3-D, immersive, virtually real successor to the Internet.  He’s person of some importance there, having helped to develop and code the very basics of the place, and he’s a lifetime member of the hippest neighborhood and the hottest club.  That’s where he first runs into the Snow Crash virus, a new type of attack that not only crashes computers but also wipes human brains.  Hiro and Y.T. soon find themselves embroiled in a wide-reaching plot to use ancient Sumerian writings to wipe the base code of human thought and eliminate free will.   As you can probably imagine, this is about the point where any attempt to describe the plot coherently begins to fail.

Is it a hot mess?  You betcha, and the best kind.  Stephenson doesn’t waste a lot of time telling us about this future, he just drops us into and lets us figure out how it works.  It’s a darkly humorous dystopian fantasy peopled with thugs and religious leaders and shady businessmen and run on bizarre technology.  Almost without fail characters are badass.  Aside from Hiro and Y.T. there are:  Da5id, lord of the Metaverse and Snow Crash’s first high profile victim; Raven, an Inuit tough guy with a grudge against the entire world and a nuclear bomb strapped to his motorcycle; Uncle Enzo, head of the Mafia and a Vietnam vet who takes a fatherly shine to Y.T.; Vitaly Chernobyl, Hiro’s friend and leader of the world’s noisiest band; and Fido, a cybernetic dog that can break the sound barrier when saving the girl he loves.   The book takes swipes at L. Ron Hubbard, government, organized religion, bureaucracy, conservative fiscal policy, consumer culture, and cyberpunk itself.  The book gets talky for long stretches, especially involving the aforementioned Sumerian code and its relationship to the Tower of Babel, but never in the bad way.  It’s fascinating stuff (no idea if it’s true or not) and a compelling narrative driver.    For the most part though, the action is consistently over the top, no matter what it is:  fast food delivery, Y.T.’s daring escape from the feds, Hiro’s virtual and real-life sword skills, a motorcycle race through the Metaverse that hits speeds of 10,000 miles an hour.   Hiro and Y.T. bounce from LA to Seattle to a giant refugee flotilla based around the former U.S.S. Enterprise and back to LA, with the occasional side trip into the Metaverse.  No one ever stops moving.

None of it makes any sense if you stop to think about it for more than a few minutes but the ride itself is definitely worth the price of admission.  The whole thing ends as it began, with fast-paced, high-stakes action that terminates with a sudden full-stop into a metaphorical brick wall.   It feels just like coming down off an adrenalin rush.

Score:  W00t!

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~ by gun street girl on February 27, 2014.

One Response to “crap i have read recently #22”

  1. Reblogged this on Frisco Kid Reads and commented:
    A good review of one of my favorite cyberpunk novels — a classic in the genre.

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