Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review of "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson

Any long lasting band or artist takes their first forays into the public eye with one hand holding ideas of others and the other hand offering ideas of their own.  As they mature and achieve success, a slow transition can be seen in which their own ideas take over and become the trademark style by which they are known.  Snow Crash is from the former stage in Stephenson’s career.  Flashes of brilliance, particularly in the style he would hone in Cryptomicon, appear throughout the plot and dialogue.  The futuristic ideas regarding political autonomy, ultra-capitalism, and scientific development, some of which now seem so commonplace (virtual worlds and lives), were wholly original at the time this book was published and indicate the creative steps Stephenson would later take in Anathem.  

But at heart Snow Crash is a cyberpunk thriller juiced on action steroids.  Lacking the maturity and depth of his later novels, it is defined by over-the-top characterizations (e.g. samurai wielding pizza delivery guy/computer programmer, fearless skateboard punk girl, robo-dog, etc.), James Bond-style world takeover schemes, as well as (ahem) ancient Sumerian artifacts involving secret symbols that require Indiana Jones-esque detective work to unlock.  That it’s written in such an electric style that never seems to stop is a credit to Stephenson’s natural storytelling ability and is certainly responsible for establishing him as a name in the sf world.  But a story with only flashy plot devices remains a story, nothing more poignant or meaningful below the surface to take it to the next level.  

If you’re looking for an exciting, action packed cyber punk thriller with all manner of interesting gadgets and tech, both virtual and real, as well as scenes from a plausible, not-too-futuristic America, then by all means pick this book up, you won't be disappointed.  This is mainstream Stephenson at his best.  However, if you’re better acquainted with Stephenson’s post-Diamond Age writing, this book may come across a little shallow and leave you wanting a more multi-layered examination of themes which tie into the real world. 

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