The border between kitschy science fiction and well-written literature is a difficult line to traverse. Some, such as Vonnegut, have done it throughout the years memorably and with precision. At the recommendation of a family member, I recently read through Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash,” a book that manages its subject matter effortlessly while presenting a thrilling and thought provoking story to the reader.
Published in 1992, the book explores an alternate 21st century, where America has become hypercommercialized and privatized to the point of excess automation and ruthless mechanical efficiency. Having been outdone by the industrialization of other world industries, its only remaining profitable industries are entertainment and high-speed pizza delivery. Suburbs have been turned into autonomous and privatized communities with separate laws, jurisdictions, and even militaries.
In this world, the hero of the novel, coyly named Hiro Protagonist, jets from pizza delivery to pizza delivery as a deliverator for CosaNostra Pizza Inc., the premiere in high-speed and high-stakes door-to-door pizza service. After a botched delivery, Hiro is forced out of the business and so he turns to his other job: hacking and information gathering.
Drawing on heavy cyberpunk inspiration, the book also explores the Metaverse, an virtual reality world somewhat similar to Second Life but predating it by 11 years. The Metaverse is where the disenfranchised gather to live the lives they cannot lead out in the privatized nightmare of the real world. The complexity of avatars and access to certain areas define rank in the Metaverse, and Hiro is one of the rare few allowed into The Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club.
While I won’t go into too much plot detail, Hiro’s life is changed when he comes into contact with a new digital drug making its way through the Metaverse, the titular Snow Crash. The resulting quest for information details a fascinating and deeply satirical look at this alternative America and Hiro’s journey through it.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with any interest in science fiction or cyberpunk. Neither of those things really intrigue me all that deeply on a personal level, but the novel is fantastic for its setting, characters, and reflective commentary on our society and where it may be headed, especially in light of all of the technological and social inventions that have arisen since the book’s publication in 1992.General Topics Inspirations: books cyberpunk fiction literature metaverse Neal Stephenson novels post-cyberpunk privatization Rat Thing reviews satire Science Fiction Snow Crash