Reviewed date: 2005 Mar 17
There are two worlds in Neal Stephenson's vision of the future: the real and the virtual. The virtual is the Metaverse, a multi-user world much like the Internet online role-playing games of today, but with full immersion: a total three-dimensional video and audio experience. But surprisingly, real estate in the Metaverse is limited and expensive; good plots of land were bought up in the early days of the Metaverse by lucky speculators like our hero, Hiro Protagonist.
Hiro and his fellow hackers are technological wizards in the Metaverse, but the real world treats them less well. The real world in Snow Crash is a cynical environmentalist socialist's conception of a libertarian utopia: a powerless central government has ceded all authority to franchises that set up fortified city-states. Far from being a land of liberty, it is a land torn by gang warfare between rival franchises, e.g., between the Mafia and Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong.
The story begins as Hiro Protagonist, the Metaverse's greatest programmer, works at his day job: pizza delivery. The pizza delivery sequence is so stupid I nearly threw up. Fortunately the rest of the book is better. The plot thickens after the pizza delivery sequence. Hiro visits his friend Da5id in the Metaverse, and sees Da5id fall victim to a computer virus called Snow Crash. This in itself is unusual, but what is more sinister is that it is not just Da5id's Metaverse avatar and computer that fall prey to the virus, but Da5id himself; he ends up in a coma in a hospital.
Hiro embarks on a quest to figure out what Snow Crash is and who is behind it. With help from unlikely sources including a 15-year-old courier and a Librarian computer program, Hiro unravels a linguistic mystery that goes back thousands of years to pre-biblical Sumeria.
Snow Crash rates a low three out of five, and I do not recommend it. The plot itself is interesting, but the writing is poor. Stephenson includes a lot of long infodumps, and he uses a big and utterly pointless piece of deus ex machina to resolve one plot thread. Plus it's hard to take seriously any book whose main character is named Hiro Protagonist.