Snow Crash: A brief review

About 2 years ago, when I was attending Metropolitan State College of Denver, I was friends with a particularly egregious mutant who lived in a flooded basement on Speer boulevard, subsisting on peanut butter.  One day, after driving him to his place of residence and then coming inside to watch him play World of Warcraft, his benefactors came through the door and I had the pleasure of meeting them.  In a previous episode, the details of which elude my memory, my 200 lb acquaintance had informed me that one of these men was highly educated and disagreed with me on both economic and philosophical issues.  Since I was not particularly enthralled at the concept of watching World of Warcraft indefinitely, I did what anyone would do in my position and proceeded to initiate an impromptu debate with a (more or less) complete stranger in their own house.

We discussed a number of things that seemed largely out of my range at the time, specifically those in the arena of philosophy.  However when the discussion came to the subject of economics and I wanted an explanation for why anarcho-capitalism was untenable, things quickly got out of hand.  He became quite lively when I insisted that a functional judicial system was possible on the free-market, blurting out that without involuntary government, his only recourse for violation of contracts would be a car bomb.  Not quite following many of the arguments he chose to give me, I asked him if he had any texts to recommend to me on the subject.

He shot off, and a few moments later returned with a copy of Snow Crash.  I read the beginning of the book two years ago, then put it off.  I returned to it about 2 days ago and finished the entire thing start to finish.  I have concluded that the book is unsatisfactory as a political document.

Synopsis

Hiro Protagonist is a multi-racial hacker and swordfighter extraordinairre, currently neglecting his talents in favor of the bohemian lifestyle of a pizza driver.  Except that in future anarcho-capitalist america, pizza delivery is run by the mafia and the working poor live in storage units.  In a display of mixed luck, Hiro manages to lose his job without losing his life.  Down on his luck (even more than before), he abstains from getting a stifling corporate job and instead takes up the life of a freelance intelligence agent (essentially uploading random information to a central computer database, getting money on an after-the-fact pay-by-use basis).  The pursuit of this job, combined with his inside knowledge of both the coding and the social elite of the MetaVerse (think Second Life only consequential), lead him to uncover an insidious plot by the world’s last industrial tycoon (who established his monopoly before the fall of government) and the president of the (now powerless) united states to brainwash america and institute a theocracy of sorts.

Crazy hijinks follow, the hero (probably) saves the day, a third thing.

The ratio of awesome to non-awesome

The first two words of the book are The Deliverator, which gets us off to a fairly impressive start.  In fact, if the entire book were just the above synopsis fleshed out in full length, the book would be fully enjoyable.  However somewhere into the hero’s investigation, something goes very wrong with the plot.  Suddenly it is no longer roaring action and nuanced jokes about socioeconomics set in a gritty, semi-dystopic future.  Instead it segways into a semiotic analysis of ancient mesopotamian culture (seriously).  What is the excuse for this?  Did the hero pick up a plucky professor sidekick who throws out irrelevent but amusing scholarly anecdotes at opportune times?  Well no.  Apparently, the hero must get to the bottom of this dastardly scheme edutainment game style, by completely ignoring anything directly related to the villian and instead following a trail of ancient secrets by way of superimposing clumsy metaphors on common religious tales. Basically like some sort of retarded Robert Langdon.

This takes up something like half the book.  It kills the pace, which is important for my ability to enjoy the book as fiction, and it also limits my ability to treat it as anything substantially more than fiction.  This is bad because of the first thing.  When I arrived at those junctures of the novel, it became difficult not to envision certain things.

So those are the big things.  I will present the small things in bullet-point format to keep the article small-ish.

List of Fail

* Deterministic view of human nature

* Language as a deterministic force

* Race as a meaning-giving structure of human existence (non-phenomenological structures never meet this description, but to make race into one is particularly insidious)

* Dark yet clumsy cliffhanger ending (Raven, major bad guy extreme, has a nuclear bomb rigged to go off when he dies.  At the end of the book he drives off into the sunset near LAX, presumably while bleeding profusely.  The author makes nothing of this).

* Government is a non-sequitor in this book, showing up when it’s convenient to the plot even though this creates dramatic complications for the whole picture.

There is truthfully little else to complain about or praise without seriously taxing the analysis.  Admittedly my focus may have been skewed by the pretenses under which I read the book.  Nonetheless this is my assessment of Snow Crash, so sayeth I.

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~ by Kilroy del Dancefighter Estallion the First on August 2, 2009.

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