⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This crazy cyberpunk romp had me hooked from the get go. The opening chapter is a frenetic, totally bonkers ride-along with a pizza delivery guy in a race against time. This guy turns out to be our main character and he’s employed by a Mafia ‘franchise’ in some dystopian anarcho-capitalist future where nation states have been replaced by criminal syndicates, religious zealots and unregulated corporations.
Snow Crash follows our protagonists, Hiro Protagonist (yep, you read that correctly), a sword-wielding hacker and (now former) pizza delivery driver and Y.T., a fifteen-year-old courier with a kick-ass skateboard and one hell of an attitude, as they team up to save the world from a media mogul with a sinister plan.
First things first, Snow Crash doesn’t take itself super seriously. It’s postmodern and it’s meta and it’s constantly reminding you you’re reading a book. One of the protagonists is literally called ‘Hiro Protagonist for f**k sake. At one point when you’re gearing up to witness a high-octane chase scene, Stephenson straight up tells you ‘What happens next is just a chase scene’.
It’s disorientating and fast-paced and totally over the top at times, but you just have to embrace it. Because none of it should work but Neal Stephenson pulls it off wonderfully. It’s also written in present tense, which adds to the relentless pace of the book. It uproots you from the comfort and safety of so many stories that feel like they’ve already happened. This feels urgent, this is happening now. You’re sitting alongside these characters in real-time and it’s nothing if not a thrill ride.
The plot is a bit disjointed, but honestly I’m not even sure this is a shortcoming in a book that’s so obviously parodying the cyberpunk genre, which is rife with so much disorienting technological, social and cultural displacement. I spent the first third of the story not really knowing what was going on, but it was fine because Stephenson does such an excellent job of introducing the characters and the setting and just the generally bonkers vibe of the world I was watching unfold that I was just happy to strap in for the ride and see where I ended up.
It gets a bit info-dumpy in the middle, which ordinarily would cause me to roll my eyes and sigh through several pages of exposition, but I didn’t care. The exposition is handled pretty well and the info itself is interesting and original enough that it kept my attention.
One criticism I do have is the lack of character development. Everyone at the end of Snow Crash seems pretty much the same as they were at the beginning and the ending itself was a bit abrupt. Again, I wonder if this was a conscious choice that actually serves as part of the narrative parody of the genre.
Because Snow Crash is parody. Not just of the cyberpunk genre as a whole, but of itself as well and Stephenson makes no apologies for it. It’s over the top and cartoonish and I could definitely visualise this as manga or anime. A few minor hitches are easily forgivable in a book this fun.
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