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Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

– May 24, 2014

The first time I started Snow Crash was not too long after it made paperback. I believe right at the time his next book was published. I read only the first couple of chapters before putting it aside (for reasons I cannot remember) and very much enjoyed that opening sequence about the Deliverator, in the imaginative story and in the narrative style and form itself. So, when I finally picked it up again — finding a clean 5x7 edition for a buck on a used rack, and motivated by a desire to start reading in sf and fantasy again — I started the book with expectations, built not only on the memory of those first chapters but also on what I have heard spoken about the book since.

I will be honest, I was greatly disappointed with the book (though not enough so that I did not finish reading it, which for me says something). I can understand how at the time of its publishing it could seen as groundbreaking content-wise: much of it was projecting — and hypothesizing — forward into to the future of computer technology and virtual environments. I also give kudos to what might be to some small details, like not having the main characters form a romantic relationship: there is a significant age difference. (Though, unfortunately that got undermined by Y.T. jumping into bed with Raven.)

What I was most disappointed in is that the ideas within the book about language and Babylonian myth really have only the most superficial connection to the plot. Immediately some people might talk about the flotilla and the cults created in the Babylonian thread, but really they could have been any generic, sf, deteriorating civilization cult. When you really look at it, almost all of the Babylon material exists only in the long discursive explications of the Babylon material.

Though, I should say, to me it seems obvious that Stephenson was trying for something more integrated but could not pull it off. Which may also explain what I dislike the most about the book: the wholly uncontrolled plot. For example, there was no reason for Hiro to go all the way to Alaska except that the journey created a means to work in some of the events along the way that could not have been worked into the story if it stayed in California. And once they leave shore, the story line becomes contrived to the point of absurdity. The story is wholly out of control; it never comes together. It is too often very contrived, rather like a J.J. Abrams movie, whose story lines mostly exist as cheap means of transport from one high budget sequence in one setting to another high budget sequence in a wholly different setting.

I know this book gets a lot of praise as "literary" science fiction, and I have seen it on course syllabi here and there. But my own opinion of the book is that it is a failed effort. A wonderfully conceived effort, but a wholly failed one. The book is a mess, plain and simple. Well written, maybe; but, still a mess.