I have only just recently read Snow Crash, and haven't read any of Stephenson's books before. I can see that it is a pretty good book, very forward thinking and original, but I do have some nit-picky criticisms that I don't think that the book addressed or resolved very well.

The fragmentation of nation states : The story calls for the world's national governments to have been subsumed by corporations and private interests. As is often the case with sci-fi, the author has taken an existing phenomenon (in this case franchise stores and restaurants) and scaled it up. Yes, I can understand that this was done in a way for comedic effect, and to loosen the restrictions on the characters' actions, but even if you can accept that such a system would be stable (it would almost certainly be more like lawless anarchy, in my opinion), it seems like a bit of a cop-out to have these "franchulates" being operated by sketchy caricatures of big organisations (e.g. the Mafia). Also, surely it would be more likely for the different franchises to consolidate and be less apparent to the man on the street.

Hiro's back story : OK, so Hiro Protagonist is one of the creators of the metaverse, and yet he lives in a garage, and does quite menial jobs... hmm, I guess there are enough instances of similar things happening in real life, it seemed a bit incongruous.

The Rat Things : We are given the impression that no-one outside of Ng's organisation is aware that they are dog cyborgs. Yeah, like that's something you could really keep quiet.

When is it set again? Hiro and Raven's back stories suggest that the book is set around now (200x) at the latest... but we have major changes like some of the plot devices mentioned above and they have become accepted ... I don't think that even in 1988 Stephenson could have reckoned that so much stuff could change in such a short time. Still, I guess that's what fiction is all about. And I guess that the Metaverse predictions make up for it, if you're keeping score...

I could go on (about Snow Crash, and Reason, and the Raft, and the whole Sumerian thing...) but the beauty of the book is that this would just serve to make me look bad.

IRT Azzer: But the 'franchulates' are too fragmented and specialised to be effective platforms for governance. The other difference is that in 13th C. Europe, there were still major national state interests (such as kingdoms, and the church) inside of which the city-states operated.

There are two novels pretty much guaranteed to be on every hacker's bookshelf. The first is William Gibson's Neuromancer. The second is Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Both are classics of the cyberpunk genre.

First, let's get the comparison out of the way. Gibson comes off as a poet who happens to write about these new fangled computer thingies. Stephenson, by sharp contrast, seems more like a hacker who happens to write novels about his craft. Despite the similar glimpses into a high-tech future that these novels offer, their authors' writing styles couldn't be more different.

If I could fault either book, it would be for the exact opposite reasons: Gibson waxes poetic so much that it's often hard to work out what he's actually trying to say, to the point where you sometimes wonder if he even is saying anything at all. Neal Stephenson, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants to say, and will fill his books with lengthy exposition going into detail about how everything works, halting the action for the occasional essay, tutoring or backstory.

Stephenson doesn't follow all the rules of good fiction writing. Not only will the action pause while the hero talks to a librarian at great length, or updates the firmware on his weaponry, but chapters often end after such long exposition that you might forget what was happening by the time you start reading the next chapter. Pretty much everyone mentions that Stephenson hasn't got the hang of climactic endings either. In short, although he writes very well, he doesn't know when to stop.

For all I've said against the way he writes, Stephenson's style is fun. He's great at similes, from the serious ("After [YT's father] left, she just folded up into herself like an origami bird thrown into a fire") to the comically macho ("...excess perspiration wafts through [Hiro's uniform] like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest.") While I doubt anyone reads a novel just for its style, I really did find Snow Crash to be a fun journey regardless of its destination.

Despite any flaws in its structure, Snow Crash is worth reading for the ideas it contains. As a hacker, I always love to read about futuristic technology, and Snow Crash's Metaverse is much more interesting than Neuromancer's Matrix. Stephenson knows what he's talking about enough to have constructed a plausible fantasy, which not only helps the reader suspend disbelief but also inspired a lot of other hackers to make things that imitate the technology described in the book. Two prominent examples of real life projects inspired by this book are Second Life and Google Earth.

Quite aside from the technology, this novel also explores what the near future would be like if the free market really was allowed to run free. Everything from the police force to the military has been privatised in Snow Crash's world. Thankfully, Stephenson doesn't preach one way or the other, and just presents a fascinating, dangerous world that's thrilling to vicariously live in.

Not content to explore themes as diverse as hacking, franchising and ancient mysticism in isolation, Stephenson manages to combine all these things into a single plot that, for the most part, makes a lot of sense from a memetic point of view. He provides so many fascinating insights into all of these areas that you have to forgive him for getting sidetracked into explaining things in detail between the swordfights and chase scenes.

In short, this is a densely packed novel with more interesting ideas in it than even most non-fiction. I'd recommend it to any hacker, and probably any economist too for that matter.

The narrator of the audiobook should get a special mention. The way he acts out all the dialogue and even narration is absolutely brilliant. I can't picture this book any other way now. I have no idea how close all his inflections are to how Stephenson pictured the words spoken in his mind, but the combination of the author's style and the narrator's acting really bring the world to life.

Don't bother waiting for Hollywood to condense these seventeen hours into a film that's less than two. A leaner version of Snow Crash with tight structure would arguably miss the point. Maybe all its longwinded digressions are a good thing after all.

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