Snow Crash

- - posted in Ancient Archives

Why oh why do people like Snow Crash so much? I’ve just seen Snow Crash described as a book that “redefines the art form”, alongside The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Have these people ever read real, decent SF? It’s like saying that BoyZone are like the Beatles for goodness sake. Or saying that Panda Shandy is Real Ale.

    This is a long overdue incoherent review. OK, maybe it's just a rant. Snow Crash doesn't deserve the time a proper review would require.

I could only get halfway through Snow Crash before giving up. Reading it almost hurt. The prose felt like a cross between laboured Usenet fan fiction and a technology article by a journalist in a Sunday newspaper.

    It's without consistency, believable technology or three dimensional characters. It's dull. It seems to have been constructed around a checklist of nerd fantasy elements - cars, pizza, samurai swords, lasers, 3D internet environments... Technology is immediately described  in excessive and patronising detail, as if the author is desperate to prove how "with it" he is.

    In fact Neal Stephenson seems to be in a mirror social group to that of the <a href="">script kiddies</a> - he clearly wants acceptance from The Real Hackers, he want to be part of the "revolution". He ends up as the SF equivalent of a script kiddy - he adopts the imagined language and culture of the peer group he wants to join, but really just repeats  cliches. A futurist groupie.

    Good SF books present the story, and  gaps in the detail are filled in by the reader's imagination By doing this they stimulate the reader's imagination, and thus make the reading more enjoyable and a creative process for both the writer and the reader. Snow Crash is written without any space for the reader, almost as if the author doesn't trust the reader (or himself) with spaces in the narrative.

    Snow Crash's vision of the future doesn't reflect the way networks and net communities have developed. The central plot device is a plot hole. Do you have a favourite character from an 80s cyberpunk novel? Here they are again! Some reviewers say that he makes the technology believable. To me, he makes it flawed and lifeless.

    So why do people like Snow Crash? Here are some possibilites:

    - Many people don't like SF because they can't cope with unfamiliar situations. They can't suspend disbelief, or can't tolerate an environment they don't understand. The long, dull techno-waffle in Snow Crash holds their hand; they feel that they are learning something. They don't have to use their imagination.

    - People don't want something that makes them look at the world in a different way, that gives them a new insight, that broadens their mind. They want something familiar. Snow Crash makes "SF" feel like their familiar fiction of urban angst.

    - "Everyone has said it's great, so I must read it and tell everyone I've read it! Then I can look cool and cyber-knowledgable too!"

    - The author has written some <a href=";field-author=Stephenson%2C%20Neal/026-7347897-4315663">other books</a> that were actually quite interesting.

    - Some people enjoy crappy SF. Fair enough.  As long as they say "It's crap but fun". I like lots of crappy SF and fantasy. Xena is a crap but fun TV show for instance. It's not redefining the art form, it's just fun.

    Here's my techno prediction: In a few years, sequels to Snow Crash will be produced by bots. The bots will parse blogs and IRC channels, read a few 80s cyberpunk novels, then apply evolutionary principles by testing their text in small chunks on Slashdot posters. These sequels will be better than Snow Crash.

    The final word goes to Arteth:

    "I wasted hours of my life reading this shit thinking 'it must get better', but it doesn't. I resent that."