Book Review – Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson

I have taken to listening to books in bed before going to sleep. I can put on an eye mask with built-in bluetooth headphones (with the extra benefit that I don’t need to close any shutters to keep the room from getting light super early), set the Sleep Time on Audible to 30 minutes, and get in little chunks at a time before drifting off to sleep.

This book took a while for me to get into. I started back in August and after falling asleep and re-listening to the same opening chapter many times in a row, I decided to shelve it. Only in the last month after I had listened to the rest of my audiobooks did I finally come back to it. Again, it took a bit to start figuring out what the main plot was, but as I kept listening it grew on me.

The main story follows the protagonist, named Hiro Protagonist, as well as a teenage courier named Y.T., as they try to dig up intel on a new sort of part biologic / part linguistic / part computer virus called Snow Crash in a new future dystopia where governments have collapsed and mafia pizza franchises and guarded ‘burbclaves’ are ubiquitous.

I think that one of the challenges in 2021 is to remember what the digital world was like thirty years ago, and that many things that are part of our normal world now were in fact inspired by this novel. Sure, we don’t have trillion dollar inflation and the government hasn’t collapsed and been transformed into a series of franchises (or at least literally so), but MMORPGs, Google Earth, cryptocurrencies, and many other aspects of technology have been shaped by their creators’ experience with this book. So the fact that at least certain parts seem ‘normal’ is partly due to Stephenson’s acute futurism.

Lastly, I like emphasis on language and merging the fields of computer hacking and linguistics. I found myself cringing a few times about how these could literally transform into a DNA-hijacking virus in the brain stem, but I enjoy the concept as a metaphor.

So while it took me forever to get into the book, I’m glad that I finished it and I continue to think about certain aspects of it every few days. And in the end I think those are the books most worth reading (or maybe it just installed a Snow Crash virus in my brain…)

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