May 18 2006

Snow Crash

Published by at 6:43 am under Books

by Neil Stephenson

Last weekend, I read Snow Crash which I thought I’d read once before but after a few short chapters, I decided that I hadn’t. This book was written in 1990 or 91 and describes a not too distant, post trauma, chaotic world. Countries and governments are little and relatively unimportant organizations, franchises, gangs, ‘burbclaves’, the Mafia et. al. are at least as powerful. The hero is a hacker and the heroine as super capable skateboard messenger. The plot line gets quite bizarre and is mostly entertaining if unbelievable. Running through the story is Stephenson’s habit of interjection mostly true(?) lectures on various topics which flow off the plot; in this case the nature of language, Sumerian culture, and computers.

A main strand is how the “metaverse”, a virtual world, plays a major role in how real society functions. The metaverse’s capabilities much exceed those of current virtual reality sites, such as the game of ‘second life’ now popular on the internet, but the similarities are beginning to be striking. In both, real people buy virtual real estate build what you want, have adverts, provide entertainment, etc. Differences of course (e.g. the metaverses cool ‘heads up’ display glasses and representations) but the core idea is pretty near identical!

The 80’s show up strongly in a large representation of ‘Nipponese’ business men and organizations as players in the chaotic, post state world. Businesses, franchisers, gangs and cliches dominate. States are either franchises or possibly the government of a subdivision. Skateboarder and ‘freelance’ hackers are cool dudes running around in the creases of society.

In hindsight, a few oddities, missed technology evolutions, are apparent as amidst all the computer mediated reality and super smart devices, a “stealth helicopter” uses ‘videotape’ to spy on and record the action. That’s pretty retro.

An entertaining story that I read quickly. Plot and action soon reaches the comic book level of believability, but fun.

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