Evidently I have a thing for immersive virtual worlds. First, I read Ready Player One. Then I started reading Snow Crash. And I closed it with the anime Sword Art Online, though this has a manga version, so maybe I should check it out too.

Our Immersive Worlds

They’re all different and they’re all the same. They occur in some nearish future where the technology is available for people to immerse themselves in an online digital world. The novels are both actively dystopian futures, while the anime is not, though it involves the nefarious use of the technology. All 3 use haptic technology, which I didn’t know was a term until I read Ready Player One, and now I can’t seem to escape it.

Snow Crash is closer to Ready Player One in the sense that both deal with a bottomed-out version of the world and U.S. government, though Ready Player One and Sword Art Online are both based on worlds that are MMORPG. Snow Crash and Sword Art Online‘s link is the use of swords. Lots of people get cut up in both.

Reviewing Snow Crash

This is my second book by Neal Stephenson, and dude loves to do deep dives into concepts I can only tangentially comprehend. But he explains it well (he loves to explain things). The first, as loyal readers know, was Seveneves.

Soon after I finished that book, Amazon had a sale on his books, so I went to the magic Google machine to see which of his books I should pick up. This lead me to the Books subreddit. There were a few recommendations, and I walked off with (well, downloaded) AnathemCryptonomicon, and Snow Crash. I have no idea why I decided to read Snow Crash first.

The start of Snow Crash is straight up weird. While Seveneves goes into a weird land, it starts in our world. Snow Crash starts off with a pizza delivery guy who uses a katana for self-defense as he delivers pizza for the mafia. Weird.

It gets more normal after this, but the first chapter was so strange that I honestly didn’t know if I was going to like the book. I was getting an undesirable recall of On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, which was interesting at a distance but not a fun read at all.

Luckily, it gets (slightly) less weird and a lot more enjoyable after the auspicious start. You get into a regular book in terms of how the characters function. It’s still got his fingerprint on it, so it goes into deep dives into things you may never fully understand, but it follows an interesting plot.

What threw me off early on was how he was incorporating technology. Despite being set in the future, it felt old. The way he was talking about technology, it felt like something out of the ’80s in a lot of ways.

And then I realized the book was written around 1990.

The worldwide web isn’t a thing. Virtual reality isn’t a really a thing. His use of the term avatar wasn’t a thing yet (though this book helped make it the normal term for the concept in the online world). And unlike Ready Player One and Sword Art Online, he couldn’t really go into MMORPGs because that wasn’t a thing yet.

That makes what he did all the more impressive.

The book is spookily prescient in a lot of ways. The way he discusses technology and what it becomes in that world is markedly similar to how future writers would (though I supposed they could just be derivatives of this work). And of course, the use of technology in the book mirrors a lot of what we see today (complete with internet connections coming from cell towers allowing us to use the internet on the go, increased privatization of public services, and the mafia owning pizza companies [We see you Papa Johns. We know you’re really just a front for the goodfellas). We’re only missing full-on immersive virtual reality, though we’re getting there soon, as well as a near-complete collapse of the U.S. government (insert political joke that should be funny but isn’t because of the past month of nonsense). Stephenson even uses augmented reality.

We get two characters that we follow. The main one is Hiro Protagonist, pizza delivery man, hacker, and greatest sword fighter in the world. The other is YT, who is a kourier and all-around badass at 15. If Arya Stark was in Snow Crash, she would be YT. When I grow up, I can’t decide if I want to be Arya Stark or YT. That’s how awesome YT is.

There is surprisingly little direct interaction between Hiro and YT, but the interactions between them, both on and off the page, are a large driving force of the plot. They’re a good complement. They’re both on the irreverent side, but Hiro is a grown man, so he has to act like a grown man (or grown man-child), which tempers his irreverence, while YT gets to look at a crazy world through the cynical lens of a 15-year-old.

You get some snippets of love stories, but for the most part this is just people living in a world who got thrown into an unfortunate situation. They’re not really looking to have an adventure. It just kind of happens along the way.

All in all, it’s a good read. I’d tell you the basics of the plot, but I think it’s better if you just let yourself dive in. Honestly, I don’t think I even read a description of the book before reading it (though I must have when I bought it, I couldn’t remember it by the time I was actually reading). Go in as a clean slate as much as possible. You won’t regret it.

-Q

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