Snow Crash, Snow_Crash
, Talk:Snow Crash
is a science fiction novel
written by Neal Stephenson
and published in 1992
. It is his third novel. It follows in the footsteps of cyberpunk
novels by authors like William Gibson
and Rudy Rucker
, but breaks away from this tradition by having a heavy dose of satire
and black humor
Like many postmodern
novels, Snow Crash
has a unique style and a chaotic structure which many readers find difficult to follow. It contains many arcane references to history
, computer science
, which may inspire readers to explore these topics further, or at least consult relevant reference works. Set in a world with a political-economic system that has been radically transformed, the novel examines religion along with its social importance, perception of reality versus virtual reality
, and the violent and physical nature of humanity.
The title of the novel is explained in Stephenson's essay In the Beginning...was the Command Line
, as the term for a particular software failure mode
on the early Apple Macintosh
computer. About the Macintosh, Stephenson wrote that "when the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set — a 'snow crash.'"
The story takes place in the former United States
during the early 21st century. In this hypothetical future reality, the United States Federal Government has ceded most of its power to private organizations. Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts, and private security guards preserve the peace in gated, sovereign housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads rather than the competitors', and all mail deliveries are done by hired couriers. The remnants of the government maintains authority only in isolated compounds, where it transacts business that is by and large irrelevant to the booming, dynamic society around it.
Much of the territory ceded by the government has been carved up into a huge number of sovereign enclave
s, each run by its own big business franchise
(such as "Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong
" or the various residential burbclaves
)). This arrangement bears a similarity to anarcho-capitalism
, a theme Stephenson carries over to his next novel The Diamond Age
has devalued the dollar to the extent that trillion dollar bills, Ed Meeses
, are little regarded and the quadrillion
dollar note, a Gipper
, is the standard 'small' bill. For physical transactions, people resort to alternative, non-hyperinflated currencies like yen
or "Kongbucks" (the official currency of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong).
, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet
, constitutes Stephenson's vision of how a virtual reality
-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Although there are public-access Metaverse terminals
, using them carries a social stigma among Metaverse denizens, in part because of the poor visual representation of themselves via low-quality avatars
. In the Metaverse, status is a function of two things: access to restricted environments such as the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club, and technical acumen which is often demonstrated by the sophistication of one's avatar.
Plot summary and major themesthumb|right|Snow Crash, UK version cover shot
The story centers on Hiro Protagonist
, a hacker
, and a streetwise
young girl nicknamed Y.T.
(short for Yours Truly
), who works as a skateboard "Kourier"
for a company called RadiKS. The pair meet when Hiro loses his job as a pizza delivery
driver for the Mafia
, and they decide to become partners in the intelligence
business. The setting is a near-future version of Los Angeles
, where franchising, individual sovereignty
reign supreme (along with drug trafficking
, violent crime
, and traffic congestion
The pair soon learn of a dangerous new drug, called "Snow Crash" — both a computer virus
, capable of infecting the brains of unwary hackers in the Metaverse, and a drug in Reality, being distributed by a network of Pentecostal churches
via its infrastructure and belief system. As Hiro and Y.T. dig deeper (or are drawn in), they discover more about Snow Crash and its connection to ancient Sumer
ian culture, the fiber-optics monopolist L. Bob Rife
and his enormous Raft
of refugee boat people
who speak in tongues, and an Aleut harpoon
er named Raven
, whose motorcycle packs a nuke
triggered by a literal dead man's switch
. The Snow Crash meta-virus may be characterized as an extremely aggressive meme
Stephenson takes the reader on a tour of the mythology of ancient Sumeria
, while his characters theorize upon the origin of language
s and their relationship to the Biblical
story of the Tower of Babel
is portrayed as a deadly biological and verbal virus
which was stopped in Ancient Sumer by the God Enki
. In order to do that, Enki deployed a countermeasure which was later described as the Tower of Babel
. The book also reflects ideas from Julian Jaynes
's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
The characters speculate that early Sumerian culture used a primordial language which could be interpreted by human beings through the deep structures of the brain, rendering the learning of what he refers to as "acquired languages" needless. This theoretical language is related to glossolalia
— also known as the phenomenon of "speaking in tongues" — stating that the babbling
of glossolalia is in truth a truncated form of the primordial language. A comparison is made to computer
s and their binary
machine code, which exists on a much more basic level than, for example, the human-readable, high-level programming languages, and as such gives those with the ability to speak the language great power.
In the Snow Crash
interpretation of Sumer mythology
, the masses were controlled by means of verbal rules called me
. The characters of Hiro and Lagos compare me
to small pieces of software
which could be interpreted by humans, and which contained information for specific tasks such as baking bread
were stored in a temple
and its distribution was handled by a high priest
, referred to as the en
. Within this context, Enki was an en
who had the ability of writing new me
, and is described as the primordial hacker
. Also, the deuteronomist
s are supposed to have had an en
of their own, and that kabbalistic sorcerers
known as the B'alim Shem
(masters of the name) could control the primordial tongue.Me
were erased from people's minds by a meta-virus
(see the definition of meta-
), a fact theoretically explaining the Tower of Babel
myth. Enki then wrote a me
called "The nam-shub of Enki", which had the effect of blocking the meta-virus from acting by preventing direct access to the primordial language, making the use of "acquired languages" necessary. The meta-virus did not disappear entirely, though, as the "Cult of Asherah
" continued to spread it by means of cult prostitute
s and infected women breast-feeding
infants. This form of infection is compared to that of the herpes simplex
virus or to the way religion
; Hiroaki "Hiro" Protagonist
: As the name flippantly suggests, the hero
of the novel, a hacker, swordsman, former Mafia-employed pizza delivery man. Hiro is broke in real life, but has extensive access to the Metaverse
as one of its original developers.
; Y.T. (Yours Truly
: A teenage skateboard-riding car-harpooning courier who helps Hiro investigate the mysterious meta-virus. She is Hiro's "partner" in information-gathering for the Central Intelligence Corporation
, and a secondary protagonist.
; Juanita Marquez
: A computer hacker
and a techno-mystic, Marquez was involved with Hiro Protagonist. She then left Hiro for his friend and rival, the phenomenally successful Da5id. After her marriage to the latter dissolved, she embarked on a quest to study the upcoming infocalypse. She becomes a key player in the race to avoid the twin threats of the meta-virus of Asherah
and the nam-shub
counter-virus of Enki
; Da5id Meier
: Co-creator (with friend Hiro) of the elite Metaverse club The Black Sun.
First to fall victim to the Snow Crash virus.
; L. Bob Rife
: All-around magnate, plies the seas in an aircraft carrier
with a city's worth of people living in boats lashed to it — the Raft. He may be based on L. Ron Hubbard
, Ted Turner
or John C. Malone
. At the time Snow Crash was written, Malone controlled TCI, then the largest cable company. Malone vigorously and successfully resisted government regulation of cable until consumer anger against rising cable rates forced Congress to pass the 1992 Cable Act.
; Dmitri "Raven" Ravinoff
: An Aleut native who works as a mercenary. His preferred weapons are glass knives
— undetectable by security systems and reputed to be molecule-thin at the edges — and throwing spears. He travels on a motorcycle whose sidecar has been replaced with a hydrogen bomb that will automatically detonate if his heart stops beating. Raven has the phrase "POOR IMPULSE CONTROL
" tattooed on his forehead, a sign of being arrested for some violent crime at least once in his life. His stated goal in life is to "nuke America." The combination of his fighting ability, conscience less killing, and personal nuclear umbrella prompt Stephenson to refer to Raven in his introduction as "the baddest motherfucker in the world."
; Dr. Emanuel Lagos
: Researcher who discovered the Snow Crash meta-virus and told Rife about it. Developer of the Librarian, explained below. Introduced as a "gargoyle" constantly wired into the Metaverse.
; Uncle Enzo
: Head of the American Mafia, which in this hypothetical future operates publicly and freely, and now runs legitimate enterprises such as the Nova Sicilia Inn, CosaNostra
Pizza, and Our Thing Foundation.
; Mr. Lee
: Head of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, a franchise that Hiro is a citizen of and that helps him out numerous times.
; Mr. Ng
: Head of Ng Security Industries, severely handicapped after a helicopter accident in Vietnam
, maker of the security pitbull cyborgs commonly called Rat Things
, and various other futuristic gadgets. Mr. Ng uses a heavily-armored vehicle modified from an airport fire engine as a "wheelchair."
; Reverend Wayne Bedford
: Head of Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates franchise, a Pentecostal sect. The franchise is controlled by L. Bob Rife via his majority share in Pearlgate Associates.
; The Librarian
: A complex but non-sentient software application designed by Lagos. The Librarian's conversations serve as simple exposition
, giving Hiro background information about Sumerian religion, Snow Crash, and previous research of other characters.
: One of the Rat Things, which are formerly-living dogs that have been turned into cyborg
s. They are kept in "hutches" that provide them with nourishment and visions of "canine paradise." Though attack-programmed as guard dogs, they retain strong, warm memories of being real dogs. This is especially evident in the case of Fido, and it allows him to form a protective attachment to Y.T.
Literary significance and criticismSnow Crash
rocketed to the top of the fiction best-seller
charts upon its publication and established Stephenson as a major science fiction writer of the 1990s. The book appeared on Time
magazine's list of 100 all-time best English-language novels written since 1923.
[http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html TIME All-Time 100 Novels]
The Raft, a collection of ragtag vessels bringing poor Asians to California, resembles the "Armada of Hope" described in Jean Raspail
's novel The Camp of the Saints
(1973), in which a vast flotilla carries a million of India's poor to the southern coast of France.
[http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/05/snow-crash-and-camp-of-saints.html Snow Crash and The Camp of the Saints]Snow Crashs influence can be seen in Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. The novel features a Disneyland parade based on
Influence on the World Wide Web
While Stephenson was not the first to apply the Sanskrit
to online virtual bodies, the success of Snow Crash
popularized the term to the extent that avatar
is now the de facto
term for this concept in computer games and on the World Wide Web
[http://www.cwru.edu/help/webglossary.html A Beginner's Web Glossary]
Metaverse-like "worlds" in reality include There
, Second Life
, The Palace
, Active Worlds
and the now-defunct Blaxxun
(originally Black Sun
prior to being sued by Sun Microsystems
). Some massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG
s) also resemble the Metaverse.
According to its creators, Uru
was inspired by Snow Crash. This does not refer to the story or content of the game (which is deeply rooted in the D'ni/Myst universe), but rather the format of the multiplayer environment, Uru Live.
Many Virtual globe
programs including NASA World Wind
and Google Earth
bear an uncanny resemblance to the "Earth" software developed by the Central Intelligence Corporation in Snow Crash
. One Google Earth co-founder claimed that Google Earth was modeled after Snow Crash
, while another co-founder said it was inspired by Powers of Ten
[http://www.brownianemotion.org/2006/07/24/notes-on-the-origin-of-google-earth/ Avi Bar-Ze’ev (from Keyhole, the precursor to Google Earth) on origin of Google Earth]
Elements of Snow Crash
are popular among computer professionals and enthusiasts alike. For example, Microsoft vice-president J Allard
uses "Hiro Protagonist" as his gamertag
* The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution
— a short story by Christopher Cherniak on computer which induce Catatonia
* Geek canon
- a canon of books, films and gadgets which shaped the geek culture
* Distributed republic
* isfdb title|id=1182|title=Snow
* http://www.nealstephenson.com/ Neal Stephenson's web site
* http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/AuthorSpecAlphaList.asp?BkNum=21 Science Fiction Inventions From Snow CrashCategory:1992 novelsCategory:Fictional cyborgsCategory:Fictional drugsCategory:Motif of harmful sensationCategory:PostcyberpunkCategory:Science fiction novelsCategory:Time Magazine 100 best novelsCategory:Internet historyCategory:Computers in novelsCategory:Virtual reality in fictionde:Snow Crashit:Snow Crashja:スノウ・クラッシュpt:Snow Crashru:Лавина (книга)