49. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992) 438 p.

they're not unicorns, they're horses with swords on their heads

Hiro Protagonist is a freelance hacker, pizza delivery man for the Mafia, and the world’s greatest swordfighter, swashbuckling his way across a hyper-capitalist America in which the federal government has relinquished most of its power to corporations, whose self-contained enclave franchises line the privately-owned freeways of this dazzling dystopic… future? Or alternate history? The main character is in his twenties, but his father fought in World War II, which means Snow Crash can’t be taking place any later than… well, now.

Snow Crash is essentially Neuromancer on acid: a louder, more adrenaline-pumped book that contains many of the same themes and concepts, in much the same way that Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is On The Road on acid. The difference is that Fear And Loathing is much better than its predecessor, whereas Snow Crash is not. It’s an excellent book, but doesn’t seem quite sure of what it wants to be, creating a world that is almost cartoonishly over-the-top and yet takes itself completely seriously. It’s hard to know what to make of a novel that intersparses tedious discussions of Sumerian mythology with skateboarding chases and sword fights.

It’s still a lot of fun. The action scenes are excellent, and there’s a creative flair in every chapter – I was especially impressed with the Raft, an enormous floating construct of several ships lashed together, with a chaotic shanty town of smaller boats surrounding it, populated with refugees from all over the Pacific. Also interesting was the Metaverse, Stephenson’s virtual reality MMO that inspired Second Life (he also predicted Google Earth, although his version had real-time satellite feeds). And the climax was extremely well executed, one of those classic action-adventure structures that slowly moves all the characters into place for a fast-paced, explosive finale. I haven’t read one of those in a while, and I love them.

Snow Crash isn’t exactly a mess. It’s consistent all the way through. But it felt like a mess, because I could never truly believe the impossible world it was presenting – as opposed to Neuromancer, which took place in one of the most believable, well-realised fictional worlds I have ever read. Nonetheless, it’s still a great book, and recommended for any science fiction fans.

Books: 49/50
Pages: 16, 033