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Snow Crash

Snow Crash

Are you that person whose To-Be-Read pile exists on every table in the house? Do you miss sitting at the cafe and scoping out what books everyone is reading? Are you here for a good time, not a long time?

Welcome to Speed Reader, a rogue missive from your bookish friends at Omoi. Every month or so we'll feature a book from the shop that we read, thought about, and want you to read and think about. Part book club, part recommendation algorithm, except we're not stealing your data and no one is laying in wait to mansplain at you. Let's get started.

This month we're bringing back a 1992 cult cyberpunk classic, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.

The <em>Snow Crash</em> book lays on top of a black 2600 hoodie

Plug In

There we were in our weekly meeting, discussing Facebook's switchover to "Metaverse" branding when I blurted out—"and you know all this stuff is in this book called Snow Crash, right?" I went on a whole tangent about other things from 1990s cyberpunk stories being real now, and people could possibly get a lot of context for the state of things today by reading those books written back then. Well, it wasn't long after that we agreed to get Snow Crash in as a companion to some of the new fiction titles we were stocking on the shop book table.

Snow Crash is a thick book that's a bingeworthy read. It weaves virtual reality and robot dogs, heavily tracked gig workers and skateboard hackers, Sumerian myth and computer viruses, with an anime-cool cybersensibility—a prescient gigathriller of a once-imagined information age. Sounds exciting, right? Get a load of the plot (thanks Wikipedia!):

"The story opens in Los Angeles in the 21st century, an unspecified number of years after a worldwide economic collapse. Los Angeles is no longer part of the United States since the federal government has ceded most of its power and territory to private organizations and entrepreneurs. Franchising, individual sovereignty, and private vehicles reign supreme. Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts, while private security guards preserve the peace in sovereign gated housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads, and all mail delivery is by hired courier. The remnants of government maintain authority only in isolated compounds, where they do tedious make-work that is, by and large, irrelevant to the society around them. Much of the world's territory has been carved up into sovereign enclaves known as Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities (FOQNEs), each run by its own big business franchise (such as 'Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong', or the corporatized American Mafia), or various residential burbclaves (quasi-sovereign gated communities). In this future, American institutions are far different from those in the actual United States at the time the book was published; for example, a for-profit organization, the CIC, has evolved from the CIA's merger with the Library of Congress."

Other books and personal affects strewn around <em>Snow Crash</em> book open

First Impressions

This book wastes absolutely no time dropping you into its dizzyingly capitalized world, thanks to its main characters: a guy named Hiro Protagonist, a pizza Deliverator for Uncle Enzo's CosoNostra Inc, and a skateboard courier named Yours Truly (Y.T. for short—oh and they refer to themself in the 3rd person), who winds up helping Hiro deliver a pizza to a customer before the 30-minute guaranteed refund window expires. Sounds stressful, but then you wind up wishing you too were a jumpsuit-wearing, border-crossing deliveryperson with a badass all-terrain smart-wheel skateboard.

Reading this book in 2022, you may have to remind yourself often that Stephenson wrote Snow Crash in the period of 1988 through 1991, and not like, last week after scrolling the newsfeed.

To that point, there are definitely some very "this is what the world will be like" details that remain glaringly "early 90s". We'll leave you to be the judge of what those things are.

Programmers delight—Stephenson himself has big coding chops and tends to craft engrossing plot points around the nature of computing and computer and human languages.

Suggested Pairings

Read Snow Crash in your most anonymous outfit while listening to the Hackers Original Movie Soundtrack or Burial's Untrue album. Lurk in bustling places. Pay for everything in cash.

A close-up of the open <em>Snow Crash</em> book beside someone's keys, a wristwatch, screwdriver and bit set, and other items.

What to Read Next

If you loved the intrigue and hacker/language sleuthing elements of Snow Crash but want less of the speed, Seicho Matsumoto's 1961 novel, Inspector Imanishi Investigates follows a detective fresh after World War II as he attempts to piece together a mystery hinging on just two clues: an overheard regional accent and a single word.

If you'd like something that keeps pinging every connection of your brain but is a little more experimental and a fourth of the size, try Philly's own Metropolarity's Style of Attack Report, first released in 2016.

Want more action, less words? Yukito Kishiro's Battle Angel Alita: Last Order has just as many killer robots, plot twists, and cutthroat territorial actors, but with way more martial arts fighting and feats of cybernetic endurance.

Till Next Time

So is Snow Crash something you think you'll pick up? Already read before? Not your ~first~ pick for insightful late 80s/early 90s nightmares of our present time? Hey, Earth is a great place. It's just these techno robber barons and their rich friends are making a mess of things!

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1 comment

  • jwm

    A classic that always resonates deep in my RAM. Though I think I liked Cryptonomicon better, and Neuromancer is still my favorite book (I seem to pick it up every couple of years). Love the 2600 t-shirt too! ;)

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