SciFi Discussion – Snow Crash

On the 19th July Manchester Science Fiction book club met at Madlab to discuss the Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. Our advocate for this superb modern classic scifi book was Simon Carter.

Set in the not-too-distant future, Snow Crash is about a drug that controls the minds of computer programmers in the virtual world of the Metaverse. In the real world, laws have ceased to exist, franchulates are controlled by corporations, the Mafia delivers pizza and people are starting to speak in tongues.

Snow Crash cover art

Clash of Cultures

Most people liked the book, although some were not really sure, loving and hating different parts of it. The humour generally went down well, unlike the billion dollar notes which it is illegal to flush. Besides, we’d prefer Mr Lee’s Kong Bucks any day.

In the early 90s, when Snow Crash was written, concepts such as Virtual Reality and Avatars were speculative and ground breaking.

The former United States where Snow Crash is set is similar to the world we know, yet very different. Everything is run as a business, and whilst there are no laws, if you don’t follow the rules in the three ring binder you’re dead! Its a fragmented, free market anarchy.

L. Bob Rife, the head of the largest communications company wants to control his employees. Mainly computer programmers, or hackers, he can’t stand the idea of someone “stealing” an idea that they had in the shower. He’s not the sort to do anything to keep employees in the company, he wouldn’t kill your girlfriend. All he wants is to have possession of his employees mind, body and soul.

What’s in a Language?

There is essentially a large info dump covering the best part of three chapters. Some of us found it interesting and others found it hard going. The discussions between Hiro Protagonist and the virtual librarian were an attempt to make it easier to read. Essentially this part of the book relays factual research into the language of an early civilisation called the Sumerians. It goes onto describe the subsequent disappearance of the language and myths surrounding it. The Sumerian language was compared to computer’s assembly language, both being a set of low level operating instructions. One premise of this is that human’s have a built-in, low level language code set and that they can be sub-consciously controlled by it.

Naomi referred us to a recent article in New Scientist about Kiki and Bouba. People of different languages were asked if a spiky object was Kiki or Bouba, 85% said Kiki, suggesting that basic language may be based upon the way our mouth is shaped to pronounce the word.

Reading Snowcrash

Reality or the Metaverse

There were strange distinctions between being in reality and the metaverse. By putting on computer goggles people could enter the metaverse but they could have the metaverse shown as overlay over reality. War veteran Ng was constantly living in the Metaverse and his avatar viewed reality through screens in the metaverse as he drove his converted fire truck in reality. Would we like to have access to a Metaverse? Yes we would!

The Technology

The gargoyles that constantly wore computers on their person to collect “intel” were a bit geeky. Their equipment was on the large side but we think these days it would be small, like smart phones. We would be happy enough to be gargoyles since we think it would enable us to tweet much more conveniently. At this point in the discussion Simon offered to “tweet your face with his fist” but a demonstration was not necessary.

The highlight of the technology were the Smart Wheels on the skateboard. They’re cool and we want them.

Who’s the Hero Again?

We thought that the main character, Hiro Protagonist, was boring. Our favourite character was the young girl, Y.T. (Yours Truly) since she was the most plausible and she was a mean skateboarder.

Another favourite was Fido, a dog that had been turned into a “Rat Thing”. An awesome cyborg guard dog who spent most of his time in a virtual world eating steaks that grow on trees and chasing frisbees. Not a bad life.

Raven was the baddest MoFo going, carrying around a nuclear warhead that would explode if he died. We noticed that this was not mentioned towards the end of novel. Presumably Raven didn’t die, but we thought that realistically Hiro would have killed him. Apparently it is possible to make the glass knives that Raven used to despatch quite a number of people with. We thought that it was implausible that Hiro and Raven’s fathers could have met in Japan during WWII and that this was only included so that it was possible to crow-bar in a bit of Aleut history.

We felt that Hiro’s girlfriend, Juanita, was only in the story to help with plot development.

What Do You Think?

In summary, we thought that it was about 100 pages too long, that it was cutting edge when it was written and that it had aged well. Perhaps more importantly, we thought the the Smart Wheels were cool.

But what about you? Do you agree or disagree with any or all of the points raised above? Perhaps you would like to add something that was not covered? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think! Good etiquette commands it.

Manchester Sci-Fi Book Club Contacts

You can contact us via Twitter @mcrsf_madlab using #mcrsf

Keep up to date with Manchester Sci-Fi book club posts at Madlab:

We also have a group on Google which we would encourage you to join.

Next Sci-Fi Book:

We’ll be meeting on Tuesday 16th August 7 – 9 pm to discuss Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear.

Sci-Fi Books for following months are:

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. This meeting will be held with the Graphic Novel Group. For more information about this series of events please read the I Am Legend Book Club and Film Screenings post in our Google Group.

Books for October onwards have been put forward and will be voted on at the next meeting. Please see the post Future Books on our Google Group for the list of choices.

Written by Daniel

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