Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

At some point in my life I heard that old saw about how every seven years or so every cell in your body is new (compared to seven years ago), and in a Ship of Theseus sense it is debatable whether you should count yourself as the same person1. This is a interesting concept that doesn’t present with frequent opportunities to test itself. I have found rereading to be a useful way of testing how much I have changed over time.

Snow Crash is a classic science-fiction novel of in the cyberpunk sub-genre which has done much to shape the modern world and particularly the world of information technology. It follows a fairly standard but cartoonish plot wherein a protagonist, named Hero Protagonist, uncovers a dastardly scheme of someone trying to take over the world. Action and intrigue ensue.

The last time I read this, I was a much dumber person than I am now2. I didn’t recognize then how much of a Masterclass in world building this book is, particularly in those initial chapters. I can sort of justify this to my younger self; the pure free market anarchy that seems to exist in this world is not immediately apparent unless you have some education in these sorts of things. But on a second read, it is fascinating how well this libertarian hell-scape is described, while somehow being pretty realistic. Many other books in paraliterature don’t stand up to much scrutiny when you pop the hood open and try to understand the nuts and bolts of the world (in this respect the world of Harry Potter is maddening in this respect).

I read this book, however, maybe a decade ago. And as one should expect, I have changed pretty significantly in that time. What is strange as how it affected my enjoyment of this book. Another pretty large component of this story has to do with various ancient mythologies, a sort of Sapir-whorfian plot about a roving language virus. These were all things that likely enjoyed back at the first reading: Sapir-Whorf got me into linguistics more generally (I am so very ashamed to say) and I was convinced I might find some greater truth in religion and mythology. But I have thankfully moved beyond all that, and encountering those things in the book generated a whole lot of eye-rolling. What is worse, the story presents the convoluted conspiracy theory that links those story threads together twice, and I’m not sure I enjoyed it either time it came up on the second reading.

But that is mostly an aside. The book comes together nicely and succeeds in being very entertaining. I enjoyed it a decade ago, and I enjoyed it as much now, though I feel like I enjoyed it vastly different ways both times.


1In my opinion not worth really getting into here, you shouldn’t.

2I consider myself stupid in any point in time that was previous to now. I was dumb until just a few minutes ago, because I have since learned something. Look at me being smarter.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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