What follows is a quote from ‘Snow Crash’ that has multiple levels of meaning when applied to the entire book: “She’s a woman, you’re a dude. You’re not supposed to understand her. That’s not what she’s after…She doesn’t want you to understand her. She knows that’s impossible. She just wants you to understand yourself. Everything else is negotiable.”
‘Snow Crash’ is a cyberpunk novel written by Neal Stephenson and published in 1992. While the novel did not win a major science fiction award, it made Time magazine’s list of 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
The setting is the Los Angeles area, though technically it does not exist as a city in this future. Most government functions have been taken over by hyper-corporate entities that make their own laws. The only government organizations left don’t serve a concrete purpose. They exist only to reduce unemployment; penultimate bureaucracies.
The story follows the exploits of the freelance hacker Hiro Protagonist as he loses his job as a pizza delivery driver for the Mafia (even this organization is hyper-corporate) and joins forces with a skateboard courier girl named Y.T. They plan to sell data to a for-profit version of the CIA.
Hiro and Y.T. learn of a new virus called “Snow Crash” that can affect computers and offline meat-brains. The main villain who is actively spreading the virus is the fiber-optics monopolist L. Bob Rife. The virus spreads through meatspace by changing the brain’s language centers at a basic level, and uses ancient Sumerian language tricks to reset the brain to a more primitive state.
The novel is one of the best satiric books in science fiction and in all of English literature. Some parts of it remind me of the satire in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five.’ The following quote by Time critic Lev Grossman about Vonnegut’s novel could also be applied to ‘Snow Crash’: “Slaughterhouse-Five is a cynical novel, but beneath the bitter, grim-jawed humor is a desperate, painfully honest attempt to confront the monstrous crimes of the 20th century.”
Stephenson was prophetic with his corporate satire. The mostly unrestrained power of corporations that began its march in the 80’s with Reaganomics has not been challenged much until the start of the 21st century, with major regulatory changes following the Enron/WorldCom debacle in 2001 and the housing/credit crisis that began in 2006. These events were triggered by a corporate-owned financial system that held too many cards in the deck.