Book review: Snow Crash

Snow Crash book cover

Now that the metaverse is one of the most trending buzzwords, I wanted to read "the source" of the "connected virtual online universe" concept, so I decided to pick and read Snow Crash, from Neal Stephenson. After reading it... the word that best summarizes my opinion is "disappointment".

I must confess that I came hyped. After reading Ready Player One and, more recently, Neuromancer, I was ready for some cool virtual world geekiness. What I found is a futuristic world with a weird mixture of technological concepts, humour, action and bizarre ideas, and only the first one felt (mostly) nice.

Sometimes, reading certain technological ideas I'm amazed that the book was written in the early nineties. It presents really well the idea of an alternate 3D virtual world, ruled by code algorithms and connection bandwidth, with avatars, digital currencies, and other concepts that have materialized, albeit in different forks. Concepts like requiring more processing power to render complex effects in the metaverse, being able to cheat the physics laws and security measures because everything is governed by code, and even "coders and hackers" being a highly valued workforce are correct. But other times you feel the author just grabbed some technical term and applied it without any real research about its meaning. Still, the tech part is more than fine and really what merits going through the whole book instead of discarding it.

The humour... kills me. I'm perfectly fine with sci-fi movies containing non-trivial doses of humour (e.g. Demolition Man), but here too often I found myself thinking "WTF...". The book basically alternates between adventures in the real world and the metaverse, and almost everything that happens in the real world felt either stupid or uninteresting. And the names of the characters and real world references are also quite dumb... "Hiro Protagonist", "Y.T." (from "Yours Truly"), all the pizza delivery nonsense...

The action is mostly absurd, combining super-hero like characters (e.g. "the best swordsman in the world") with opportunistic situations and boring scenarios. I don't understand how, with all the potential plots that could come (and have appeared in literature, movies and games both after and before) the real world story is so decaffeinated.

And the bizarre ideas... without entering in any spoiler, the whole "snow crash" concept is the biggest WTF. When I first learned what it refers to, I almost stopped reading the book, because it felt such a dumb concept, and kind of cheat to try to make the plot more interesting. It is also embellished with pages and pages of descriptions of the origins, and paragraphs and paragraphs of an explanation by the main protagonist when he fully understands it, up to the point that feels as a justification of why such a "concept" is real (in the book).

I wanted to believe. I was ready for a nice ride. But instead I found some very cool ideas almost buried by a poor plot. I only recommend reading this book if you wish to research about the source of the metaverse and/or player avatars.

Book review: Snow Crash published @ by

Categories: Books

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