Disliking this book seemed quite impossible. After all, it had all the necessary ingredients: the pervasive air of nerdy geekiness (or, perhaps, geeky nerdiness), an unexpected take on linguistics, a kick-ass female character, a parallel (virtual) reality, a hefty helping of (admittedly, overexaggerated) satire, and just enough wacky improbable worldbuilding to satisfy my book loving soul. Or so it seemed.
But awesome ingredients do not always add up to a satisfying dish¹ (as my horrible cook self knows much too well).
¹Remember 'Friends' episode where Rachel tries to make English trifle for Thanksgiving desert, but because of a couple pages unfortunately sticking together ends up making half English trifle and half the shepherd's pie? Joey was baffled that the rest of the gang found the dish unpalatable:
'I mean, what's not to like? Custard, good. Jam, good. Meat, good!'
I did NOT come to this book with an open mind. I came to it infinitely biased in its favor, ready to love it to pieces, prepared to find in it the same irresistible allure that so many of my Goodreads friends appreciated. Alas, after the first few pages my good-natured amusement gave way to irritated frustration, then to impatience, and eventually, as the book was nearing its final pages, my feelings changed to dreaded passionless indifference - akin to the emotions stirred by a disclaimer on the back of a pill packet.
It is very disappointing when a book leaves you indifferent after hundreds of pages spent with the characters and the plotlines - especially when it is a book with such immense potential as 'Snow Crash' had based on all the reviews and snippets I have seen, with all the ingredients for an amazing sci-fi adventure I listed above.
“We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.”
Here's a glimpse of the plot, as much as I can listlessly muster. Hiro Protagonist, our hero and protagonist (cleverly annoying or annoyingly clever, I'm not quite sure) is a hacker in a future completely corporatized and fractured by consumerism America. He delivers pizza for the Mafia franchise by day and in his spare time hangs around Metaverse, a computer-based simulated reality where he is a sword-fighting badass with a juicy piece of expensive (virtual) real estate and important friends. To those having trouble picturing this, think of The Matrix as compared to the gloomy existence outside of it. Y. T. Is his sidekick, a Kourier with a healthy dose of vital spunk and kindness to animals that just may result in the most spectacular payback at the most crucial moment. Uncle Enzo is the head of the Mafia franchise, and does not like late pizza deliveries - he has his reasons.
As for the antagonists, we have
L. Ron Hubbard L. Bob Rife, a computer magnate and a leader of a questionable religion; the Feds that have lost their power but retained their bureaucracy; and enigmatic Raven, equipped with a motorcycle, a few deadly spears and another weapon that earns him more respect from the authorities that that a few small nations get.
And then there's the titular Snow Crash:
“This Snow Crash thing--is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?”
Juanita shrugs. “What's the difference?”
Sounds awesome, doesn't it? To me, the concept of Snow Crash initially evoked the memories of Delany's 'Babel-17', a book that I loved for all it's strangeness and far-fetchedness and irresistible pull into the blend of linguistics and sci-fi.
But then 'Snow Crash', having barely taken off, disappointingly crashed. Pun very much intended.
Maybe this had something to do with the clumsily thrown in heaps of infodump, painfully interrupting already shaky and unsteady narrative, adding tons of poorly placed and far-fetched exposition which it mistakes for layers of complexity, basking in self-importance while being needlessly silly (and, frankly, needless).
Maybe it was the sheer number of complex plot threads that weaves complexity but ended up going nowhere, with few (admittedly, memorable) exceptions.
Maybe it was what I can only perceive as casual racism so pervasive in descriptions of most 'ethnic' characters and entire groups featured in this novel, so present in every casually thrown stereotype. Intentional or not, it was unpleasantly grating.
Maybe it was the lack of dimension in Stephenson's characters. Hiro appears to be created as an embodiment of a teenage computer whiz's dreams, not developing in the slightest throughout the novel, only acquiring more and more badassery in the throwaway 'why not?' sloppy manner. Y.T., despite her awesomeness², behaving in a strangely robotic fashion. Raven and Uncle Enzo, frustratingly underdeveloped. Juanita, whose character could have been interesting, appears to exist solely as potential mate for Hiro. The only times I felt any connection to the characters were the appearances of the robotic dog, and I am not even a dog person.
² Y.T., while being far from an excellent character, was at least a ray of (grumpy) sunshine in the otherwise grey landscape of this novel. She has spunk and heart and confidence that is engaging and does not strike fakes notes that often. She made me almost care, and for this I appreciate her character. If only the rest if the book had the same spirit...
Maybe it was the inability to interweave the plot threads into a coherent storyline, to create a bigger whole out of separate parts. The ideas are there, the concepts are there; what's missing is cohesiveness able to pull them together, untangle them and weave a net captivating the readers' brains and imagination. Without this cohesiveness, even the wildest and most daring ideas - like Stephenson's unconventional approach to viruses, for instance - remain disjointed, underdeveloped, unfinished, unpolished, like the refugee Raft in his novel, made of heaps of refuse clumped together trying to make a whole but failing at it.
Honestly, I can't help but see how this book would have worked so much better in a graphic format, being it a comic book (like, apparently, it was initially envisioned) or a film; the action scenes would have looked splendid while the awkwardness of language with overused frequently clumsy metaphors and the jarring present tense (which really doesn't work footprint this story) would have been cast aside.
Yes, I am very disappointed at my disappointment with this book. I wish I had the ability to overlook its flaws, but the indifference I felt when reading it precluded me from caring enough to let its good moments overshadow the bad. 2 stars, one for the robot-doggy and another for Y.T. who occasionally made me almost care.