Much of the action takes place within the Metaverse, a sort of 3D virtual reality cyberworld--basically the internet as depicted in Futurama.
Disrupting this glorious Eden of individual sovereignty is a drug (snow crash) that turns functional human beings into placid gibbering idiots, and a computer virus (also called snow crash) that turns hackers into mind-wiped gibbering idiots. A pizza delivery boy and a skateboard courier undertake to find the source of the poisons and save the world.
Snow Crash isn't without problems.
--Whinge #1) The pizza boy hero protagonist (awesomely named Hiro Protagonist because "you'll never forget it") is conveniently the world's greatest hacker AND the world's greatest swordsman. His courier partner YT, a 15 year old girl with a badass skateboard and a uniform full of badass gadgets, is basically Batman. Because of course she is.
--Whinge #2) Snow Crash starts fast and fascinating but then a third of the way in collapses under the weight of its own exposition. A digital librarian lectures Hiro (and us) ad nauseum on Sumerian history, biopsychology, linguistics, glossolalia, archaeology, and ancient Middle Eastern mythology. It's not uninteresting but the plot screeches to a halt for a good hundred pages.
--Whinge #3) The most abrupt ending of any book in the history of ever. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT STEPHENSON YOU COLOSSAL DICK??
BUT. Totally worth it. Now that I've read it I see Snow Crash's influence everywhere, movies and board games and books and video games, everywhere. Except for the lecture portion it was extremely hard to put down. Plus it has awesome nuclear-powered cyborg doggies. I just wanted to hug 'em.
There's a recurring harpoon theme that I don't know how to interpret. Main Bad Guy Raven is a harpoon-throwing Aleut. YT uses a magnetic harpoon to tag rides on her skateboard in traffic. Moby Dick is referenced. Raven gets (ow) harpooned in the (ow) manhood while (ow) having sex with his girlfriend. I'm sure someone smarter than me has extracted some literary significance from this motif. It's everywhere.
I have no idea how to critique such a masterpiece so I'm going to brain dump some thoughts. Things I want to remember.
--It was beautiful but difficult to read. Very poetic. It put me in mind of Tolkien, but then I don't have a lot of classic literature under my belt for comparison.
--People exclaimed an awful lot 200 years ago. Grand declarations of eternal affection and unshakable friendship. Vociferous recriminations and dramatic pronouncements of loathing. No feeling was experienced in moderation.
--At one point the stories were nested four deep. The monster recounts his first two years of life to Frankenstein, who gives his own story to a companion, who chronicles the whole tale in letters to his sister and which finally makes it to me, the reader.
--Much of the book was spent depicting tragic stories of injustice. Obviously there's the monster himself, initially guiltless but repeatedly shunned in horror. A Turkish merchant is arrested in France for the crime of being different. He promises his daughter as wife for the aid of a young French noble but has no intention of following through. A friend of the Frankenstein family is framed and executed for the murder of Frankenstein's brother. Frankenstein himself is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
--Victor Frankenstein to his betrothed: "I have one secret, Elizabeth, a dreadful one; when revealed to you it will chill your frame with horror, and then, far from being surprised at my misery, you will only wonder that I survive what I have endured. I will confide this tale of misery and terror to you the day after our marriage shall take place; for, my sweet cousin, there must be perfect confidence between us." Um. In the interest of "perfect confidence", shouldn't you confide your tale of misery and terror BEFORE she ties her life to yours 'til death do you part? Truly it was a different time.
--Victor Frankenstein has the constitution of a fainting goat. Any shock causes him to tip over "in a fever" and requires weeks or months of bedridden convalescence before he can continue. It happens five or six times.
--It strikes me that to a large extent the tragedies of "Frankenstein" all result from an extremely unlikely conspiracy of events, "Mystic River" style. Had Victor not passed out just as his creation awoke, perhaps he would have been the teacher and companion it craved. Had the old man's children returned an hour later than they did, the monster might have secured his friendship. Had the monster not encountered young William Frankenstein on the road to Geneva, he might well have met Victor without innocent blood on his hands. They could have reconciled. So many things had to go disastrously wrong for the story to unfold as it did.
--"Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change." As true today as it was in 1818
Flex Mentallo's surreality reeks of Stay and that's a bad thing. A narrator ODing in an alley who meets Flex at different ages yet in a short timespan although Flex used to be an illustration but now he's real kind of like Pinocchio and fights a giant robot with five heads and hunting Rorschach-looking mystery men who throw not-real cartoon bombs and are pixelated while his partner The Fact MUST be found but HE might not be real and a castle in space that the little-boy version of the narrator is on sometimes and a herd (a flock? a murder?) of costumed heroes appears repeatedly they don't speak or do anything and Morrison tries to ramp up the doomsday-dread all Watchmen-like but fails and still fighting the giant robot wait his hand is actually the narrator's hand while the astronaut sees the superheroes but nobody believes him and that's it, I'm out. It might make sense in the end but I don't care. A quick skim of the back half doesn't look promising anyway.
Two stars instead of one because it's pretty and I've read dumber.
Part One describes the murders, committed once each season and always during an extreme weather event. Tornado, ice storm, record-setting fog or heatwave, etc. We are introduced to Dixon Bell, a preternaturally gifted meteorologist, and Rick Beanblossom, a brilliant investigator and news producer. This was the good part of the book. Great characters. A crime story with a novel twist. An interesting look at TV news production from the inside.
Part One also serves as the author's love letter to the state of Minnesota. It's apparently beautiful, and crime is low, and the people are kind and proud and modest and industrious. The whole state is just really super, like Lake Wobegon but even better. Then Dixon Bell gets arrested.
Part Two, in which Bell is put on trial while Beanblossom tries to prove he's innocent, is riddled with plot holes. When another character confesses to the murders right in front of Beanblossom, why in hell would he keep that information to himself?? If Bell IS guilty...why?? He makes no sense as a serial killer. The maximum security prison in which Bell is housed is filled wall to wall with gentle, sympathetic guards and noble, self-sacrificing hero-prisoners. Ooookay. An execution is described in multi-page grotesque, loving detail. TWICE. It reminded me of those anti-abortion billboards that basically go "Abortion is wrong because look at this picture of a happy fetus." Part Two is driven transparently by the author's agenda and the story suffers badly for it.
The writing is solid and the research is excellent, but after a good start The Weatherman runs off the rails.