Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Audiobook Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Book Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: Snarky and satirical, this book offers a deconstruction of America and an interesting philosophical connection between language, religion, and computers.

Snow Crash is a sci fi / cyberpunk novel (also referred to as post-cyberpunk, but I have no idea what the means) by Neal Stephenson.  It takes place in a near-future dystopia where the U.S. government has become mostly ineffectual and the country has descended into a state of anarcho-capitalism with business franchises such as Uncle Enzo’s Pizza, Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates, and Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong holding much of the power.  Hiro Protagonist—a hacker/pizza delivery driver—and his skateboard courier friend Y.T. find themselves involved in a plot to use an ancient neuro-linguistic “virus” that has been converted into both a biological and computer virus to control the vast majority of the country’s population.

Snow Crash is an interesting and often acidly-humorous book that mulls on some pretty heady concepts, but I’m not quite sure that I would count it as a great sci fi novel.  A very good one, but maybe not great (and I am sure there are plenty of angry mega-fans jumping on their planks and sharpening their swords to head my way right about now).  The book introduces (to me at least) some interesting ideas linking language, religion, viruses, and computers.  It all sounds quite neat, but I’m not sure I quite buy into it.  It does present some interesting what-if scenarios as far as the way language relates to the mind, even if they may not really play out the way the book suggests.

The book has a very frenetic pace to it which can be relentless at times and makes it not one of the best candidates for an audiobook adaptation.  This is one that would likely work better reading from the printed page because it is easier to go back and read over things you might have missed in the jumble.  But then there are also times when the book slows down and becomes very talky.  Some may feel this throws the pace off, but I particularly liked these parts because this in when the history behind the book’s grander ideas is explained.  As a history buff, I love that sort of stuff, but others may find it too boring.

The book is not strong on character development and seems to do what it wants with its characters at different times.  For example, how exactly did Hiro become such a badass if the majority of his sword-fighting experience came from the virtual world of the metaverse?  But it is still a decent read and I can see where cyberpunk (and Anime) fans see this as a great genre entry.   Its satirical deconstruction of America can be quite biting at times, and there was more than once that I was laughing out loud at some of the book’s better lines.  It also acts as a precursor of sorts to Ready Player One with its metaverse which is a protoversion of that book’s OASIS virtual reality.  And considering that it was written in 1992, it is definitely quite prescient in respect to how computers, the internet, cell phones, and other technology would progress from that point.

As for the audiobook version, Jonathan Davis provides the narration and his Casey Casem-like voice at first does not seem like a good fit for the book’s snarky prose.  But that feeling passes pretty quickly and he does a mostly excellent job with the dialog (even if he does slip in and out of character at times).  The production throws in some additional sound effects, though I would not count this as an enhanced audio.  But that does add some atmosphere to a story that is somewhat challenging to adapt to audiobook.  Overall, Snow Crash is a good book with an audio rendering that is as good as can be expected and it is definitely worth checking out even if it doesn’t necessarily count as a must-read.

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