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Snow Crash 222

Posted by Hemos
from the yet-more-neal dept.
chromatic has continued our trend of reviewing ever Neal Stephenson book ever written, with this weeks subject being Snow Crash. A book that has Sumeria, the USS Enterprise, and the Metaverse - what more could you ask for? Follow the link (white rabbit) below to read more.
Snow Crash
author Neal Stephenson
pages 468
publisher Bantam Spectra
rating 9.5/10
reviewer chromatic
ISBN 0553562614
summary Highly recommended

The Rundown.

Snow Crash is a well-crafted, tongue-in-cheek romp through a near-future America so familar, one expects to see its characters chasing each other down the street.

Set mostly in geographic California with arterial highways delivering consumers to the fast food, faster shopping, and even small country franchises, a very modern, ancient Sumerian virus is turning hackers and non-hackers alike into tongue-speaking refugees.

Throw in the Metaverse, Stephenson's version of the global information structure. A three-dimensional audio and visual hallucination built around the mystical powers-of-two, cartoon physics rule the day. Rent a cheap avatar for a stroll down the main street. Ride your motorcycle at 300 km/h and bounce harmlessly off of a 20-mile square building. Just don't read the scroll held by the Bland Angel of Judgment.

Further complicating matters is a slew of divergent and entertaining characters. Your guide through this journey is the unlikely Hiro Protagonist (no, really!), a once and future hacker wonderboy who took off before the IPO and now delivers pizza for the Mafia (thirty minutes or less or you're fired). Joining him is the ever resourceful Y.T., a teenaged Kourier skateboarding her way through traffic by harpooning cars.

Want more? How about the surprisingly boyish Uncle Enzo, head of aformentioned Mafia, or L. Bob Rife, fantastically wealthy crank, founding funder of Rife Bible College and current owner of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. Perhaps you'd like to meet Mr. Lee, proprietor of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong Franchise, or stop to pet Rat Thing, a supersonic isotope-powered cybernetic pit bull. Pushing forward the plot is a Metaverse librarian and Raven, a one-man killing machine and nuclear power.

Sounds serious? Perhaps. Complicated? Enjoyably so.

What's good?

The writing is crystal clear and very descriptive. Stephenson never gets lost in the details, and is as comfortable relating various myths about Babel as technical descriptions of the Graveyard Daemons cleaning up unfortunate Metaverse corpses. They fit together into an interesting, if complicated puzzle. He's also highly creative and well-researched, much like Neil Gaiman. It would take a serious student of a particular field to spot an error in his work (except for the strange 'Built-In Operating System' acronym).

What's not so good?

There's one piece of the backstory (concerning the parentage of a couple of characters) which is a little too convenient... it makes the story more effective, but it was an obvious dramatic advice. The ending might leave some readers a cold. Frankly, it's quick. Very quick. All of the pieces had been in place for a hundred pages (no MacGuffin here), but it's still a surprise. Stephenson is better at creating a believable yet outrageous world and populating it with appropriate characters than he is at telling an airtight story. Don't be fooled -- he's no slouch in the story department, but the draw of "Snow Crash" is Stephenson's fertile imagination. All things considered, these are very small nitpicks.

What's to think about when you finish?

This is a story about dualities. There's a reason for the 'powers of two' lecture early on. The obvious schism is the organized technocracy of the Metaverse contrasted with the hyperinflationary franchised real world.

Pit Hiro against Raven. One reluctantly saves the world he helped create, the other seeks to destroy the world that created him. How about Uncle Enzo versus Rife? Ng and Rat Thing? YT and ... well, everybody else.

The Conclusion.

Given the quality and density of Snow Crash, it's easy to recommend this work as a defining piece of SF. If you consider yourself a serious cyberpunk fan, hacker, or geek, you ought to feel guilty until you read it.

Note: as with most cyberpunk pieces, Snow Crash contains quite a bit of harsh language, some violence, and one sexual encounter. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thanks to Chilli for additional insights during this review.

Pick this book at Amazon.

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Snow Crash

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  • Let's face it, this would be a wonderful invention that would make life safer for many women around the world.

    Is someone working on it ? he asked ..

  • I haven't seen anyone mention Douglas Coupland's books. Microserfs first and formost, but the other ones
    of his I've read, Girlfriend in a Coma and shampoo
    planet are both excellent. Life without God was differnt, and not my cup of tea.
    DC's books are great. Microserfs was incrediably well written and it was quite a shock to me that it was not
    a true story. The detail and attitude of the coders who are the main characters was just perfect. The
    other 2 mentioned both follow along the same lines a bit, and are basically about people who are searching
    for a way to improve themselves, or to (to steal a
    phrase) become version 1.0.
    Girlfriend in a coma is humourous and dark, all about well... stuff, I won't spoil it for you. Shampoo
    planet is and more funny look at the world that society has become today, or could be, given a
    little stretch.
    Like the review said, go read 'em :)
  • ...to those who haven't read the book (it looked to me like an attack on its realism when I first saw it). Having read the book since, I consider Reason's introduction to be among the best lines of the book.

    They'll listen to Reason.

    Ohh, yes, they will... .
  • I was also dissapointed by the Sterling interview and can also only partially blame the questions. I would definitely like to have a crack at interview questions for Stephenson too.

    I've read just about everything by both these guys. I think Sterling still rates as my favorite, thanks to books like Schismatrix (short story collection), and Islands in the Net but his last two novels, Holy Fire and Distraction, just didn't have the head-kick density of previous stuff. Distraction, which has to do with near-future politics, owes a debt to Stephenson's Interface (co-written under the pseudonym Stephen Bury). And Cryptonomicon was a great way for Stephenson to make up for the flaws of The Diamond Age.

    Sterling still a lot of fight in him, as demonstrated in the "Deep Eddy" short stories. If more people knew about 'spex, maybe more people would like Sterling.

    Aw, why choose? I like them both.

    I guess Stephenson is better known by the Slashdot crowd because of Snow Crash and more specifically the Metaverse. Gibson made cyberspace but Sterling has never really taken up the jacking-in thing, he's kept it meaty.

    Sure, Sterling wrote Hacker Crackdown and gave it away but I don't think any of the books in that genre were truly popular and at this point it's old news. It mostly takes place when? 1990? '91? I'm guessing most /.ers didn't even have pubes then. It was a good book about that time but law enforcement has gotten a lot better at this stuff which is both good and bad. The worse problems have moved up the government food chain, especially the legislative branch.

  • I'd also recommend some Heinlein. Preferably some of his earlier works, before he got too preachy. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was quite good. Stranger in a Strange Land and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls would also be good choices.


    --Phil (Maybe some E.E. Smith? Or is he too dated now?)
  • ccording to Neal, Diamond Age and Snow Crash are not in the same universe at all. He stated further that any similarity is just due to the coincidence of the both novels having the same author.
    Think of it as an easter egg for the astute reader.


    --Phil (Much like the Doom marine hidden in Duke Nukem.)
  • Heinlein had some interesting beliefs. What I objected to mostly is that his later books became more vessels for describing his ideas than pure tales. As such, I felt that the plots grew fairly tired (and, in several cases, inconsistent) as they were made subservient to the memetic dissemination. I don't object to the inclusion of the concepts, just that Heinlein deemed them to be more important than the story, and the work as a whole suffered.

    Time Enough For Love is a good example. It's good, although I wouldn't deem it a classic, but the last third or so of the book just seemes to drag on solely for the sake of Heinlein (through Lazarus) expounding on his worldview. For a specific example, I didn't see how Lazarus having sex with his clones added anything to the story, other than allowing Heinlein to tell us that our incest taboos are going to be outmoded with the advent of genetic understanding.


    --Phil (Unrelatedly, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. has some really good books that make you think without preaching to you too much.)
  • Yes, exactly the same way I got snow crash.
    I was about 12 or so when I first read it, but
    the lack of age didn't hold me back from
    enjoying the book to it's fullest. Very, very
    good. Also, as a side note, specture VR kina
    sucked, but Was worth getting snow crash for.
    Since then, I have had to replace my copy about 7
    times, and shown about 50 people the light...
    (or let them read the book :)
    Hmm, never used lynx to post on slashdot before, kina wierd...
  • Actually, the biological sciences in Bujold does
    seem pretty hard to me, much harder than most
    SF writers' computer science. But then again,
    with the exception of a lucky few, that's not
    saying much.
  • This book is one that everyone should read (IMHO =) ). It has the greatest beginning of any book I have ever read. The score of 9.5 is a little strange to me. Didn't Cryptonomicon get 10? Personally I think Snow Crash is better than Cryptonomicon. Don't get me wrong, I think that it is a great book too. My favourite Stephenson book is The Diamond Age.

    What I really like with the book reviews are all the great reading suggestions people make. Thank you all! I will be looking into Lois McMaster Bujold's books next time I'm in a bookstore. I'd like to add more suggestions to the list: the Shockwave Rider by John Brunner (I bought this after a suggestion in a previous book review) and Interface by Stephen Bury (which is Neal Stephenson and his uncle).
  • According to the intro to my copy, Snow Crash was originally intended as a graphic novel. In many ways it shows. The action is kind of jerky, we jump from one thing to the next without really developing the story. The imagery is great, but the characterisations leave a lot to be desired. That kind of glossing is necessary in a comic book, but in a novel it doesn't really work.

    The political subtext is intruiging too - anti-free trade, anti-corporate, more than a little anti-government and certainly disenchanted with libertarian utopianism. Having lived in a few strip mall towns, certainly I can see the apocalyptic vision of a franchised world all too easily. Stephenson gets full credit for making that vision work without turning it into some "woe is me" end of civilisation sort of story.

    Snow Crash treats computing and virtual reality a little more realistically than most, but that too is to be expected nowadays. The linguistics in Snow Crash is pretty bad. My advice to the author: read less Julian Jaynes, more William Calvin. I have yet to see any science fiction author do a really good job of linguistics, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

    But, in the end, Snow Crash lacks any consistent statement. It's a fun book, but no more than that. I had hopes that the Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon would be more substantial, but DIamond Age is poorly plotted, and Cryptonomicon just stank. No, his best novel remains, IMHO unfortunately, Zodiac.
  • I was just in Eddie Bauer today buying a new belt, and the lady there had to break out her 3-ring binder to tell me what 'XL' means in terms of measurements. Of course, I thought of this book :-)

    (Yes, I was an XL... damn programming job...)
  • Suzette Hadin Elgin, Ph.D. in linguistics, has written some fine fantasy books. Not action, definitely not cyberpunk - there's more of the Anne McCaffery about her than the William Gibson.
    The Ozark Series, if you're into that sort of thing.
    Snow Crash is great fun.
  • ....and pick Snow Crash up. You will not be disappointed. I agree that there is a lot of fluff out there to wade through, but this book is a classic in my opinion.
  • Ummm, if I'm not mistaken, the largest pizza delivery chain in the world isn't a mafia extension where the owners apologize to you in person for late arrivals. A personal nuclear weapon and atomic dog would probably also be illegal.

    It's a book, man; if you're willing to suspend your disbelief a little bit, you've got to be willing to go all the way.

  • Snow crash was a fun book, a light read, with an absolutely silly ending. I gave my copy away when I finished with it... Other people seem to enjoy the book a lot more than I did.

    You're not the only one who dislikes Stephenson's writing.

  • Actually from what I've heard was that he was the inspiration for the character of Flynn. Not too hard, IIRC, his wife wrote the screenplay.

    Not the worst retelling of the Jesus story I've seen. And on that note, has anyone here seen Tron?
  • I heard the title alone (mentioned very favorably) years ago, got a mental picture of some antarctic rescue story, was completely disinterested, and forgot about it.

    Last summer, one of my most hackerish friends at work told me it was one of the best books he'd ever read. I picked it up from there, as did my girlfriend, three or four friends at school, my dad... It's the Stephenson nam-shub. I'm through Diamond Age & Zodiac too now, and waiting for Cryptonomicon to hit paperback anxiously...
  • by Z0z (4050)
    All of Koja's books have the same basic story-line, but I'm certain this was done for an effect. Koja's main strength is her descriptive pose. Very quotable.

    Bad Brains - IMHO her best
    Skin - Disturbing.

  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, try Stanislaw Lem. He's a bit hard to find, and he is weird. Try The Cyberiad and The Futurological Congress . Lem should get more props - he's really important, but people tend to shy away from translated work.

    You mention Lem, but you fail to mention his most relevant work to the /. crowd: Solaris

    A planet covered with a living Ocean, that does really confusing things and may or may not be trying to communicate and no ever figures out what is all about.

    (there is a Russian movie of it, but its Weirder than the book, and spends at lest 15 minutes showing Russian Traffic)

  • More must-reads in no particular order: [...]

    agreed... perhaps missing:

    • Everything (and then something [theonering.net]) related to The Lord of the Rings (what is it? Illiad just read the book or something?)
    • Terry Prachett (Discworld [l-space.org])
  • As wonderful as this book is in so many ways, the idea of the USS Enterprise becoming private property is, to put it mildly, a bit of a stretch. The USN Dept of Naval Reactors doesn't like to let anybody but the "made guys" see any of the workings of their steamkettles; likewise, other parts of the powertrain and elsewhere in the ship (arresting gear, comm stuff) is not for public consumption and can't be removed from the ship without a *major* overhaul that essentially turns it inside out. I don't think the DoD and the Navy would agree to risking a security breach like that when it's a more time-honored custom to turn a marginally-performing hull into razor blades.

    Best to ya, Neal.

  • I bought Snow Crash as a trade paperback, back in 93. I guess I'm one of the original purveyors of the "you gotta read this" school.
    Gotta say, Stephenson is one of the best SF writers still typing. His work is hard to compare to anyones, it's just to eclectic and good to really slap into categories. Yes, it's science fiction, yes it's 'post cyberpunk' but that's about it. You could also call it humor, but that doesn't quite fit. I think he deserves his own category, maybe the School of Neal?
    Quick word/virus note: the "language as virus" meme is central to William S Burroughs' work. All of the cyberpunks were huge WSB, and I'm assuming Stephenson is, too. This is where that idea is coming from.
    Ride music beam back to base.
    J05H
  • A book which I don't think many people other than myself have read, but which is extremely geeky, is called The Planiverse, by A.K. Dewdney. Dewdney, being a CS professor himself, does a good job of writing an entertaining story ala Flatland, interspersed with little tidbits on 2D physics, physiology, architecture, and the like.

    Thanks so much. I've read this book. I'm sure it's hard as hell to find, but it's great... a total mind bender. He presents it in this realistic tone, as if everything really happened, and you come away from it wondering if maybe it really did. Excellent book, stole it from my mom's collection and kept it hidden. The other book I did that with was *drumroll*... _Snow Crash_. :)

  • You should definitely pick it up. There isn't a book by Neal Stephenson that even remotely sucks.

    --
  • What I like about Stephenson's books are the fact that they're all based around fact. In all the books I've read of his he goes off onto huge tangents discussing the subject matter of the book. In Snow Crash, there's a 50-odd page section in the middle that explains loads of theory about language, where it originated from, etc etc. Zodiac has all sorts of facts about chemicals and what they actually do to the soil, how they affect the environment and so on. When he wrote the 40,000 word (is that right?) essay on why the background of Cryptonomicon, that was another example of how he fills out his work with fact, extrapolating on what's actually happened to create an interesting story. Great stuff.

    Hard fiction rocks.

    --

  • This review is well-timed, as I just finished "Snow Crash" last night. It was an act of will to do so and had I not ponied up six-ninety-nine and tax for the book, I would likely not have read past the halfway point or so.

    Stephenson's Metaverse is a pretty keen idea, but I've never been a big fan of VR-world writing. If (for example) the computing power required to render Mr. Ng's smoke rings is so immense that it bears mentioning, then the odds that Hiro can code up SnowSearch and graveyard daemons and an invisible avatar in an afternoon (and get them written bug-free, no less) are awful damn slim. Further, the Big Chase Scene at the end: given that Hiro can go through stuff by poking it with his katana (as per his entry into Rife's cube), then why the hell doesn't he just mount the damn thing on the front of his bike and run Raven down? Why the "Oh, I might run into something and stop and then I'll lose him and oh, the humanity!"?

    This isn't a counter-review by any means; I just found myself reading accolade after accolade and had to ask "Didn't anyone else see that the emperor has no clothes?"
  • Even the best minds only know a fraction of what it could know.

    --
  • I think you are right that Stephenson gets an advantage here because he is interested in coding and computer related stuff, but I really think you are selling him a little short

    Personally, I think Sterling's recent obsession with the environment is probably right on the money. Our future is a drowned planet, full of weeds and rats, and almost empty of all the little creatures that used to live on it. And that is pretty bleak, and Sterling is right to write about it.

    I just think, having read a few of his books (Distraction most recently) that he just isn't as gifted a writer as Gibson or even Stephenson.

    Gibson, as I intimated previously, is without a doubt one of the most talented prose stylists in the SF genre. Though people here seem to resent him for thinking independently about the future of the net, he almost certainly helped create the web just with the power of his imagination.

    Stephenson is clever and insightful and funny. And although Cryptonomicon kind of turned me off by throwing in a lot of math that was not really necessary to advance the plot, it had a couple of rather interesting ideas about the effects e-commerce is going to have on civilization. And a really interesting examination of information warfare, past and present.
  • Good Omens is a great book!

  • Yes, Pyramid printed the first chapter of Snow Crash in one of its issues back when it was still a paper publication. They also had a short intro about the 'Snow Crash Virus' in there, how quickly it had run through the Steve Jackson Games offices. When I get home, I could look up the issue, I've got it there.

    -- Bryan Feir

    (I hate N-I-S. I hate N-I-S. But only when it stops. (To the tune of the traffic lights song.))
  • fool! find one place and you see a thousand other places.
  • Ask Neil Stephenson is a great idea!

    I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago and very much enjoyed it (I'm into the Diamond Age now). The virus stuff was a bit of a stretch I thought. Though there was plenty of excellent history that took you from Eden forward (it was obvious that this was the central theme that the novel was crafted around), the crisis the characters deal with in the book seemed loosely tacked on to this solid core idea. There seemed to be a couple of different (related?) viruses going on, plus some sort of meta-virus. While Neil really blows you out of the water with his interpretations of the future and his often amusing style, I thought he could have sewn together the storyline a bit better. My feeling at the end was that of

    1. Neil's brother spends many years at university studying ancient civilizations and the various Fall from Eden variations shared by them.
    2. Neil and his brother get drunk in a bar one night and his brother starts going on about it.
    3. Neil remembers much of it the next day and when he gets home has his brother mail him some notes
    4. Neil uses said notes as the librarian's script and cobbles together his rocking world around them.

  • try "the practice effect" which is a
    standalone novel, or "startide rising"
    which belongs to the "uplift"-storyline.

    i would recommend "the practice effect".
  • Actually, the ending makes perfect sense. All of the loose ends are tied up with regard to Thor, whatshername, and Odin and those ghastly people, and regarding the very last sentence: just think of what big improbable event has recently happened (involving a blue Mercedes) and at whose house it happened -- this would be front-page news, right? Think of what Dirk wants to do when he gets out of the hospital... and then he turns to the "front page" to see if there's any "interesting news"... it cracks me up everytime. I don't want to hear how loud he screams when he reads the story...
  • Zodiac: [Eco]
    There's a lot of good chemistry in this book. Oh, some bad chemistry too. Set circa 1990, most of what happens in this book is delightfully (or chillingly) fealible. Protagonist is about the same caliber as the one in Snow Crash. Lots of chasing around. Doesn't end abruptly.
  • You forgot to mention the 'Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind' undercurrent that runs through this novel, a very interesting play on a very ineresting (if possibly slightly wacky-sounding) theory. It's a much more subtle take on it than was found in The Big U.

    [btw -- if NS reads this: The Big U. wasn't a bad book at all. Cheel, Winstohn.]

    Also, I think Stephenson does a better job of evoking the feel of ``cyberspace'' than Gibson ever did. Not that I think Gibson sucks, but I think in this particular aspect, Stephenson is more on-the-ball.

    Just to throw some random stuff in here, I think Shirow did a better job than Gibson at that whole 'what does it mean to be human' thing.

  • If you go to a real world brick'n'mortar store instead of one of the online shops, then go ahead and read the first few pages. At that point, any doubts will disappear and you'll know you have to get it. Be warned, though: once you start the book, you might try reading it in the car on the way home, and that's a very bad idea if you're driving.

    Especially if you have a pizza in the car with you.


    ---
  • Thank you, DrRobin. I am a graduate student in molecular endocrinology with all hacker-friends who insisted I read the book. Like you, I was underwhelmed to the point of annoyance with the weakness of the biology Stephenson presented, and I'm sad to say it severely impacted my enjoyment of the book as well. The subject matter of biology is so ripe for science fiction (one of my favorites in recent years is GATTACA, for example), and it's a shame that a writer as goddmaned smart as Stephenson doesn't take better advantage. FWIW, though, I liked Cryptonomicon fine, and Diamond Age is probably my favorite of his books--biology is important to the plot in neither.

    I guess this is a "me too" but I haven't read the book in ages. For the sake of conversation, I'll also say I have the same problem with the X-Files, but there I amuse myself (and annoy my friends) by imagining what changes they have to make to make their story lines plausible. :)
  • But... but... it sounds so Star Trekky
    (frantically racking brains) I can think of nothing trekonic about it. Honest. You know all those bits of frantic improvisation in The Warrior's Apprentice? Well, imagine the same sort of thing where everything goes wrong...
  • by rde (17364)
    The Practise Effect is the nearest Brin has come to a comedic novel; it is quite funny. Generally, though, I suggest Glory Road, The Uplift War or The Postman (great book, shite, shite film).
  • by rde (17364)
    Good ol' Neal seems to be flavour of the month around here; this is -- what? -- the third review in recent times?
    Not that that's a bad thing; back in my previous existence as an SF bookseller, Snow Crash was one I consistently recommended as the coolest of the cool (third only to David Brin and Lois McMaster Bujold).
    Just a resounding agreement: Snow Crash is cool. In fact, it's still my favourit Stephenson book.
  • I'm still waiting for the next book after komarr, it should be interesting.
    It's called A Civil Campaign and it's -- how do I put this -- great. Bleeding marvellous. There were about six pages where I began to suspect it wasn't going to be as good, but that silly feeling didn't last long.
    Rush out and buy. Amazon have it. You're not getting my copy.
  • where's the central repository for "Stuff to read" for your typical net.geek
    That's handy; a chance to plug my page.
    I'm working on such a thing at the moment. It gets added to every time I think of a cool book, and reviews of some/all will follow when I can be sufficiently arsed.
    For the moment, check out this [irelands-web.ie].
  • I first starting reading snow crash on a business flight 3 years ago. My roomate at the time handed me his worn copy and suggested I read it. I almost missed getting off my plane that day. I was so wrapped up in the book. The amazing thing is how any of Stephenson's descriptions are becoming reality. I don't know if it fits to call him visionary but you can see the ZDTV Big Thinkers interview with him here [zdnet.com] One of the high points of that show on zdtv IMHO.
    "We hope you find fun and laughter in the new millenium" - Top half of fastfood gamepiece
  • At least a pizza guy who could carry a big ass sword around ;)
    "We hope you find fun and laughter in the new millenium" - Top half of fastfood gamepiece
  • ahhh come on..the matrix wasn't that bad.
    "We hope you find fun and laughter in the new millenium" - Top half of fastfood gamepiece
  • Don't forget Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and Long Dark Teatime of the soul. Both are great reads in his same vien of humor. "Character discovers there is indeed a horse in the washroom and decides it might be best to have that spot of brandy afterall" To paraphrase.
    "We hope you find fun and laughter in the new millenium" - Top half of fastfood gamepiece
  • by drox (18559)
    If I remember correctly, this book coined the term "avatar" as used in a virtual world.

    The word Avatar is a lot older than that. It somes from, IIRC, Sanskrit, and was the term used for the bodies that the gods used when they wanted to walk around and interact with mere mortals.

    Even within VR, the word avatar is older than Snow Crash. It was in use in MUDs long before.
  • My favorite story from burning chrome has to be "Dogfight". Although "Burning Chrome" is a close second.
  • I've always hated movies based on Stephen King books since the endings were always so terrible. I sat through the entire mini-series of "The Stand" for one of the worst letdowns of my life.

    I think Neal's endings are even worse.

    The all time worst was "The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul". I've read that Douglas Adams finished it in a taxi on the way to the airport for a vacation. Apparently he was waay overdue with it...

  • Well, Lois McMaster Bujold never CLAIMED to be a techie: she's admitted that most of her science is wave-of-the-hand for plot devices. She seems to have a better background in the life sciences, but still mostly at the informed layman level.
    Still, I think Miles Vorkosigan would read Slashdot. . .and if he didn't, his clone-brother Mark WOULD. . . .
  • But... but... it sounds so Star Trekky ... *shudder* (at least in the reviews)
  • A book by Brin that's both preachy and interesting is The Transparent Society, which I'm now reading for the second time to make a bit more sense of it.
    Highly recommend it.
  • Hmmm... am I the only 'geek' who thought Ringworld was a piece of crap?

    As far as fantasy stuff goes (series that I've enjoyed include the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Rift War books, the first ~4 of the Wheel of Time books, and the Lovecraft stuff), I had fun, but I'm starting to think it's a bit silly. None of it even slightly compares to the amount of vision and talent that went into the Lord of the Rings (definitely a geek must-read), and I'm beginning to wonder if looking ahead to the future (in the grand old SF tradition) is just a fundamentally more interesting premise than the swords-and-sorcery thing.

    In addition to most of what you listed, I recommend (some of) the work by Vernor Vinge, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Orson Scott Card, and Kim Stanley Robinson.
  • Tell you what. I promise I'll never, ever, ever make you use it. Surely you don't have a problem with those of us who think it's a good idea contributing to this resource, do you? You are free to take whatever umbrage you wish, but a lot of Slashdot readers have similar (though not congruent) taste in books, and a site like the one proposed could make for more enjoyable reading for everyone. For instance, if I'd read a review of Shadow Moon by George Lucas by somebody who had similar tastes to mine, I'd have avoided that TERRIBLE book like plague. On the other hand, my Sterling/Gibson/Stevenson/Rucker cyberpunk binge is running out of fuel, so I very much like the thought of somewhere I can find more grist for the mill. As for going to the bookstore, I'd much rather be sold on a book by somebody who's actually willing to write their opinion on the thing, rather than some reviewer who's paid to say "It's great!" or shiny pictures on the front cover.

    You make this out to be some sort of "book police", where no information can be read without being vetted by this body. That has nothing whatsoever to do with what's being discussed here.

    I guess, in summation, what I'm trying to say is: "Lighten up!"

  • Neal does explain that this was intentional in the acknowledgements at the end of the book.

  • although they're all in the same universe and tied together, each of the four has a very different feel.

    Actually The Sky Road isn't in the same universe as The Cassini Division and most of The Stone Canal - the futures diverge in the 2080s part of Sky Road. Very highly recommended. Great value for money too; since they're all connected in convoluted ways, you have to read all of them at least twice to get the references from the other books :)
  • what more could you ask for? Follow the link (white rabbit) below to read more

    Reason.
  • I'd heartily recommend anything
    by Michael Marshall Smith.

    Stephenson is quite funny, but
    Smith is really insightful and also
    very cutting at the same time.

    "Only Forward" and "One of Us" are excellent
    "Spares" is currently being made into
    a film.

    Not sure if they are very available
    in the US though. Amazon.com looked like
    it was having trouble getting them out in
    the US anyway. Amazon.co.uk has plenty.


    I'd recommend 'Luminous' by Greg Egan
    if anyone wants some new, _hard_ sci-fi
    too. Again, probably hard to find in the
    US.

    Gordon
  • I disagree. I've read a lot of both Stephenson and Sterling and I find that his characters and storylines are more plausable (except for second half plot to The Diamond Age) than Sterlings works. While I certainly enjoy Sterling, I don't think anything he has written is as believeable or as good as Cryptnomicon.

    The other thing that I really like about Stephenson is that he has really great cultural insights. While they tend not to be overly blatent, he weaves them in and they greatly enhance the quality of the book. Take for example his mini-discussion of beards in Crypt or his comments on relative morality in The Diamond Age (The only thing you can accuse anybody of is hypocracy). Even in Zodiac the environmental issues weren't really the focus of the book, but a stage upon which he had the characters work out his play.

    Just my $.02

    - Mike

  • If I remember correctly, this book coined the term "avatar" as used in a virtual world. Yet another example of why we should all bow down and worship Neal Stephanson... ;)

    Actually, IIRC, my copy of Snow Crash has an author's note where Stephenson credits some on-line world (the name of which I don't recall) for coining the term avatar.
    --
    Dream well...

  • Now, if only Stephenson could learn to end a novel properly, without having to resort to the #&$^ showdown between the forces of Good and Evil...


    It`s not the showdown so much as the fact that he doesn`t seem to want to deal with aftermath. Most stories have a climax, and then let you down gently before opening the door and letting you out into the real world. It1`s not a matter of tying up loose ends - I tend to like some to be left hanging so that you can imagine what happened next - but a matter of winding down after the climax. Yes, it`s very hackneyed: almost all films and books do it. But there`s a reason for that, and that`s that it`s structurally required in order for it to feel finished. Perhaps the lack of it here ss related to the fact that it was originally conceived as a graphical novel, where the rules are to some extent different.
  • I find it interesting that Sterling doesn't seem to have much of a following on Slashdot. His interview can be partially blamed on the lack of good questions.

    I've read Stephenson's Zodiac, SnowCrash, and The Diamond Age, and they were all great fun, but I don't think any of them have the kind of insight that Sterling's work has.

    Is the interest in Stephenson because he has a background in programming? Or has Sterling turned people off with his recent focus on environmental issues?
  • Orson Scott Card & Dan Simmons are good, yes - I didn't know "The Rise of Endymion" was out - thanks. All these series are hard to keep track of. I usually resort to polling the bookstore shelves, but interrupt-driven works well when there are enough people around with like interests like here.

    Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson is great and/although strange.

    Rudy Rucker has some zany books with great ideas. Some good ones were : Software Wetware, Freeware. Fast reads, enjoyable reading and out there. AI with forced evolution.

    "The Difference Engine" by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling was excellent. What would have happened if Charles Babbage's difference engine was actually built and the information age hit us 150 years early?







  • I confess to owning over twenty Terry Prachett novels, mostly in the Discworld series. I even went to the trouble of ordering several of them from the UK.

    I also have Good Omens which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. I've also read a couple of Gaiman's books, which were quite good.

    Another author I would highly recommend is Matt Ruff. So far he has only written two books: "Fool on the Hill", and "Sewer, Gas & Electric : The Public Works Trilogy", but they're among my favorites. If you like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, you'll probably like Matt Ruff.
    --
  • You're right, we need a central repository.

    More must-reads in no particular order:

    Naked Lunch

    Asimov's (?) "before the golden age" collections if you can find them.

    Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven, also his short stories

    Hitchhikers series by Doug Adams

    the Dangerous Visions anthologies

    Titan, Wizard and Demon by John Varley

    Philip K. Dick (especially Ubik and Valis)

    Lovecraft (all of it if possible)

    Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories (possibly the only _good_ fantasy ever written)

    Godel Escher Bach

    More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

    The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

    1984 and Animal Farm

    as many Robert Sheckley stories as you can find

    Groucho
  • Well, it's pretty new, and kind of obscure but I can't stop raving about the comic book "Thieves and Kings". I suggest it to people as strongly as I do Snow Crash, if that helps you judge how good it is (or I think it is).

    Amazon sells the three tpbs that have currently been released.

    (and there's also the anime series "Escaflowne" but for now let's stick with books)
  • "Slashdot" as such doesn't review the books. Slashdot readers do. If you would like to see another author considered here, by all means, submit a review.

    I mean, I do like NS, but I've already read these. I'd love to hear about other authors that I might want to read!

  • I have very little interest in SF writing usually, but this book is very much an exception. I came across it by way of a media student living in my house years ago. He got sent the book as a review copy when it came out and recomended it to me - and the old line about not being able to put it down is certainly true in Snow Crash's case.

    I've yet to read any of his more recent works, but this one gets a definite ten out of ten.


    Chris Wareham
  • I read this book after everyone I knew and respected was giving it rave reviews and labelled it as "a must read". I recally reading the first few chapters and wondering what the big deal was. The writing is very pedestrian and not at all what I've come to expect from the "best-of-the-best" in any genre. I found the ideas presented in the first half of Snowcrash pretty tame and almost of a "this is cool and so I'm going to write about it just to be cool" variety. Much of what in the first half just seemed like the meanderings of a juvenile writer who thought that cyberpunk was hip and wanted to delve into it. Mind you, my previous escapades into the genre consisted of earlier Gibson, Sterling and their ilk and so I consider myself a little spoiled. Many of the starting ideas just seemed to be rehashed from "the godfathers of cyberpunk".

    It wasn't until the book started to plummet into a world of linguistics and a seemingly well-researched and in-depth history of language that I started to become interested. I considered putting an end to my read until I reached this harder, more satisfying interior. While the first half insulted my intelligence and experience with the cyberpunk genre, the second half held my interest and challenged my mind.

    If it wasn't for this new spark and introduction of "language as virus" as well as the relatively heavy linguistics, I probably would have passed off Stephenson as just another one of many mediocre cyberpunk writers. Instead, it is clear to me that Stephenson has some really good ideas, albeit a relatively mediocre writing style.

    So would I recommend the book? Yes, but with a warning that the first half of the book might seem tripe for those who have lots of experience with cyberpunk but nevertheless well worth the wait to build up to the harder material in the last half.
  • The book, *and* this review.

    A *major* chunk of the story occurs in cyberspace...and *another* major chunk is mythological...and somehow, Our Reviewer seems to have glossed all of that over.

    Stephenson's cyberspace is as impressive as Gibson's, and yet different; to some degree, one can see it as a progression from the current web, where Gibson's view is nowhere in sight.

    On the other hand, I have *always* had a problem with Snowcrash, and one of these cons, I mean to tell Stephenson so: he com*pletely* blows the intellectual climax of the novel (don't worry, it doesn't affect the outcome of the "physical" end", so this isn't exactly a spoiler): since obviously, anyone reading it with anything less than the total immersion will see that the mythological queen/Goddess is the culture hero, for freeing the knowledge of self-hacking, rather than the mythological king/God, who tries to keep it hidden.

    It *is* an excellent book, and deserved the Hugo it won. Of course, I just hope my son, in his quest for a job, doesn't wind up deliivering pizza for Domino's...I might have to give him some practice with swords, and then enroll him in a kendo class....

    mark

  • You're right about me leaving out the mythological underpinnings... I must have moved that from the synopsis to the analysis and forgotten to paste it. To wit:

    Let it be known that Hiro knowingly attempts to reenact the ancient Sumerian myth which is explained throughout the story. One might analyze 'Snow Crash' as the germ of a future hacker mythos, where the sorceror-priests are those who can reach into the guts of the [mind|machine] and rewire [consciousness|digital reality] as they see fit. Except that the advertising age necessitates a word from our sponsor... (Hiro's business card at the lightshow.)

    Mea culpa. Sorry everyone!

    As for cyberspace, I took that for part of the mythology. Did Hiro find it more real than reality?

    --
    QDMerge [rmci.net] 0.4 just released!
  • Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. Galactic-scale action flavored with AI, Usenet, and gothic intrigue. A bit hard to believe in places, but the grand scale of the story makes suspense of disbelief easy.

    Someone else mentioned Hofstadter's Godel, Escher Bach; I'd add his Metamagical Themas as well.

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. Several metaphysical journeys woven into a wonderful story/extended essay. Also good background material for anyone having to suffer through Total Quality training.

    Don't forget James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. A spiritual ancestor of the cyberpunk style.

    --JT
  • Would you also do away with public libraries, prefering that individuals keep their own, (relatively) small collections instead? As a cultural niche, we are defined by our attitudes, likes and dislikes. It would be an interesting project, to define the common ground.

    Some of the most useful web resources came to my attention on /. Had I made my own Linux/Computing oriented site, I wouldn't have had the insight of others to broaden my horizons. Repositories are good.

    Few of us have the gift of synthesizing new knowledge from vacuum, and fewer still have the clairvoyance to know what sci-fi books they'll like, just be reading the cover.

    It is true that someone could refer to such a (cultural) resource as a 'community list of suggested readings' in an effort to take on the characteristics of a geek (as cool as that that may sound for a fad-hound these days). So what of it? Maybe that's another convert. Maybe they would benefit from the new perspective. Maybe they would recognize in geekdom, a community that appreciates people for their talent and contribution, not their clothing, check-book or hair-style.

    And a vast majority of geeks would certainly find something of value in there too. Nobody ever said 'required reading' in the compulsory sense. No one would excommunicate anyone for flatly refusing to read Neuromancer, or for not knowing the last verse of Jabberwocky - or why that poem is significant. No one is proposing that we cover a book in red leather, and devise a pledge of allegience.

    It's just an idea for a place people like us can go to in order to find something new, that they are likely to enjoy. Sheesh!
  • Cultures are defined by (drum roll) their culture. And nothing serves as well as a library, to define a particular culture.

    Books provide the cultural staples and social archetypes which we use to communicate, relate, and advance as a culture. They contain the semantic templates and roots for our language, jargon and style. They are our memetic petri-dish.

    Considering English-speaking cultures, we are to a great extent defined by the English works of literature. Shakespeare comes to mind. Try conveying the sense of Hamlet or Romeo to a Zulu. To a cultural peer, all you have to say is "like Hamlet", and you're both on the same page.

    Yes, one of the most interesting attributes of the geek culture is it's breadth of reference, but we share some common threads. We subscribe to certain ideals and values and concepts that are well exposed in various works of 'geek culture'.

    We do need a (peer reviewed) list of 'essencial readings' that we are defined by. Perhaps a slashdot-like mechanism, where people can submit their items. Others can review what's there and concur or counter (a'la moderation), so that a stable set of agreed upon 'must', 'should' and 'see also' items emerges.

    This way, someone interested in the geek community could skim the 'must' list and get the jist.
  • > One thing that might interest those that have
    > read it is that the opening of the book was
    > originally a short story and quite a comic
    > one at that (calling the main character Hiro
    > Protagonist and making him a 'Pizza Deliverator'

    My understanding was that the opening of the book
    was originally a premise for a video game, and
    when he ran into implementation problems he
    decided to write it up as a story.

    This explains a lot of the flaws of the book,
    in my opinion, and also probably explains why
    so many slash geeks love it, and I should
    probably stop now because slagging on Neal
    Stephenson is no way to boost your karma.

  • While I agree that the real "meat" of the novel didn't start until about halfway through ...

    If you could avoid busting a gut laughing at the Deliverator delivering pizza, I don't know what to day about your sense of humor. :^) The thing that carried me through until we got to the mythology and linguistics was that the characters were fun, the satire was on-target, and the whole thing is just screamingly funny.

    Or maybe my sense of humor is just a little weird ...

    Kim: "It's all a little weird"
    Janaway: "Mr. Kim, we're Starfleet officers. Weird is part of the job."
  • This was a decent review, but it didn't mention one of the (to me) most powerful points of the book - the ties to mythology.

    All the Sumerian mythology and pre-Biblical Jewish cult stuff, concisely explained by The Librarian, was a true delight. It was one of the things that set this book apart from merely adequate-and-entertaining cyberpunk (or post-cyberpunk if you prefer.) I mean, sure the descriptions of the virtual world and the near future's techno-toys are right on the mark, but any good cyberpunk tale can do that. This one does more. It makes the reader think. A lot.

    There's a bit of that in Cryptonomicon too, though there it's primarily Greek, rather than Sumerian mythology that's discussed. Also, in Cyrptonomicon it was more of an aside, while in Snow Crash it's a vital part of the story, linked in with the viral mind-killer of the title and L. Bob Rife's quest for World Domination.
  • A *major* chunk of the story occurs in cyberspace...and *another* major chunk is mythological...and somehow, Our Reviewer seems to have glossed all of that over.

    It is a review, not a summary or synopsis. There is a difference. A summary tells you what you will be reading. A review tells you why (or why not) you should read it.

    This is Slashdot, not Cliff's Notes. ;-)
  • >I'd love to ask him about whether YT is Mrs Matheson

    I saw Mr Stephenson on his book signing tour for Cryptonomicon and during the Q&A asked him exactly that - he said nope not the same person - further along that line of questioning it turns
    out according to Neal, Diamond Age and Snow Crash are not in the same universe at all. He stated further that any similarity is just due to the coincidence of the both novels having the same author.
  • If I remember correctly, this book coined the term "avatar" as used in a virtual world. Yet another example of why we should all bow down and worship Neal Stephanson... ;)

    Actually, there was a VR-type system that was already being developed that used the "avatar" label. Neil Stephanson wasn't aware of it at the time. He does, however, make note of it during a kind of after-reflections blurb at the end of the copy I have. I'll have to dig up the book and post the relevent passage.

    Having said that... the avatar moniker is just another example of how Stephanson put some fore-thought into this novel. Cable as a data medium has been noted. He also makes mention of using wireless networking and the speed hit one takes to do it. Another minor point was that Hiro really couldn't afford his Metaverse environment, but he paid for it anyway. A further point was the relative minor number of people in the world that had access to the Metaverse. All are reflections of today's emerging environment.

    Snow Crash is an odd world. There are some purely wierd things in it. But interlaced with the oddness is some very close-to-home observations/predictions.

  • The trouble with Gibson is that he tends to write the same book every time (thematically speaking). In 1983, "cyberspace" was an amazing thing. Today, it is getting passe.

    The thing that impresses me so much about Stephenson is that he writes something wholly original with each book.
  • This is really the book that killed cyberpunk, I think. I haven't been able to read an old school "cyberpunk" book since without finding it wanting. I remember reading Mona Lisa Overdrive (I think that was it) shortly after reading this, and finding it to be a great disappointment, not because it was any worse then any other Gibson books, but because Stephenson had just stamped the perfect statement on my brain. (It didn't help that the Gibson book had a courier character much like YT.)

    The satire in Snow Crash is just utterly brilliant. The private jails. The mafia pizza delivery service. The "Central Information Service". The nuclear bomb in the sidecar.

    Stephenson also has more guts then any other writer I've ever read. Who else would have the guts to name their protagonist "Protagonist"? Who else would drop a five page dissertion on Sumerian mythology in the middle of an action book?
  • Hey, it wasn't meant to be an insult. I love her books.

    Actually, now that I think of it, one of her lesser known books, Falling Free, has a great engineer character, something that is surprising lacking in most SF.
  • Everyone always leaves that out... what's the deal?

    I would also suggest Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards 2000 - 1887 as a quintessential read for all of science fiction.

    We also conveniantly foget there are numerous female science fiction writers that put a nice spin on what we are used to.

    Recommended:

    Ursula K. Le Guin: Just finished reading Four Ways to Forgiveness. The Left Hand of Darkness is excellent

    Charlotte Perkins Gilma:
    Try Herland

    Octavia Butler
    I liked Parable of the Sower
  • Or at least the books I read. After reading Snow Crash I became a Neil Stephenson fan. I've picked up all his books I could get my hands on, and will buy Cryptonomicon as soon as I get some free time.
    Has Slashdot ever had an "Ask Neil Stephenson" interview? If not, we need one. If so, another one would be nice. Stephenson is knowledgable about Linux, a great Cyber(and Cypher)punk writer, and funny as shit. I'd love to ask him about whether YT is Mrs Matheson, what happened to Uncle Enzo, Gnome vs. KDE, whether Snow Crash changed any of his religious beliefs, and why every damn company wants to "do Snow Crash", but nobody's talking about "doing smartwheels" (there's gotta be a reason that that's the only technology that made the transition from Snow Crash to The Diamond Age. There's a lot more I could think of if it came to it.
  • Actually, I gotta disagree with you, Mark. The mythological queen/Goddess (Inana) doesn't free the knowledge of self-hacking. She makes self-hacking more difficult by freeing society from the me that control them. Basically, she frees them from the rote tasks and allows them to think and act freely. Juanita (actually, Hiro) does this in the end by having the librarian read the tablet. The mythological king/God doesn't try to keep it hidden, but controls his subjects by the use of me. The analogy of Inana==Juanita is a good one, but the Enki==L. Bob Rife isn't a good one. The evil of Sumer wasn't a person, but was the way society operated. Both Inana and Enki were hackers and heros who freed the people to think for themselves and become self-aware.
    Even with as many times as I've read Snow Crash I still come away amazed at the wonderful developement of the story and characters and can only fault Stephenson for ending the story so soon. I'd at least like 20,000 more pages or so.
  • I have mixed feelings about the way Neil ends this book. I'd heard all about "Oh, you'll love the book but hate the ending!" for a long time before reading it and found out that I thought the ending was just fine. A bit brief, but nowhere what I had been expecting.

    Now, compare to the ending in "Diamond Age" in which the last chapter reads like it came from a different book and all of a sudden the ending to "Snow Crash" is excellent. Unfortunately, the way he ended "Diamond Age" pretty much ruined what had been a very enjoyable book because the whole plot just went to pieces. "Snow Crash" wasn't like that IMHO - everything wrapped up, as the reviewer said, the pieces had all been in place for some time and he just tied them all up nicely.


    -=-=-=-=-

  • by Skyshadow (508) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @06:25AM (#1602535) Homepage
    The reviewer overlooked the very best part of Snow Crash: the first chapter. I've never wanted to be a pizza delivery guy so badly in my entire life.

    ----

  • by kaisyain (15013) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @06:20AM (#1602536)
    Who doesn't like Stephenson's writing, his plots, his pacing, his dialogue, his characters, or his books?

    It would be nice if /. would review books by different authors. Generally if you give one good review to an author people are going to check out his/her other books. I would much rather see reviews of different authors rather than a review of every book a given author has written.
  • by Dreamweaver (36364) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @07:01AM (#1602537)
    I've noticed something that I thought had to be unique to my experiences.. that being that Nobody Buys Snow Crash By Themselves. I've yet to meet anybody who has gone to the bookstore, seen this book, picked it up, and liked it. Eveybody had a friend who handed them their battered, much-read copy and said, 'Hey, you're gonna like this'. The book somehow got introduced to the geek culture and has been spreading from carrier to carrier ever since. You may not be actually handed the book, but more likely than not you heard from a fellow geek that it was good and you went out and bought it.. I know i'll never lend my copy again, I've had to buy it twice now since my first copy never came home.
    So is the nam-shub of stephenson subliminaly planted throughout the book? Did the publisher soak the paper stock in the blood of geeks? Or perhaps there's really no Mr. Stephenson at all.. the book came in on a comet from out beyond the oort cloud ;) --insert spooky x-files music here--

    Dreamweaver
  • by yoshi (38533) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @07:06AM (#1602538)
    My short list -
    • Don't waste your time with the Illuminati trilogy; it's all a very long joke, and by the time you get to the punch line, you'll have wasted a great amount of time.
    • Asimov - doesn't have the style of Gibson, but wrote a number of great books. I'd recommend the Robot Trilogy and the Foundation Trilogy (and the 4 or 5 other related books), but I read this stuff when I was twelve - it may be too puerile for your taste (don't know your age).
    • Clarke - wow, spent many found hours with good ol' (Sir) Arthur C. He's more cerebral than Asimov, but sometimes there isn't much story or plot. Definitely read 2001 and 2010 , and Rendezvous with Rama and the second Rama book. Don't bother finishing any of his book series, they end horribly. For example, 2061 was mediocre, but 3001 was just monstrously bad.
    • On the opposite end of the spectrum, try Stanislaw Lem. He's a bit hard to find, and he is weird. Try The Cyberiad and The Futurological Congress . Lem should get more props - he's really important, but people tend to shy away from translated work.
    • Kurt Vonnegut. Anything. Start with Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five , but I don't think he's written anything second-rate. NOTE: Not all of his work (and arguably none of his work) is scifi. Also, avoid Slapstick till you've read some of his other work.
    • Philip K. Dick. Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep has a delicious cyberpunk feel to it, but it predates the genre. Very influential.
    • Jorge Luis Borges. Possibly one of the greatest writers of all time, and ertainly one of my favorites. Borges wrote in a genre called magic realism; it'll make you think of Twilight Zone. Try Ficciones. One favorite story is "The Garden of the Forking Paths".
    That's hardly all of them - I've left out everyone from Jules Verne to Douglas Adams. However, this is probably a good start.

    -Josh

  • by Enoch Root (57473) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @06:42AM (#1602539)
    Yes, the cyberpunk genre has been going on for a while. Yes, there are similarities between Stephenson's Snow Crash and Gibson's world.

    But there's a generation gap between the two, and that's why I love Snow Crash and am lukewarm to anything Gibson wrote beyond Neuromancer. Whereas Gibson writes for a general public fascinated by technology, Stephenson is a second-generation cyberpunk writer (insofar as his effort on Snow Crash goes; the rest is mildly cyberpunk.) Stephenson writes for people who read cyberpunk. And who reads cyberpunk? Hackers.

    And that's where the genius of Snow Crash comes in. Stephenson obviously plays on the clichés of the genre. His novel is highly humorous, yet it deals with very real people facing very real danger. Characters such as Raven are both satirical yet very much human.

    Same goes for the Metaverse; it's a wild place, filled with avatars of giant penises and such behavior you might expect from the normal brainless troll populating the Web years from now. Yet it is also a place that's barely real, and Stephenson makes a point of reminding us of that fact throughout the novel. The Metaverse is an illusion, yet it carries a good part of the drama. Contrast this with Gibson's hyperrealism, where Cyberspace is more real than the real world.

    All this, in my mind, makes of Snow Crash the groundbreaking novel it is. And even without them, it'd still be a witty and entertaining read. Snow Crash has injected humour and self-reflection in a genre that was in desperate need of a dose of self-derision.

    Now, if only Stephenson could learn to end a novel properly, without having to resort to the #&$^ showdown between the forces of Good and Evil...

    "There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

  • by Rabbins (70965) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @06:39AM (#1602540)
    Is the hacker community trying to live up to these novels?

    We have talked numerously about the script kiddies, that everyone likes to rip on, for trying to live up to the MTV and movie potrayals of hackers...

    But do these books serve as a guideline for future innovations to the internet. I am sure there are some very intelligent people out there right now trying to make the "Metaverse" spoken about in Snow Crash, a reality.

    Is that misguided?
  • by swdunlop (103066) <swdunlop&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @06:46AM (#1602541) Homepage
    And all this time I thought that came from everyone playing Ultima IV when they were supposed to be studying! Another illusion ruined. ;)
  • by Signal 11 (7608) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @06:16AM (#1602542)
    Here's a question for all you out there - where's the central repository for "Stuff to read" for your typical net.geek ? There doesn't seem to be one place you can go which says, "okay this is cool, you gotta check THAT out, and don't forget this!" Instead it seems to be implicitly assumed you've already read things like the Illuminati, the Hacker Dictionary, Ender's Game, and related.

    My question is, of course, with all the disorganization... what else have I missed?

    --

  • by D-Fly (7665) on Tuesday October 19, 1999 @06:29AM (#1602543) Homepage Journal
    Neal Stephenson would be an excellent person to interview on /.

    Of the interviews we've done here so far, John Carmack was definitely the most responsive and insightful. Sterling (surprisingly) was the worst.

    Stephenson consistently strikes me as not only one of the cleverest SF writers around right now--Gibson may be a better prose stylist, but Stephenson is much funnier--but one of the brightest.

    In each of his books, he seems to have had a number of deep insights into contemporary culture, and extrapolated it into a future world-view. The "franchise" society in Snow Crash, for example, was a profound meditation on the commercial balkanization of American culture.

    I, for one, would love to have a (mediated) discussion with him about the future.

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