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Analysis of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash

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Ali graduated with high honors from Columbia College in 2014 with a BA in English. Her focus has been in literature and literary criticism.


The amazing thing about literature is that it creates an outlet; an alternate reality, so to speak, where people can escape. For those that may be lacking the creative writing gene, they have the opportunity to experience that art through those that are so successful at it. An even more amazing thing about literature is that there are choices; authors to choose from, genres to choose from, and of course time periods.

With so many choices, it seems impossible to experience them all. One particular choice that especially seems to stand alone, as well as fly under the literary radar, is science fiction. A person can quite literally open up to page one of a Robert Heinlein novel or an Isaac Asimov short story and know right away that they are definitely not in Kansas anymore. With so many facets of the science fiction literary experience, a reader will quickly become marveled at the creativity and begin to ask himself, “What would have to happen for our reality to become like this?” This article will utilize one science fiction literary example Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson to bring to light elements of the present time that could make Stephenson’s world a reality.

Snow Crash Invents a Realistic World

Regardless of the genre and immense creativity involved in their work, authors will stay close to home when it comes to social influences, character personalities, and the like. Maybe it’s easier to write that way…or maybe it’s the writer’s tongue-in-cheek method of getting revenge on the world or people in it. No matter the underlying psychological reasons for why an author does this, it still allows the reader to question the possibilities of his reality actually becoming reality.

In his novel Snow Crash, Stephenson satirically creates a world that a reader can easily see come into existence. One of the primary themes in this literary work is that many aspects of the characters’ lives are privatized, to include security, communication, and even transportation routes. Stephenson writes, “Why is the Deliverator so equipped? Because people rely on him. He is a role model. This is America. People do whatever the fuck they feel like doing” (2). Even so early in the novel, a reader begins to see that he has created a reality where pizza delivery is more important than the federal government and the Mafia controls it.

Historically, essential mile markers in the existence of America have included the peoples’ fight for personal freedom and individual liberties. They have dug their heels in when it comes to interference by governmental organizations. Stephenson has expounded on this phenomenon and quite definitely, albeit entertainingly, over-exaggerated it by creating city-states as opposed to centralized government, privatized law enforcement instead of municipal protection and entities such as the Mafia that citizens are answerable to rather than the federal agencies that realistically exist.

The emphasis that present-day, realistic Americans place on aspects of life such as prompt-delivery-or-its-free attitudes and resistance to the centralized government will easily evolve into a fragmented, chaotic existence not so dissimilar from what Stephenson creates.

Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson

In addition to mocking the priorities of Americans, Stephenson has enhanced the importance they put on utilizing virtual reality. In this novel, he has comparatively (in reference to what actually exists) created a computer fantasy world where many people spend the bulk of their time, called the Metaverse.

Even his main character, Hiro, has a better virtual life than real life. He describes, “Your avatar can look any way you want it to, up to the limitations of your equipment. If you’re ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful…You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse” (36). The reliance that Stephenson indicates people have on computer-generated, fantasy lives is a true mirror image to what currently exists.

As technology and creativity continue to blossom as they realistically are doing, it is not difficult to foresee a virtual world so depended upon such as Stephenson creates. The unfortunate psychological truth is that people are always looking for something better; some way in which to be the perfection that they are told don’t exist but yet forced to achieve. Virtual reality is the ultimate answer to this dichotomous question.

Somewhere over the rainbow the experiences and worlds read about in science fiction may truly exist or with certainty one day is achieved. Is the world really so far away from a place like the Metaverse or controlling powers like the Mafia? The road that is being traversed in today’s 21st century may inevitably lead to such an existence as Stephenson creates in this particular novel. The question may now be: Is everyone really ready for it?