Study Guide

Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash Introduction

Imagine that you are making a smoothie—an idea smoothie, to be exact. Oh, and you're going to need the biggest brain blender you can conjure, because we're going to be cramming a whole lot of ideas into this one.

First pour in some hackers and skateboard punks; next, a few dashes of detective work and World War II history. Sprinkle in some Sumerian mythology, Catholicism and other flavors of Christianity, and a bit Aleut culture, then toss in a couple of motorcycles, guns, and tech trinkets. Jostle the ingredients to make room for a few more: virtual reality, global conspiracies, memetics, linguistics, and dystopia.

Nope, that's not enough dystopia. Pour in a lot more…even a little more…Okay, there you go.

Welcome to Snow Crash, which takes the above-mentioned ideas (along with many more), whirls them all together, and produces a fast-pasted, irreverent romp through a future that's just around the corner. And we do mean just around the corner—because while some of the inventions seem a tad far-fetched (cybernetic guard dogs, really?), it's hard not to see parallels to our own world in the corporate world, security-patrolled suburban enclaves, and uneven distribution of wealth that fill this book.

In case you hadn't guessed yet, Neal Stephenson wrote a wicked—and wickedly entertaining—book when he published Snow Crash way back in 1992. That why it's one of Time's Top 100 Novels, as well as one of the classics of cyberpunk. Really, there's no reason not to read it…unless, of course, you buy the book's main premise, that ideas can hack your brain. Then you might want to proceed with caution.

What is Snow Crash About and Why Should I Care?

Snow Crash is about the beginning and end of civilization as we know it. And if that’s not a reason to care then, um, we're not really sure what is.

Allow us to elaborate, though. When the main characters go all Sherlock-Holmes on us, they discover that civilization basically began in ancient Sumerian times when a priest named Enki found a way to hack the human brain. See in ancient times, people all spoke the same language and were a bit like automatons—read: easy to control—and Enki's discovery allowed for independent thought, which in turn lead to the rise of humanity as we know it.

What, pray tell, did Enki use to facilitate this shift? Language. Yep, that's it, language, a.k.a. our ability to communicate using words and sentences and stuff. Snow Crash advances the idea that in ancient times, all languages tended to converge, and Sumerian was the language du jour.

Enki, being a forward-thinking dude, engineered a language apocalypse (which went down in history as the fall of the Tower of Babel) that caused human languages to diverge rather than converge. Spoken Sumerian died out—though it's still possible to read it if you majored in Nerd—and the human brain was majorly kicked in the pants, causing it to reject the linguistic programming that made the Sumerians robotically obedient. People had to become creative in order to solve problems, rather than relying on instructions from the local priest-king.

In the current era of Snow Crash, some people—religious fanatics, wildly rich businessmen, and their ilk—want to return to those days when people were more like sheeple. And they've got enough money to make it happen. So what's to stop them? You're going to have to read on to find out, but we'll leave you with this: Language holds a whole lot of power in this book. You might even say civilization is at stake.

Snow Crash Resources

Websites

Neal Stephenson's Website
It's kind of sparse, but it gives you an idea of what Stephenson has written.

Review of Snow Crash on Tor.com
This thorough write-up gives some context for what the world was like when Snow Crash was written, and how Stephenson's inventions resonate with readers today.

How Close are We to the Metaverse?
This paper draws comparisons between the Metaverse and existing technology.

A Christian Perspective on Snow Crash
Stephenson makes a lot of, er, interesting claims about the Bible and stuff. This writer goes through and tells us how the religious material from Snow Crash measures up to what's actually in the Bible.

Movie or TV Productions

Snow Crash on the Big Screen
Because with a book this action-packed and descriptive, you know Hollywood can't keep its hands off it.

Articles and Interviews

Slashdot Readers Interview Stephenson
Read on to get Stephenson's views on being a professional writer (apparently a rare type of creature), the singularity, and what he's reading.

Stephenson's Views on the Past, Present, and Future
Lots of Stephenson's thoughts on politics, historical quirks, and so on.

A Succinct Review of Snow Crash on Slashdot
Need more convincing to read this book? Look no further.

Video

Interview with Stephenson: Predictions and Surprises
This brief snippet touches on some of the tech from Snow Crash that didn't make it to the real world like Stephenson thought it might've.

Another Interview with Stephenson: Female Characters
In this interview, Stephenson mentions the "Y.T. effect," or the phenomenon whereby all of his post-Snow Crash female characters are held up next to Y.T. to see whether they're as good as she is. Talk about performance anxiety.

"We Are All Geeks Now": Speech by Stephenson
How has the sci-fi hero changed over time? How have we changed over time? Stephenson gives a speech reflecting on how everyone is a geek (or unashamedly passionate) about something, and that this is how society and information-transmission just work now.

Audio

Snow Crash and Other Geek Reads
This NPR segment mentions Snow Crash along with other nerdtastic novels certain to delight.

Podcast Interview with Neal Stephenson
Topics include philosophy, music, and the invention of new words.

Images

Tumblr for Neal-Stephenson-related stuff
Lots of images—some pictures, some text blocks—from Stephenson's work.

Cool Rendition of Y.T. and Hiro
We're sad that Hiro doesn't have dreadlocks in this picture, but otherwise it's pretty darn cool.