Study Guide

Snow Crash Strength and Skill

By Neal Stephenson

Strength and Skill

Hiro's heart and lungs are well developed, and he has been blessed with unusually quick reflexes, but he is not intrinsically strong, the way his father was. (24.2)

Our sword-fighting protagonist may not be the strongest guy on the block, but his training keeps him on his toes, and makes sure he gets out of bad situations alive.

As the Crip comes in range, Raven's hand lets go of the throttle for a moment, snaps back as if he is throwing away a piece of litter. His fist strikes the middle of the Crip's face like a frozen ham shot out of a cannon. The Crip's head snaps back, his feet are lifted off the ground, he does most of a backflip and strikes the pavement (19.108).

We're just going to come out and say it: Raven is ridiculously strong. He is such a big dude, there's no way he could be anything but strong. Add in his skill with a glass blade, and he's downright deadly.

"We gave you a priority job this morning. It was real easy. All you had to do was read the f***ing job sheet. But you didn't read it. You just took it upon yourself to make the f***in' delivery on your own. Which the job sheet explicitly tells you not to do." (18.29)

Oh, Jason Breckinridge, you poor idiot—you messed things up big-time by not reading and following the very simple instructions for you. We would think that a skill like "can read and follow directions" would've been acquired by now.

Pooning a bimbo box takes more skill than a ped would ever imagine, because of their very road-unworthiness, their congenital lack of steel or other ferrous matter for the MagnaPoon to bite down on. (4.13)

Hitching a ride on a soccer-mom-van is the mark of an accomplished skateboarder. As you might guess, this is a piece of cake for Y.T.

"Take the example of the bread-baking me. Once that me got into society, it was a self-sustaining piece of information: people who know how to bake bread will live better and be more apt to reproduce people who don't know how." (56.22)

All our fancy skills that we acquire in civilized life? Yeah, they're all just viruses, or memes, or whatever you wanna call them. It's kind of sobering to realize that no matter how awesome you are at doing something, you might just be acting as a host for that particular piece of information.

But if life were a mellow elementary school run by well-meaning education Ph.D.s, the Deliverator's report card would say: "Hiro is so bright and creative but needs to work harder on his cooperation skills." (1.11)

All the intelligence in the world won't help you if you can't play well with others in certain situations that demand it. Hiro's intelligence is a major strength—but it can't come into play if he's always going to be antisocial.

It's better to be conservative and take what you can get than take a big gamble and blow it, so Enzo reaches in, even as Raven is looking down at him, and severs Raven's left Achilles tendon. (70.9)

Uncle Enzo's forethought and experience in the battlefield allow him to disable Raven—something no one else in the book has been able to do. Raven reacts quickly enough to strike a critical blow to Enzo, though, leading to the eternal question: Would you bet on experience and wisdom or youth and homicidal precision?

These guys are converging from all sides, there's an incredible number of them, she just keeps holding that button down, pointed straight ahead, digging at the floor with her foot, building up speed. The Liquid Knuckles acts like a chemical flying wedge, she's skating out of there on a carpet of bodies. (41.67)

That's right: Y.T. beats down every Fed who tries to prevent her from leaving the building. The fact that a fifteen-year-old girl is equipped to take on an entire building of federal agents is kind of amazing. It demonstrates that what you lack in sheer physical strength or numbers can be made up with cunning and good gear.

"People like L. Bob Rife can't do anything without us hackers. And even if he could convert us, he wouldn't be able to use us, because what we do is creative in nature and can't be duplicated by people running me." (57.18)

According to this interpretation, skills that require creativity and other higher thinking functions make people (like hackers) harder to control, which is why Rife is targeting them with the Snow Crash binary brain-ruining virus. Probably no one who majored in computer science thought to themselves, "Gee, this is a skill that will make me a lot of money someday, but possibly also put me at risk of brain-death."

The Metaverse has now become a place where you can get killed. […]

A few hacks can make a lot of difference in this situation. A freelance hacker could get a lot of s*** done, years before the giant software factories bestir themselves to deal with the problem. (48.28-30)

And there we have it: Hiro's rugged individualism that accompanies his unique hacker skill set is what lets him save the day. No corporate tool could've pulled off what he did in whipping up a way to protect both the brain and the computer from Snow Crash in time to defeat Rife's plan.