Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson

My first cyber-punk novel; I haven’t even read any William Gibson. This was recommended to me over his other novels, including Cryptnomicon, which I already had. It’s a very good sci-fi novel: unlike much other sci-fi Snow Crash is both written recently and set in the quite near future. This book also has another advantage: Neal Stephenson was a professional programmer and has chosen to write a book about programming.

As another professional programmer however, I do have to object somewhat to the depiction of the profession. Stephenson elevates the cowboy approach to mythical heights. Not something I agree with. But, it’s a bit of a ridiculous complaint. He gets the terminology right (even the oft-misused word ‘hacker’); he does understand actual software engineering techniques; and he hints at software development being a creative process.

Ultimately, programming is not a spectator activity: there’s a lot of quiet thought, some esoteric arguments and a small amount of typing. I can accept jazzing up programming for the sake of the story. Given the reality.

The future presented is very plausible. Including the interaction between programmers, corporations and the vast majority of users. It could very easily be regarded as overly dystopian. The alternative to the future in this story is that improved technology creates more engagement amongst the non-technological priesthood part of the population. There is precedent for taking that view. The novel 1984 is unfortunately implausible as many technologies since have made the techniques described impractical or impossible: the photocopier, for one.

Personally, I have seen blogs improving the literacy level of those writing them. But, ultimately, the Stephenson’s dystopian world is all too imaginable. I still have fairly negative attitudes towards the future of technology. It will not save the world.

Aside from the depiction of the future, this book has a fantastic idea at its centre. It’s an unusual idea, and very well-executed. There are some distinct echoes of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, but only towards the periphery.

The plot is fairly hackneyed and predictable. The whole ‘murdered genius leaving behind a trail of clues to pieced together in time to save the world’ thing is pretty common in sci-fi/fantasy stories.?But in the end this is not a disappointing novel: a great idea and well-executed, that rarest of combinations.