Thursday, June 17, 2010


Snow Crash

I'm almost 20 years late in reading Snow Crash - I wish I had read it in the early 90s. But in some ways, I got a lot out of it by reading it now. If you haven't read it, go ahead and do that. I think it's entirely appropriate to quote Wikipedia in a review of this book:
"The story begins and ends in Los Angeles, which is no longer part of what is left of the United States, during the early 21st century. In this hypothetical future reality the federal government of the United States has ceded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs. Franchising, individual sovereignty and private vehicles reign (along with drug trafficking, violent crime, and traffic congestion). Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts while private security guards preserve the peace in gated, sovereign housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads rather than the competitors', and all mail delivery is by hired courier. The remnants of government maintain authority only in isolated compounds where they transact tedious make-work that is, by and large, irrelevant to the dynamic society around them.

The Metaverse, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson's vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Resembling an MMO, the Metaverse is populated by user controlled avatars as well as system daemons. Although there are public-access Metaverse terminals in Reality, using them carries a social stigma among Metaverse denizens, in part because of the poor visual representations of themselves as low-quality avatars. Status in the Metaverse is a function of two things: access to restricted environments such as the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club, and technical acumen, which is often demonstrated by the sophistication of one's avatar."
In a lot of ways, Stephenson is spot-on in the direction the internet is going. The Metaverse is a plausible iteration of a Google-Second Life-Wikipedia-eHarmony world plus 10 years. His view of society is that an anarchy-like libertarianism takes hold, which after 8 years of Reagan, I could understand that conclusion. The story transcends the environment while comfortably inhabiting it - we go from the Mafia to ancient theology to language to commerce to evangelical religion to refugees to WWII history to ancient Sumer. Astoundingly entertaining and educated. And fun. I would see this movie anytime.

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