Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Book Review of Snow Crash leads to Second Life

By Stephen Northcutt

This is not the sort of book I would normally read. I tend to be older and more conservative than what I suspect the target audience is, but I feel the richer for having read Snow Crash.

According to Wikipedia, "Snow Crash is a science fiction novel written by Neal Stephenson and published in 1992. It is his third novel. It follows in the footsteps of cyberpunk novels by authors like William Gibson and Rudy Rucker."1 The cyberpunk database refers to it this way, "A breakneck-paced 21st-century novel, Snow Crash interweaves everything from Sumerian myth to visions of a postmodern civilization on the brink of collapse. Faster than the speed of television and a whole lot more fun, Snow Crash is the portrayal of a future that is bizarre enough to be plausible."2

Neal Stephenson is a powerful writer; here are several examples:

  • "The Deliverator's car has enough potential energy packed into its batteries to fire a pound of bacon into the Asteriod Belt."
  • "They are all done up in their wildest and fanciest avatars, hoping that Da5id - The Black Sun's owner and hacker-in-chief - will invite them inside. They flicker and merge together into a hysterical wall. Stunningly beautiful women, computer-airbrushed and retouched at seventy-two frames a second, like Playboy pinups turned three-dimensional, these are would be actresses hoping to be discovered."
  • "The girl types some stuff into the computer. The customer snarls her Visa card down on the fake wood altar top; it sounds like a rifle shot. The girl pries the card up using her inch-long fingernails, a dicey and complicated operation that makes Y.T. think of insects climbing out of their egg sacs."
There is even a quotes site if you want to see more. I plan to re-read the book just to see if it can help me stretch my writing a bit, but that is not the main point of this review.

Snow Crash depicts a computer generated alternate universe, the Metaverse. Characters enter as computer game players. In a fiction imitates fiction, the Metaverse comes to life in Second Life. As Boing Boing puts it, "Penguin Books has launched an in-game publishing venture in the online world Second Life, leading with Neal Stephenson's seminal Snow Crash -- naturally, since Snow Crash's Metaverse inspired Second Life!"4 Confused? Not a problem. Think recursion; "Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by a total of 5,551,929 people from around the globe."5 So now, Penguin books, inventor of the paperback, wants to put Snow Crash and the Metaverse into Second Life. And it isn't fantasy, it is real money. "With each Wired news article on Second Life the economic development gets kicked up one more notch. The proliferation of economic opportunities seem to be limited to the creativity of the ever expanding user base."6 You buy your character (avatar) clothes; you buy land, houses and motorcyles with real money and it becomes Second Life money.7 At this point there is over one million dollars a day changing hand in Second Life, legitimately and less legitimately. Start your Second Life account with one of the new anonymous credit cards8 and it becomes a very interesting tool for invisible e-commerce.

Anyway, back to Snow Crash; it is a digital drug. A summary of the book says, "The intrigue begins when a friend and former employer of Hiro's named Da5id is offered a mysterious new drug called "Snow Crash" inside his office/nightclub in the metaverse called the Black Sun. Being in the metaverse Hiro and Da5id don't expect anything to happen as a result of using Snow Crash, but Da5id ends up only a shadow of his former self (not even being able to put words together, let alone sentences) after the Snow Crash shows him a special bitmap pattern in the form of snow on a scroll in the metaverse."9

My advice is buy the book, read the book, visit Second Life and invest $25.00 to understand this new concept. We can talk about MySpace10 being a fad. "MySpace launched at a time when some of the game-minded were still enthusiastic and the enthusiastic surfers wanted to find more kitsch crap. They jumped on MySpace, created all sorts of culture and profiles complete with massive amounts of media, and helped figure out how to hack the system to make the profiles more expressive. MySpace didn't stop them. As a result, the cultural enthusiasm was nurtured and it grew and grew and grew..."11 But MySpace is growing; Second Life is growing. As business leaders, we do not want to repeat history and be like some of the late adopters of the web who were so ignorant of its promise they didn't even register a domain name.