Snow Crash

Literary significance and criticism

Snow Crash established Stephenson as a major science fiction writer of the 1990s. The book appeared on Time magazine's list of 100 all-time best English-language novels written since 1923.[8]

Some critics have considered it a parody of cyberpunk[9][10] and mentioned its satiric or absurdist humor.[11][12]

In his book The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History, Walter Benn Michaels considers the deeper theoretical implications of Stephenson's book. Comparing the book with a range of contemporary writers—the fiction of Bret Easton Ellis, Kathy Acker, Octavia Butler, and even Paul de Man and the literary criticism of Richard Rorty—Michaels criticizes the deep claims of Stephenson's book: "And yet, in Snow Crash, the bodies of humans are affected by "information" they can't read; the virus, like the icepick [in American Psycho], gets the words inside you even if you haven't read them."[13] Michaels especially targets Stephenson's view that "languages are codes" rather than a grouping of letters and sounds to be interpreted. Michaels further contends that this basic idea of language as code ("...a good deal of Snow Crash's plot depends upon eliding the distinction between hackers and their computers, as if—indeed, in the novel, just because—looking at code will do to the hacker what receiving it will do to the computer"[13]) aligns Stephenson, along with other writers mentioned, with a racially motivated view of culture: that culture is something transmitted and stored by blood (or genetic codes), and not by beliefs and practices. This view entails little to no need for interpretation by people:

The body that is infected by a virus does not become infected because it understands the virus any more than the body that does not become infected misunderstands the virus. So a world in which everything—from bitmaps to blood—can be understood as a "form of speech" is also a world in which nothing actually is understood, a world in which what a speech act does is disconnected from what it means.

— Walter Benn Michaels, The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History[14]

Rorty's Achieving Our Country uses Snow Crash as an example of modern culture that "express the loss of what he [Rorty] calls "national hope"...the problem with Snow Crash is not that it isn't true—after all, it's a story—but that it isn't inspirational."[15] This lack of inspiration is offset by something else Snow Crash and other works like it offer: "These books produce in their readers the 'state of soul' that Rorty calls 'knowingness,' which he glosses as a 'preference for knowledge over hope' (37)";[15] this preference for knowledge "contribute[s] to a more fundamental failure to appreciate the value of inspiration—and hence of literature—itself."[15]

Influence on the World Wide Web and computing

While the 1986 virtual environment Habitat applied the Sanskrit term avatar to online virtual bodies before Stephenson, the success of Snow Crash popularized the term[16] to the extent that avatar is now the accepted term for this concept in computer games and on the World Wide Web.

Many virtual globe programs, including NASA World Wind and Google Earth, bear a resemblance to the "Earth" software developed by the Central Intelligence Corporation in Snow Crash. One Google Earth co-founder claimed that Google Earth was modeled after Snow Crash, while another co-founder said it was inspired by Powers of Ten.[17] Stephenson himself has commented on the legacy of his "Earth" program's god's-eye aesthetic in his novel Reamde, in which his protagonist, a game designer, steals the technique from Google Earth:

The opening screen of T'Rain was a frank rip-off of what you saw when you booted up Google Earth. Richard felt no guilt about this, since he had heard that Google Earth, in turn, was based on an idea from some old science-fiction novel.[18]

Software developer Michael Abrash was inspired by Snow Crash's Metaverse and its networked 3D world. He left Microsoft for Id Software to write something in that direction, the result being Quake.[19] The story for the 3DO game Immercenary was also heavily influenced by Snow Crash.[20]

Possible film or mini-series adaptation

The novel was optioned shortly after its publication and subsequent success, although to date it has never progressed past pre-production. Vincenzo Natali, the director of several notable science-fiction films, in particular has remarked against a two-hour feature film adaptation because of a perceived lack of fit with the form; inasmuch as the novel is "tonally all over the place," he feels that a mini-series would be a more suitable format for the material.[21]

In late 1996, it was announced writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff would adapt the novel for the Kennedy-Marshall Co. and Touchstone Pictures. Marco Brambilla was attached to direct the film.[22]

In June 2012, it was announced that English director Joe Cornish, following the debut of the 2011 film Attack the Block, had been signed as director of a future film adaptation for Paramount Studios.[23] Stephenson has described Cornish's script as "amazing", but also warned that there is no guarantee the film will ever be made.[24]


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