This is an action-packed novel slowed down in places by some intrusive background information. It seems to have been popular and influential in the 1990s, and inspired various virtual worlds that have now been created in cyberspace, such as Second Life.
It's set in a future in which the American government still exists, and still employs quite a lot of people, but seems to be largely irrelevant to everyone else. The President's name and face are not recognized. If the book ever explains how this diminished form of government functions, I missed it.
The story is mostly about the main characters, described below:
- L. Bob Rife is in a way the central character although he's also rather a non-character, remaining offstage for most of the book. He's a rich man who discovers from someone else's research that the long-dead language of ancient Sumeria is the machine language of the human brain, and he decides to use it to take over the world by programming everyone to do as he says. As a weapon against clever people who might find out what he's up to, he also develops a kind of virus called Snow Crash, which computer programmers (but only computer programmers) can catch by looking at a screenful of data. It fries their brains. All of this is seriously implausible, but it takes up only a relatively small part of the book.
- Hiro Protagonist is an African/Asian-American software wizard who happens to be delivering pizzas for the Mafia at the start of the book. He was in at the start of the Metaverse, a virtual world existing only in cyberspace, and hence knows some of its secrets. He's armed with a matched pair of Samurai swords that he inherited from his father and knows how to use. Hiro is loosely allied with Y.T., Uncle Enzo, and others opposed to Rife.
- Y.T. (short for Yours Truly) is a fifteen-year-old girl who ought to be a minor character, but turns into a major character because the author and several of the other major characters (plus one of the extraordinary Rat Things) are unaccountably fond of her. She works as a courier, delivering packages on her technologically-enhanced skateboard. She's quite likeable and has a nice line in cheeky dialogue, emerging as the best character of the book, but she's impossibly resourceful for her age and nothing like as believable as Tabitha Jute, for instance.
- Raven is an Aleut, a native of the Aleutian Islands on the fringes of the Arctic. He's large and deadly, armed with an endless supply of glass knives and glass-barbed harpoons, and he kills almost everyone who gets in his way. In spite of which, he's not entirely unlikeable. He has his own private agenda, but he also has an alliance of convenience with Rife.
- Uncle Enzo is the head of the Mafia, and not really a major character, but he rates an honourable mention because he's the only person in the book to fight Raven in the real world without definitely losing. Hiro fights Raven in the Metaverse without losing; but Hiro has unfair advantages in the Metaverse.
I quite enjoyed the book despite its occasional bloody deaths and occasional briefings on Sumeria. I wouldn't rate it as one of my favourites, but it was worth reading for the colourful and imaginative worlds that it describes (the real world and the Metaverse), and even for its weird account of Sumerian history and language.
Written in October 2006