Snow Crash

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Snow Crash
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Written by: Neal Stephenson
Central Theme:
Genre(s): Cyberpunk
First published: June 1992
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Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world... Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.


Possibly the best-known book by Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash is basically the tale of a sword-slinging hacker who teams up with a badass Kourier in a Post Cyber Punk disincorporated USA to fight "Snow Crash" - a computer virus for the brain. Oh, and there's a badass biker with glass knives and a nuclear bomb strapped to his motorbike, too.

Apart from its frenetic action sequences and overt use of the Rule of Cool, the book is surprisingly deep, with a substantial portion of the plot given over to exploring metaphysical interpretations of the Tower of Babel myth. Typical for a Stephenson novel, the plot juxtaposes action sequences, lengthy humorous digressions, and extremely detailed Infodumps seemingly at random. The book is also notable for its uncanny prediction of future internet trends. While holographic web terminals have not yet come to pass, we do have heavily populated 3D virtual worlds, satellite photograph software, and a massive user-created online library, and certain real world equivalents (Second Life, Google Earth) having been inspired by the book itself.

Snow Crash is the Trope Namer for:
  • Digital Avatar: While the word 'avatar' dates back to Hindu mythology and had been used to describe an online representation of a person in the online RPG Habitat, Snow Crash made the term popular.
  • The Metaverse
Tropes used in Snow Crash include:
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade:
    • Averted by Hiro's katanas. He reminds himself that they can't slice easily through bone, like in the movies.
    • Raven's glass knives are Sharpened to a Single Atom, having a cutting edge a molecule wide, and pass through body armor like tissue paper[1].
  • AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: when the black policeman emphasizes the Y in Y.T. ("whitey"), which is not how she pronounces it. Even after being corrected, he doesn't see the difference.
  • Anachronic Order: The early chapters alternate between Hiro's disastrous pizza-delivery errand and his visit to Da5id's club some time later.
  • Anime Hair: The Japanese rapper Sushi K has a large, orange afro. That's without the special effects.
  • Arbitrarily-Large Bank Account: Hiro after he's hired by Mr. Lee and the Mafia:

Hiro: " I just threw away a brand-new top-of-the-line motorcycle in the middle of the street because I didn't feel like pushing it half a block to the garage. I am on an expense account that would blow your mind."

  • Augmented Reality: The gargoyles do this by wearing all their computer equipment in clunky suits on their body. They're normally regarded as socially-awkward weirdos.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Uncle Enzo. See Retired Badass below.
  • Assimilation Plot: Rife's goal is to use ancient Sumerian programming to remove free will. By the time the story starts, he already has a sizable army of mindless slaves.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Yours Truly (Y.T.), Da5id, and Hiro Protagonist. All of these, however, are handles.
  • Badass: Between Hiro, Raven, Y.T., Uncle Enzo, and the cybernetic rat/dog thing, the book has more badassness than most books should be allowed to have.
  • Badass Biker: How badass? No other biker drives around with a nuclear bomb wired to explode if they die. Hiro also turns himself to one after purchasing a badass bike and some kevlar motorcycle leathers.
  • Badass Bookworm: Hiro can be writing computer code one second, and kicking ass the next.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: the Fedland programming department tracks everything you do at work, including the keystrokes you type and the errors you make, and even performs some curious behavioural analysis on all of that.
  • Brainwashing: Used on Y.T. after being captured by Rife's goons, and generally one of the effects of being infected by Snow Crash.
  • BFG: "I told you they'd listen to Reason"
  • The Cavalry: Done in a particularly awesome fashion with twenty-five hundred Kouriers.
  • Cardboard Prison: YT escapes The Clink in 35 minutes, most of which is spent waiting for Hiro to show up as getaway driver. Justified, since The Clink is cheap even among privatized jails, and Kouriers are Crazy Prepared.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several:
    • Uncle Enzo having the skateboard, which has a glass-shattering charge, right before being attacked by Raven.
    • Hiro's sword-fighting software in the Metaverse, which comes in handy for defeating Raven.
    • Y.T.'s dentata, mentioned several times before Raven falls victim. ]]
    • SnowScan might also count, if it weren't such an obvious setup.
    • Subverted Chekhov's Gun: L Bob Rife is not impressed by Uncle Enzo's dogtags. However, they are used later to show that Enzo does, in fact, care about YT; he gave her his actual tags.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Fido, a dog once kept by Y.T. and now a cybernetic Rat-Thing, ends up saving the day at the end.
  • Church of Happyology: L. Bob Rife's organization, Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates franchise, fits this to an extent. Worshippers pay for religious doctrine and services. However, the franchise itself is not the means of control/coercion.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Slightly subverted. As mentioned below, Hiro wrote the code for virtual sword fights, and as a result he just happens to be the best sword fighter in the whole virtual universe. Of course, he's also very good with them in real life.
  • Cold Sniper: Vic, who has a fittingly nonchalant attitude.
  • Cool Boat: A raft shanty town the size of a large city, built around the aircraft carrier that used to be the USS Enterprise.
  • Cool Car: "The Deliverator" is far, far cooler than any pizza delivery car ever deserves to be. Also, Ng's "wheelchair", which is an airport fire engine with a lot of modifications.
  • Cool Old Guy: Uncle Enzo. He's amiable enough that even Y.T. is nice to him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: L. Bob Rife. Uncle Enzo probably counts, too, but he ends up working with the heroes.
  • Corrupt Politician: Everyone's corrupt. Everything's corrupt.
  • Courier: Y.T.
  • Crapsack World: The USA. The nation has broken into corporate-run city-states, which causes quite a few problems. Even the job of pizza delivery requires a trusty weapon and can carry a death sentence for failure.
  • Cyberspace: The Metaverse.
  • Dead-Man Switch: Raven's nuke, which is set to go off when he dies.
  • Deconstruction: Snow Crash does this in regards to the Cyberpunk genre.
  • Determinator: The Deliverator, the greatest pizza delivery boy of all time. Nothing will stop him from delivering your pizza on time, because a mafioso will put a bullet in the back of his head if he doesn't.
  • Defictionalised:
    • For a brief period, 4chan had a problem where people would be instructed to save an image, change the extension, and run it for their "free sample of Snow Crash". Fortunately all it did was use your computer to post more such images back to 4chan instead of frying your brain, considering the apparently sizable number of people stupid enough to do it.
    • Second Life is quite similar to the concept of the Metaverse. Seeing as it was inspired by the book.
    • Augmented Reality is now available through various smartphone applications.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Although Stephenson obviously did a ridiculous amount of research on things like Sumerian mythology, and is by no means computer illiterate, he does incorrectly say that BIOS stands for Built-In Operating System, when in fact it is Basic Input/Output System. He notes that many people pointed this out after the fact in the acknowledgments, but claims "I am entitled to trample all other considerations into the dirt in my pursuit of a satisfying pun, so this part of the book is unchanged."
  • Divided States of America: The US government now consists of just the FBI and the Post Office. The rest of the country is now a patchwork of autonomous corporate franchises and "Burbclaves."
  • The Don: Uncle Enzo.
  • The Dragon: Raven.
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: Since there's basically no judicial system anymore and the places that aren't lawless are Burbclaves, punishments tend to be strict and easy to execute. For dangerous criminals, a warning to others is tattooed on their forehead.
  • Engrish: Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong uses Engrish as part of its marketing campaign to make its founder Mr. Lee seem cute. In reality, he speaks perfect English and is all business.

It is my pleasure to welcome all quality folks to visiting of Hong Kong. Whether seriously in business or on a fun-loving hijink, make yourself totally homely in this meager environment. If any aspect is not utterly harmonious, gratefully bring it to my notice and I shall strive to earn your satisfaction.

  • Everyone Went to School Together: Late in the novel it's revealed that Raven's and Hiro's dads were both POWs in Japan during World War II, and were attempting to escape together when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki (Raven's dad was looking right at it and went blind, Hiro's swords were taken as trophies from the Japanese officer his dad killed while escaping).
  • Gatling Good: The ultimate BFG of the book is "Reason," a nuclear powered rotary rail gun that shoots needles of depleted uranium and can carry close to half-a-ton of ammo.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The FBI spends most of its effort writing software, as bureaucratically as possible.
  • Handicapped Badass: Ng, a quadruple amputee who drives around in a gigantic van that can shoot missiles and deploy robots that can break the speed of sound. He also builds Reason, which gets used to rip ships in half.
  • Hollywood Cyborg: Thoroughly averted with Ng, the creator of the Rat Things. Having lost most of his mobility in a helicopter attack, he tried prosthetics and use of a powerchair. He ultimately adopted his upgraded van and lives as a torso suspended in an elaborate harness.
  • I Call It Vera: "Reason."
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Several people who find themselves on the receiving end of Raven.
  • Info Dump: Many of them, as is usual for Stephenson. Quite justified too, given how much of the book is spent in a digital library complete with dumb AI librarian.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Said by President Chuck Rightson.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Not quite, but it's a major player in a world where no one government seems to have gotten the upper hand.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Hiro fights with katanas, and even went so far as to hard-code a katana simulator into the virtual universe he helped write. However, Hiro takes a moment to acknowledge that katanas are not supernaturally sharp, as movies would have you believe.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Franchises that don't handle their own security will generally subcontract it out to one of these.
  • Lemony Narrator: And how!
  • Living Legend: Raven, a one man nuclear power with an Absurdly Sharp Blade who wants to blow up America. Hiro counts in cyberspace, where he's a Memetic Badass.
  • Ludicrous Speed: The bikes in the metaverse definitely count
  • The Mafia: Now trading freely and making the best pizzas in America.
  • Man in the Machine: Ng.
  • Meaningful Name: Hiroaki "Hiro" Protagonist. Hiro chose his own nickname and then changed his last name to Protagonist, just to drive the point home.

Y.T.: Stupid name.
Hiro: But you'll never forget it.

  • Mind Virus: The virus that makes people unable to speak. Also implied to be the original reason different languages evolved in the first place; a mind virus in historical times made everyone unintelligible to each other, inspiring the Tower Of Babel myth.
  • More Dakka: "Reason"
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Raven.
  • Nerd Action Hero: Hiro Protagonist is a programmer who in real life is pretty close to broke (after having failed his pizza delivery job) and lives in a self storage facility, although he also own a pretty large chunk of prime real-estate in cyberspace (think IP address block) on account of having been one of the guys who created it. As it happens, he is also the greatest swordfighter in the world (though he mostly gets to demonstrate it in cyberspace), and turn out to be good at other acts of action-heroism as well.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed / Take That: L. Bob Rife is basically a composite caricature of L. Ron Hubbard and Ted Turner, and it's most certainly not an Affectionate Parody.
  • No Name Given:
    • We never learn Y.T.'s real name. At one point it's avoided by simply indicating that her mother "said her name."
    • Y.T.'s mother is never referred to as anything but "Y.T.'s mother."
    • The Mafia lieutenant with the glass eye is never given a name. About halfway through the book he's at least given a nickname: "Fisheye."
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The FBI even goes so far as to send out 10-page memos about toilet paper use, one of which is printed in full in the book.
  • Only Known by Initials: Y.T., although she does give the expansion ("Yours Truly") at one point after a character hears it as "Whitey" and considers taking offence.
  • Plucky Girl: Y.T., a 15-year-old skateboarding courier that doesn't take an ounce of crap from anyone and is loaded with enough self-defense gear to break out of an FBI building. This is not hyperbole; she actually does that.
  • Portmanteau: "Burbclave" is a contraction of "suburban enclave."
  • Post Cyber Punk
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: Reason. Named for, and marked with, what Louis XIV put on his cannons: Ultima Ratio Regum, "The last argument of kings."
  • Privately-Owned Society: As an example, the CIA has converted into the publicly traded CIC.
  • Psycho for Hire: Raven.
  • Retired Badass: Uncle Enzo, who served in Vietnam and is able to fight Raven to a standstill with just a straight razor, his wits, and a skateboard that conveniently disables all his cute glass knives.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: It's cheaper to use billion dollar bills as toilet paper than just go out and buy some. Justified in that the US economy actually DID collapse. Most people use other, more stable forms of currency if they can. Played for laughs the first time it comes up, as Y.T. offers to bribe some cops with $500 billion. It seems like she's just being snarky, but the cops respond that that kind of pocket change wouldn't be worth it. They eventually settle on $750 billion. And then she swipes her card through an in-car credit card reader...
  • Rule of Cool: It might not make sense for there to be a biker with a nuclear bomb in his sidecar, or cyborg dogs that can run faster than the speed of sound, or couriers who skateboard down highways at 100 mph, but damned if it's not cool!
  • Salvage Pirates: When Hiro and the Mafia goons get a boat shot out from under them, they drift for a while in the North Pacific in a life raft, fighting off the occasional gang of pirates who want to kidnap them and sell them into slavery sodomize them all (most likely before killing them) rather than rescue the castaways.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have a Nuke: Raven.
  • Serious Business: Pizza delivery, to the extent of there being a university devoted to the study of the pizza business. If a pizza from Costa Nostra isn't delivered within half an hour, the head of the mafia himself will come to your house to apologize. And the delivery boy will probably be wearing Cement Shoes.
  • Sharpened to a Single Atom: Raven's glass knives are chipped down to a monomolecular edge.
  • Shown Their Work: As usual, Stephenson really wants to tell you all about his latest obsession. This time it's Sumerian mythology.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Some printings give Hiro's full first name as Hiroaki, while others say Hirohito. The latter doubles as a Meaningful Name, considering his dad's past as a WWII vet and POW.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Raven, briefly, to Y.T. near the end. He's not all that persistent, but the creepiness does take its toll when you remember that she's half his age, and he's Raven. She even thinks of him as a psychopath, though she's still attracted to him, and him to her, even after she accidentally knocks him out during sex.
  • Stealth Pun: Fisheye says of the pirates, "I'm sure they'll listen to Reason." Later, we learn that he has a gigantic gatling gun code-named "Reason."
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: It's awfully convenient how easily Hiroaki/Hirohito condenses to Hiro. Ditto Ravinoff > Raven. Of course, both Hiro and Raven chose those nicknames for themselves, so it's hardly unexpected.
  • Stylistic Suck: Behold, the lyrical genius of Sushi K:

I like to rap about sweetened romance/My fond ambition is of your pants/So here is of special remarkable way/Of this fellow raps named Sushi K

  • Super Speed: The Rat Things can run at seven hundred miles an hour on a straightaway.
  • Super Wheelchair: The biggest and largest ever: Ng drives a huge converted airport firetruck attached to his life-support system.
  • Tattooed Crook: Raven, though not by choice. He has an Embarrassing Tattoo on his forehead that reads "Poor Impulse Control," given as a punishment for a crime.
  • Thirty Minutes or It's Free: Serious Business when your pizza company is owned by the Mafia, and they really don't like breaking their word. Delivery boys who break the curfew aren't long for this world.
  • Tower of Babel: The Babel myth plays a key role in the story.
  • Truce Zone: Weapons are not allowed in Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, and they have enough weapons of their own to make sure the rule is followed. Hiro goes here to avoid people who are chasing him, but is able to keep his swords, as he's a citizen.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: If you factor the chronology of it out, Hiro was born in the 1970's and is about 30 years old, so the story takes place around 2005. The book was written around 1992.
  • Walking Armory: Raven is completely loaded up on razor-sharp glass knives that are invisible to radar. Y.T. has a nonlethal variant; she's got her suit set up with multiple tasers, she's got a can of "Liquid Knuckles" which is apparently worse than mace, and even her skateboard has a huge glass-shattering explosive charge in it for emergency defenestration.
  • Vagina Dentata: There is an anti-rape device Y.T. has, called, unsurprisingly, a Dentata. Too bad she forgot to take it out before consensual sex with Raven. There's even a point during the act where she thinks there's something she forgot, but is promptly distracted.
  • Vestigial Empire: Every single nation-state, including the U.S. government. There are no countries anymore, only corporations.
  • The Virus: Snow Crash itself, an STD that makes you Brainwashed and Crazy. "Is Snow Crash a virus, a religion, or a drug?" "What's the difference?"
  • World of Badass: Even characters who only appear for a couple of scenes are totally awesome.
  1. Derived from Real Life - bullet resistant materials like Kevlar do not offer much protection against bladed weapons, although current designs often try to compensate for this.