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 the tale of a sword-slinging hacker who teams up with an extreme skateboarder
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, and the jury's still out on whether Google Glass will allow the "gargoyle" to finally be realized, 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.
- 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
This book also provides examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade:
- Raven's glass knives are Sharpened to a Single Atom, having a cutting edge a molecule wide, and pass through body armor like tissue papernote .
- Averted by Hiro's katanas. He reminds himself that they can't slice easily through bone, like in the movies.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 sizeable army of mindless slaves.
- 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, the head of the Mafia, is also a former Marine commando who saw plenty of action.
- Awesome McCoolname: Yours Truly (Y.T.), Da5id, and Hiro Protagonist. Only the last of these, however, is not self-applied (Hiro is short for Hiroaki).
- Bad Ass: Between Hiro, Raven, Y.T., Fisheye, 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.
- BFG: "I told you they'd listen to Reason"
- 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 behavioral 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.
- Brown Note: The Snow Crash bitmap image.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : The FBI document that Y.T.'s Mother reads has a listing for how long it should take to read, calculated to the second. If you take too long, you'll be marked as slow on your performance review. If you take too little time, you'll be marked as missing details. And if you read it in the exact right amount of time, you'll be marked as a smart ass.
- 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.
- The Cavalry: Done in a particularly awesome fashion with twenty-five hundred Kouriers.
- 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.
- 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. His name is an obvious reference to L. Ron Hubbard.
- Cold Sniper: Vic, who has a fittingly nonchalant attitude.
“It’s, like, one of them drug dealer boats,” Vic says, looking through his magic sight. “Five guys on it. Headed our way.” He fires another round. “Correction. Four guys on it.” Boom. “Correction, they’re not headed our way anymore.” Boom. A fireball erupts from the ocean two hundred feet away. “Correction. No boat.”
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Subverted. Early on, it's implied that Hiro is only the Metaverse's best swordsman because he wrote the code, and could therefore exploit it as he wishes. In the real world, however, he turns out to be just as skilled as he is in the Metaverse.
- 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.
- Cosy Catastrophe: Despite the world being objectively quite horrifying, it's presented in such an everyday, matter-of-fact way that it fits this trope. And nobody seems terribly nostalgic for the past.
- 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.
- 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, unsurprising when you know that it was inspired by the book. A group of fans puts on a performance of the book in Second Life once a year.
- Augmented Reality is now available through various smartphone applications.
- Google Earth was inspired by the mapping/satellite imagery app described in this book.
- 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.
- 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 no formal 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. However, giant alpha males with unstoppable knives and the words "Poor Impulse Control" on their foreheads probably don't get teased a lot.
- 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.)
- Expositron 9000: Librarian conveniently gives Hiro an interactive way to puzzle through disparate plot points and large amounts of historical research to come up with his unifying theory of how all the different virus modes are enabling L. Bob Rife to try to take over the world.
- Eyepatch of Power: 'Fisheye' has a glass eye which has the same effect of conveying his badassery.
- 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.
- Genius Cripple: Ng is a cyborg wired into his vehicle who develops advanced military hardware.
- Gorn: Oh yeah, there's some graphic violence in here, such as a scene where Raven guts Lagos like a fish, then cuts a gangster's femoral arteries causing all his blood to fall out of him.
- 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.
- Hero Protagonist: To its literal extreme, in that the main character's name is Hiro[aki] Protagonist.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Alas, poor Fido. Made a double gut punch by the fact all Y.T. has to say on the matter is "Sweet!"
- High-Pressure Blood: Make no mistake, this is a pretty bloody book in places. This trope comes into effect during an altercation in which Hiro beheads a racist that threatens him, creating a cloud of blood from each carotid artery that rains down over the people sitting nearby.
- 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.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Said by President Chuck Rightson.
- 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.
- 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. He even remonstrates with himself when he decapitates a racist thug in one stroke that he forgot his training and acted as if the blade would pass cleanly through his target; sure, in this instance it did, but that was just luck.
- 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. There's no air resistance to worry about, engines can be as powerful as the programmer makes them, tyres have mathematically perfect grip, and running headlong into an obstacle just brings you to a stop with no harm done - unless doing so causes you to lose sight of the Big Bad, of course...
- 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 owns 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 turns out to be good at other acts of action-heroism as well.
- Nineties Anti-Hero: Raven is a well-done example. He's a (glass) knife-using Badass Biker who carries a nuke around and he's named Raven. While at first his characterization is pretty much "this guy is badass," he eventually gets fleshed out more.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed / Take That: L. Bob Rife is a composite caricature of L. Ron Hubbard and Ted Turner, and it's most certainly not an Affectionate Parody.
- No Koreans In Japan: Averted, Hiro's mom is Korean, who lived in Japan during the War.
- 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." (Her surname is revealed in the pages of The Diamond Age.)
- 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. He even lampshades it himself... "You can think of me as that one guy." He isn't even given his nickname, "Fisheye," until halfway through the book.
- No Social Skills: Gargoyles
- 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 offense.
- 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."
- Present Tense Narrative: Perhaps reflecting how most of the characters tend to live their lives in the 'now'.
- Pretentious Latin Motto: Reason. Named for, and marked with, what Louis XIV put on his cannons: Ultima Ratio Regum, "The last argument of kings." (i.e. violence)
- Privately Owned Society: As an example, the CIA has merged with the Library of Congress, and the resulting entity 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.
- Sensory Abuse: Vitaly Chernobyl's style of music. Setting up for a gig involves programming computer equipment and positioning speakers to maximize the amount of nasty, clashing echoes.
- 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.
- Sniping the Cockpit: Hiro threatens to do this to a mi-24 Hind, referencing the reports of Mujahedin doing so in Afghanistan. However rather than using the Mujahedin choice of combined anti-tank rife and crew-served machine gun fire aimed at the ballistic glass, Hiro threatens them with a 9mm handgun. While everyone else is initially incredulous, one person who should know better, the Russian pilot, is for some reason the one who falls for it, nevertheless nothing comes of it.
- 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:
- Super Speed: The Rat Things can run at seven hundred miles an hour on a straightaway. To quote:
As part of Mr. Lee's good neighbor policy, all Rat Things are programmed never to break the sound barrier in a populated area. But Fido's in too much of a hurry to worry about the good neighbor policy.
A powerful disturbance is moving through the flame, leaving a linear trail in the light, like a cosmic ray fired through a cloud chamber. By the force of its passage, it leaves behind a shock wave that is clearly visible in the flame, a bright spreading cone that is a hundred times larger than the dark source at its apex: a black bulletlike thing supported on four legs that are churning too fast to be visible. It is so small and so fast that Rife would not be able to see it, if it were not headed directly for him.
- 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.
- Third-Person Person: Y.T., sometimes.
- 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.
- 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?"
- Video Game Perversity Potential: The Metaverse, as first mentioned, describes an avatar that looks like male genitalia.
- Walking Armory: Raven is completely loaded up on razor-sharp glass knives that are invisible to metal detectors. 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.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Raven's nuclear bomb dead man switch?
- Arguably, Hiro himself. The last we see of him is his avatar entering the Snow Crash program that was going to destroy all the hackers' minds.
- World of Badass: Even characters who only appear for a couple of scenes are totally awesome.