Snow Crash

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Any strategy that involves crossing a valley — accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance — will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.

Snow Crash (1992) is Neal Stephenson's third novel. It follows in the footsteps of cyberpunk novels by such authors as William Gibson and Rudy Rucker, but differs from its predecessors in that it includes much satire and black humor. Like many of Stephenson's other novels, it contains references to history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography and philosophy.


  • When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y'know what? There's only four things we do better than anyone else:
    microcode (software)
    high-speed pizza delivery
    • Chapter 1 (Introduction to Hiro Protagonist, known at this point in the novel as The Deliverator)
  • This is America. People do whatever the fuck they feel like doing, you got a problem with that? Because they have a right to. And because they have guns and no one can fucking stop them.
    • Chapter 1
    Last of the freelance hackers
    Greatest sword fighter in the world
    Stringer, Central Intelligence Corporation
    Specializing in software-related intel
    (music, movies & microcode)
    On the back is gibberish explaining how he may be reached: a telephone number. A universal voice phone locator code. A P.O. box. His address on half a dozen electronic communications nets. And an address in the Metaverse.
    • Chapter 2, Hiro presents his business card to Y.T. (and author's first use of his term "Metaverse" as a better name for virtual reality)
  • When you are wrestling for possession of a sword, the man with the handle always wins.
    • Chapter 3
  • The world is full of power and energy and a person can go far by just skimming off a tiny bit of it.
    • Chapter 4
  • He is not seeing real people, of course. This is all a part of the moving illustration drawn by his computer according to specifications coming down the fiber-optic cable. The people are pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse.
    • Chapter 5
  • It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe they are too smart to be sexists.
    • Chapter 7 (Juanita and Hiro's backstory)
  • Ninety-nine percent of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bullshit, which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds.
    • Chapter 8 (Juanita talking with Hiro)
A third of a million hackers stare at the women, as they unroll the four scrolls…finally the same image snaps into existence on all four of them at once.
  • "Did you win your sword fight?"
    "Of course I won the fucking sword fight," Hiro says. "I'm the greatest sword fighter in the world."
    "And you wrote the software."
    "Yeah. That, too," Hiro says.
    • Chapter 13
  • There is something new: A globe about the size of a grapefruit, a perfectly detailed rendition of Planet Earth, hanging in space at arm's length in front of his eyes. Hiro has heard about this but never seen it. It is a piece of CIC software called, simply, Earth. It is the user interface that CIC uses to keep track of every bit of spatial information that it owns — all the maps, weather data, architectural plans, and satellite surveillance stuff.
  • "Y'know, watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favorite sport."
    • L. Bob Rife, archival television interview, Chapter 14
  • Yeah, you know, a monopolist's work is never done. No such thing as a perfect monopoly. Seems like you can never get that last one-tenth of one percent.
    • Chapter 14 (Interview with L. Bob Rife)
  • Most countries are static, all they need to do is keep having babies. But America's like this big old clanking smoking machine that just lumbers across the landscape scooping up and eating everything in sight.
    • Chapter 14 (Interview with L. Bob Rife)
  • Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side of the Central Intelligence Corporation. Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset. They serve as human surveillance devices, recording everything that happens around them. Nothing looks stupider; these getups are the modern-day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once above and far below human society. They are a boon to Hiro because they embody the worst stereotype of the CIC stringer. They draw all the attention. The payoff for this self-imposed ostracism is that you can be in the Metaverse all the time, and gather intelligence all the time.
    • Chapter 15
  • "Jason Breckinridge," the man says.
    "The Iron Pumper," Jason reminds him.
    "Shut up. For the rest of this conversation, you don't say anything. When I tell you what you did wrong, you don't say you're sorry, because I already know you're sorry. And when you drive outta here alive, you don't thank me for being alive. And you don't even say goodbye to me."
    Jason nods.
    "I don't even want you to nod, that's how much you annoy me. Just freeze and shut up."
    • Fisheye, Chapter 18
  • "You don't respect those people very much, Y.T., because you're young and arrogant. But I don't respect them much either, because I'm old and wise."
    • Uncle Enzo and Y.T., discussing the predominantly suburban Young Mafia, Chapter 21
  • ...Juanita's going to hire him, right? — he slams the button for LAVATORY GRANDE ROYALE.
    Never been here before. It's like something on the top floor of a luxury high-rise casino in Atlantic City, where they put semi-retarded adults from South Philly after they've blundered into the mega-jackpot. It's got everything that a dimwitted pathological gambler would identify with luxury: gold-plated fixtures, lots of injection-molded pseudomarble, velvet drapes, and a butler.
    • Hiro opts for the upgrade in his local pay-bathroom, Chapter 24
  • The franchise and the virus work on the same principle: what thrives in one place will thrive in another. You just have to find a sufficiently virulent business plan, condense it into a three-ring binder — its DNA — xerox it, and embed it in the fertile lining of a well-traveled highway, preferably one with a left-turn lane….
    • Chapter 24
  • "No surprises" is the motto of the franchise ghetto…. The people of America, who live in the world's most surprising and terrible country, take comfort in that motto.
    Follow the loglo outward, to where the growth is enfolded into the valleys and the canyons, and you find the land of the refugees….
    They have parallel-parked their bimbo boxes in identical computer-designed Burbclave street patterns and secreted themselves in symmetrical sheetrock shitholes with vinyl floors and ill-fitting woodwork and no sidewalks ….
    The only ones left in the city are street people…immigrants…young bohos; and the technomedia priesthood….
    Young, smart people like Da5id and Hiro, who take the risk of living in the city because they like stimulation and they know they can handle it.
    • Chapter 24
  • "But there have been several efforts to deliver us from the hands of primitive, irrational religion. The first was made by someone named Enki about four thousand years ago. The second was made by Hebrew scholars in the eighth century B.C. ... but eventually it just devolved into empty legalism. Another attempt was made by Jesus — that one was hijacked by viral influences within fifty days of his death. The virus was suppressed by the Catholic Church, but we're in the middle of a big epidemic that started in Kansas in 1900 and has been gathering momentum ever since."
    • Juanita to Hiro, Chapter 26
  • "Wait a minute, Juanita. Make up your mind. This Snow Crash thing—is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?"
    Juanita shrugs. "What's the difference?"
    • Hiro and Juanita, Chapter 26
  • "Do you believe in God or not?" Hiro says. First things first.
    "Do you believe in Jesus?"
    "Yes. But not in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus."
    "How can you be a Christian without believing in that?"
    "I would say," Juanita says, "how can you be a Christian with it? Anyone who takes the trouble to study the gospels can see that the bodily resurrection is a myth that was tacked onto the real story several years after the real histories were written. It's so National Enquirer-esque, don't you think?"
    • Chapter 26
  • "Who worshipped Asherah?"
    "Everyone who lived between India and Spain, from the second millennium B.C. up into the Christian era. With the exception of the Hebrews, who only worshipped her until the religious reforms...."
    "I thought the Hebrews were monotheists…."
    "Monolatrists. They did not deny the existence of other gods.... Asherah was venerated as the consort of Yahweh."
    "I don't remember anything about God having a wife in the Bible."
    "The Bible didn't exist at that point. Judaism was just a loose collection of Yahwistic cults, each with different shrines and practices."
    • Hiro and the Librarian, Chapter 30
The Sacrifice Zone Program was developed to manage parcels of land whose clean-up cost exceeds their total future economic value.
  • Like all Sacrifice Zones, this one has a fence around it, with yellow metal signs wired to it every few yards:
    WARNING. The National Parks Service has declared
    this area to be a National Sacrifice Zone.
    The Sacrifice Zone Program was developed to manage
    parcels of land whose clean-up cost exceeds
    their total future economic value.

    And like all Sacrifice Zone fences, this one has holes in it and is partially torn down in places.
    Young men blasted out of their minds on natural and artificial male hormones must have some place to do their idiotic coming-of-age rituals.
    • Chapter 31
  • "If you ever find yourself in the presence of a destructive force powerful enough to decapsulate those isotopes," Ng says, "radiation sickness will be the least of your worries."
    • Chapter 32
  • It's like, if you — people of a certain age — would make some effort to just stay in touch with sort of basic, modern-day events, then your kids wouldn't have to take these drastic measures.
    • Chapter 34 (Y.T., to her mother, after smashing her computer)
  • 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. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
    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.
    • Chapter 36
  • All these beefy Caucasians with guns! Get enough of them together, looking for the America they always believed they'd grow up in, and they glom together like overcooked rice, form integral starchy little units. With their power tools, portable generators, weapons, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and personal computers, they are like beavers hyped up on crystal meth, manic engineers without a blueprint, chewing through the wilderness, building things and abandoning them, altering the flow of mighty rivers and then moving on because the place ain't what it used to be.
    • Chapter 39 (Hiro's observation as he drives along the Alaska Highway)
  • If there was still such a thing as income tax, then every year when Vic filled out his 1040 form he would put down, as his occupation, "sniper."
    • Chapter 48
  • The powerless life raft, sloshing around the North Pacific, emits a vast, spreading plume of steam like that of an Iron Horse chugging full blast over the Continental Divide. Neither Hiro nor Eliot ever mentions, or even notices, the by-now-obvious fact that Fisheye is traveling with a small, self-contained nuclear power source.... As long as Fisheye refuses to notice this fact, it would be rude for them to bring it up.
    • Chapter 48
  • "The important thing is, Hiro, that you have to understand the Mafia way. And the Mafia way is that we pursue larger goals under the guise of personal relationships. ... This is how we avoid the trap of self-perpetuating ideology. Ideology is a virus. So getting this chick back is more than just getting a chick back. It's the concrete manifestation of an abstract policy goal. And we like concrete — right, Vic?"
    • Fisheye explaining the purpose of his stalled rescue mission to Hiro, Chapter 48
  • "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."
    • Chapter 51
  • It's all in the eyes. Along with picking handcuffs, vaulting Jersey barriers, and fending off perverts, it is one of the quintessential Kourier skills: walking around in a place where you don't belong without attracting suspicion. And you do it by not looking at anyone. Keep those eyes straight ahead no matter what, don't open them too wide, don't look tense. That, and the fact that she just came in here with a guy that everyone is scared of...
    • Y.T., on the Raft, Chapter 54
Like human receptionists, the daemon is especially bad at handling irony…Also like a human receptionist, it is not possible to impress her.
  • "Yes, sir," she says. "Is this in regard to sales or customer service?"
    "Customer service."
    "Whom are you with?"
    "You name it, I'm with them."
    "I'm sorry?" Like human receptionists, the daemon is especially bad at handling irony.
    "At the moment, I think I'm working for the Central Intelligence Corporation, the Mafia, and Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong."
    "I see," says the receptionist, making a note. Also like a human receptionist, it is not possible to impress her.
    • Hiro, attempting to download a Reason software update in the Metaverse, Chapter 55
  • "You working with Fisheye?" Ng says, lighting up a cig. The smoke swirls in the air ostentatiously. It takes as much computing power realistically to model the smoke coming out of Ng's mouth as it does to model the weather system of the entire planet.
    • Hiro in Ng's 397th floor Metaverse office, Chapter 55
  • "As we learned in Vietnam, high-powered weapons are so sensorily overwhelming that they are similar to psychoactive drugs. Like LSD, which can convince people they can fly--causing them to jump out of windows--weapons can make people overconfident. Skewing their tactical judgement."
    • Ng to Hiro in Ng Security's Metaverse office, Chapter 55
  • "What kind of combat environment do you want to use Reason in?" Ng says.
    "I need to take over an aircraft carrier tomorrow morning."
    • Hiro in Ng's 397th floor Metaverse office, Chapter 55
  • "We would all like to know what the hell is going on," Mr. Lee says. His English is almost devoid of a Chinese accent; clearly his cute, daffy public image is just a front.
    • Chapter 55
Cuneiform tablet bearing a hymn to Enki.
  • We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep on humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.
    • Chapter 56
  • "Babel led to an explosion in the number of languages. That was part of Enki's plan.... After a few thousand years, one new language developed — Hebrew — that possessed exceptional flexibility and power. The deuteronomists, a group of radical monotheists in the sixth and seventh centuries B.C., were the first to take advantage of it. They lived in a time of extreme nationalism and xenophobia, which made it easier for them to reject foreign ideas like Asherah worship. They formalized their old stories into the Torah and implanted within it a law that insured its propagation throughout history — a law that said, in effect, 'make an exact copy of me and read it every day.'..."
    • Hiro, explaining early struggles against the Metavirus to Mr. Ng, Mr. Lee and Uncle Enzo, Chapter 56
  • Another man duck-walks across the flight deck.... He's about sixty, with a dirigible of white hair that was not ruffled in any way by the downdraft.
    "Hello, everyone," he says cheerfully.
    "Who are you?" Tony says.
    The new guy looks crestfallen. "Greg Ritchie," he says.
    Then, when no one seems to react, he jogs their memory. "President of the United States."
    "Oh! Sorry. Nice to meet you, Mr. President," Tony says, extending his hand....
    "Frank Frost," Frank says, extending his hand and looking bored.
    "Don't mind me," Y.T. says, when Ritchie looks her way. "I'm a hostage."
    • Chapter 60
A Soviet Kamov Ka-27 flies near the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in 1988.
  • "You don't give me the tablet, I'm gonna empty this clip into the windshield of your chopper."
    "It's bulletproof! Haw!" Rife says.
    "No it isn't," Hiro says, "as the rebels in Afghanistan found out."
    "He is right," the pilot says.
    "Fucking Soviet piece of shit! They put all that steel in its belly and then made the windshield out of glass?"
    • Chapter 60, on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65)
  • Their eyes meet and her heart starts flopping around weakly, like a bunny in a Ziploc bag.
    • Chapter 62
  • Fido comes out of his doggie house, curls his long legs beneath him, and jumps over the fence around his yard before he has remembered that he is not capable of jumping over it. This contradiction is lost on him, though; as a dog, introspection is not one of his strong points.
    • Chapter 65
  • 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.
    Jack the sound barrier. Bring the noise.
    • Chapter 65
  • They have shut down the airport. This was easy to do: they just pulled Lincoln Town Cars onto all the runways, for starters, and then went into the control tower and announced that in a few minutes they would be going to war. Now, LAX is probably quieter than it has been at any point since it was built. Uncle Enzo can actually hear the faint crashing of surf on the beach, half a mile away.
    It is almost pleasant here. Weenie-roasting weather.
    • The Mafia declares war, Chapter 69
  • "Send someone out to pick up the abandoned pizza car. And give the driver a day off," Uncle Enzo says.
    The lieutenant looks somewhat taken aback that Uncle Enzo is concerning himself with such a tiny detail. It is as if the don were going up and down highways picking up litter or something. But he nods respectfully, having just learned something: details matter.
    • Chapter 69
  • 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 L. Bob Rife would not be able to see it, if it were not headed directly for him.
    • Chapter 71


  • The idea of a "virtual reality" such as the Metaverse is by now widespread in the computer-graphics community and is being implemented in a number of different ways. The particular vision of the Metaverse as expressed in this novel originated from idle discussion between me and Jaime (Captain Bandwidth) Taaffe — which does not imply that blame for any of the unrealistic or tawdry aspects of the Metaverse should be placed on anyone but me. The words "avatar" (in the sense used here) and "Metaverse" are my inventions, which I came up with when I decided that existing words (such as "virtual reality") were simply too awkward to use. [...] after the first publication of 'Snow Crash' I learned that the term "avatar" has actually been in use for a number of years as part of a virtual reality system called "Habitat" [...] in addition to avatars, Habitat includes many of the basic features of the Metaverse as described in this book.
    • Author's acknowledgments, Snow Crash, Bantam, 2003 (reissue), pp. 469-70
  • Such a world wouldn't be stable unless each little "burbclave" had the ability to defend itself from all external threats. This is not plausible, barring some huge advances in defensive technology.
    • "Neal Stephenson's Past, Present, and Future", interview with Reason Magazine, February 2005

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