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.
The Deliverator — Raven’s nuclear sidecar (1-20)
- When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries…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:
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
- HIRO PROTAGONIST
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.
- When you are wrestling for possession of a sword, the man with the handle always wins.
- Chapter 3
- Y.T. has been privileged to watch many a young Clint plant his sweet face in an empty Burbclave pool during an unauthorized night run, but always on a skateboard, never ever in a car. The landscape of the suburban night has much weird beauty if you just look.
- Chapter 4
- CHISELED SPAM is what you will see in the mirror if you surf on a weak plank with dumb, fixed wheels and interface with a muffler, retread, snow turd, road-kill, driveshaft, railroad tie, or unconscious pedestrian…
Buy a set of RadiKS Mark II Smartwheels - it's cheaper than a total face retread and a lot more fun. Smartwheels use sonar, laser rangefinding, and millimeter-wave radar to identify mufflers and other debris before you even get honed about them.
- 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)
- Ng Security Industries Semi-Autonomous Guard Unit #A-367 lives in a pleasant black-and-white Metaverse where porterhouse steaks grow on trees, dangling at head level from low branches, and blood-drenched Frisbees fly through the crisp, cool air for no reason at all, until you catch them.
Out in the world beyond his yard, there are other yards with other doggies just like him. These aren't nasty dogs. They are all his friends.
- Chapter 12
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…We of Greater Hong Kong take many prides in our tiny nation's extravagant growth…
The potentials of all ethnic races and anthropologies to merge under a banner of the Three Principles to follow:
1. Information, information, information!
2. Totally fair marketeering!
3. Strict ecology!
have been peerless in the history of economic strife…
Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong is a private, wholly extraterritorial, sovereign, quasi-national entity not recognized by any other nationalities and in no way affiliated with the former Crown Colony of Hong Kong…
Join us instantly!
Your enterprising partner,
- Chapter 12, excerpts from poster in a Mr. Lee's franchulate in the San Fernando Valley.
- Only the Mafia drives cars like that…You see these Town Cars everywhere, but you never see them move…She's not even sure they have engines in them.
- Chapter 12
- "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.
- Passage that partially inspired Google Earth, Chapter 13
- The librarian daemon looks like a pleasant, fiftyish, silver-haired, bearded man with bright blue eyes, wearing a V-neck sweater over a work shirt, with a coarsely woven, tweedy-looking wool tie. The tie is loosened, the sleeves pushed up. Even though he's just a piece of software, he has reason to be cheerful; he can move through the nearly infinite stacks of information in the Library with the agility of a spider dancing across a vast web of cross-references. The Librarian is the only piece of CIC software that costs even more than Earth; the only thing he can't do is think.
- Chapter 13
- "Watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favorite sport."
- Chapter 14, L. Bob Rife, archival television interview.
- "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, L. Bob Rife, second archival television interview.
- "The function of the Raft is to bring more biomass. To renew America. 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…Nobody really gets eaten. It's just a figure of speech. They come here, they get decent jobs, find Christ, buy a Weber grill, and live happily ever after. What's wrong with that?"
- Chapter 14, L. Bob Rife, subsequent archival television interview, at the beginning of the Raft phenomenon.
- "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."
"I don't even want you to nod, that's how much you annoy me. Just freeze and shut up."
- Fisheye, Chapter 18
- Mental note: Whether or not Raven intended to take on a bunch of Crips and Enforcers single-handedly tonight, he didn't even bother to pack a gun.
- Chapter 19
- Hiro watches the large, radioactive, spear-throwing killer drug-lord ride his motorcycle into Chinatown. Which is the same as riding it into China, as far as chasing him down is concerned.
- Chapter 19
- "Raven's packing a torpedo warhead that he boosted from an old Soviet nuke sub," Squeaky says. "It was a torpedo that was designed to take out a carrier battle group with one shot. A nuclear torpedo. You know that funny-looking sidecar that Raven has on his Harley? Well, it's a hydrogen bomb…hooked up to EEG trodes embedded in his skull."
- Chapter 20
Meeting Uncle Enzo — wreck of the Kowloon (21-46)
- "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
- Y.T. stops walking, turns, finally looks at the guy. He's tall, lean. Black suit, black hair. And he's got a gnarly-looking glass eye.
"What happened to your eye?" she says.
"Ice pick, Bayonne, 1985," he says. "Any other questions?"
- Chapter 22
- "You want me to steal something," Y.T. says.
The man with the glass eye is pained, wounded. "No, no, no. Kid, listen. We're the fucking Mafia. We want to steal something, we already know how to do that, okay?"
- Chapter 22
- 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 Jesus?" Hiro says.
"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
- "Would Sumerian sound anything like glossolalia?"
"Judgment call. Ask someone real," the Librarian says.
- Chapter 27
- "There is no provable genetic relationship between Sumerian and any tongue that came afterward," the Librarian says…
"Okay. Does anyone understand Sumerian?" Hiro says.
"Yes, at any given time, it appears that there are roughly ten people in the world who can read it."
"Where do they work?"
"One in Israel. One at the British Museum. One in Iraq. One at the University of Chicago. One at the University of Pennsylvania. And five at Rife Bible College in Houston, Texas."
- Chapter 27
- "What is the nam-shub of Enki?" Hiro says.
The Librarian stares off into the distance and clears his throat dramatically.
"Once upon a time, there was no snake, there was no scorpion,
There was no hyena, there was no lion,
There was no wild dog, no wolf,
There was no fear, no terror,
Man had no rival.
In those days, the land Shubur-Hamazi,
Harmony-tongued Sumer, the great land of the me of princeship,
Uri, the land having all that is appropriate,
The land Martu, resting in security,
The whole universe, the people well cared for,
To Enlil in one tongue gave speech.
Then the lord defiant, the prince defiant, the king defiant,
Enki, the lord of abundance, whose commands are trustworthy,
The lord of wisdom, who scans the land,
The leader of the gods,
The lord of Eridu, endowed with wisdom,
Changed the speech in their mouths, put contention into it,
Into the speech of man that had been one.”
- Ng's Metaverse home is a French colonial villa in the prewar village of My Tho in the Mekong Delta. Visiting him is like going to Vietnam in about 1955, except that you don't have to get all sweaty.
Somewhere in this house a radio is going, playing a mix of Vietnamese loungy type stuff and Yank wheelchair rock.
"Are you a Nova Sicilia citizen?" Ng says.
"No. I just chill sometimes with Uncle Enzo and the other Mafia dudes."
Ng is not a man in a hurry.
- Chapter 29
- "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
- 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
- "Ah, this is good," Ng says. "A place where the young men gather to take drugs."
Y.T. rolls her eyes at this display of tubularity. This must be the guy who writes all those antidrug pamphlets they get at school. Like he's not getting a million gallons of drugs every second through all of those gross tubes.
- 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 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…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)
Y.T.’s date on the Raft — war at LAX (47-71)
- He's got something written on his forehead: POOR IMPULSE CONTROL. Which is kind of scary. Sexy, too. This guy is the first person she's seen around this place who really looks like he belongs on the Raft.
- Chapter 47
- There are four men in the life raft:
- Hiro Protagonist, self-employed stringer for the Central Intelligence Corporation, whose practice used to be limited to so-called "dry" operations, meaning that he sat around and soaked up information and then later spat it back into the Library, the CIC database, without ever actually doing anything. Now his practice has become formidably wet. Hiro is armed with two swords and a nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, known colloquially as a nine, with two ammunition clips, each carrying eleven rounds.
- Vic, unspecified last name. 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." In classic sniper style, Vic is reticent, unobtrusive. He is armed with a long, large-caliber rifle with a bulky mechanism mounted on its top, where a telescopic sight might be found if Vic were not at the leading edge of his profession. Vic may safely be presumed to be carrying additional small concealed weapons.
- Eliot Chung. Eliot used to be the skipper of a boat called the Kowloon. At the moment, he is between jobs. Eliot grew up in Watts, and when he speaks English, he sounds like a black guy. Genetically speaking, he is entirely Chinese. He is fluent in both black and white English as well as Cantonese, Taxilinga, and some Vietnamese, Spanish, and Mandarin. Eliot is armed with a .44 Magnum revolver, which he carried on board the Kowloon "just for the halibut," i.e., he used it to execute halibut before passengers hauled them on board. Halibut grow very large and can thrash so violently that they can easily kill the people who hook them.
- "Fisheye." This is the man with the glass eye. He will only identify himself by his nickname. He is armed with a large, fat black suitcase.
- 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."
- Fisheye explaining the purpose of his stalled rescue mission to Hiro, Chapter 48
- Hiro knows one thing: The Metaverse has now become a place where you can get killed. Or at least have your brain reamed out to the point where you might as well be dead…Guns have come to Paradise.
It serves them right, he realizes now. They made the place too vulnerable. They figured that the worst thing that could happen was that a virus might get transferred into your computer… The Metaverse is wide open and undefended, like airports in the days before bombs and metal detectors, like elementary schools in the days before maniacs with assault rifles.
There are no cops. You can't defend yourself, you can't chase the bad people. It's going to take a lot of work to change that — a fundamental rebuilding of the whole Metaverse, carried out on a planetwide, corporate level.
- 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
- "Yes, sir," she says. "Is this in regard to sales or 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
- The [CGI] cigarette 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
- "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
- 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, radical monotheists, 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…
"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
- 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 on L. Bob Rife, 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
Stephenson on Snow Crash
- This book germinated in a collaboration between me and the artist Tony Sheeder, the original goal of which was to publish a computer-generated graphic novel. In general, I handled the words and he handled the pictures; but even though this work consists almost entirely of words, certain aspects of it stem from my discussions with Tony…I became intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Macintosh during the early phases…when it became clear that the only way to make the Mac do the things we needed was to write a lot of custom image-processing software. I have probably spent more hours coding during the production of this work than I did actually writing it, even though it eventually turned away from the original graphic concept.
- Author's acknowledgments, Snow Crash, Bantam, 2003 (reissue), pp. 469-70
- 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
- So I’m well aware that there are certain people frustrated with the endings of my books. I can remember at the time I was writing it, I told a friend of mine that the climax of Snow Crash was now longer than Moby-Dick: There’s a helicopter that gets brought down; there’s a private jet that blows up; some people die; there’s confrontation and a girl goes home with her mom — so it seems like a good ending to me. [audience laughter]
Once you write a book or two with controversial endings — and that meme gets going, of “Stephenson can’t write endings” — then that gets slapped on everything that you do no matter how elaborate the ending is.
- Response to audience question at a Authors@google appearance, Google headquarters, Mountain View, CA., September 12, 2008