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Snow Crash  
U.S. version cover shot
Author Neal Stephenson
Cover artist Bruce Jensen
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction, Cyberpunk, Postcyberpunk
Publisher Bantam Books (USA)
Publication date June 1992
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 480 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-553-08853-X (first edition, hardback)
OCLC Number 25026617
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 20
LC Classification PS3569.T3868 S65 1992

Snow Crash is Neal Stephenson's third novel, published in 1992. Like many of Stephenson's other novels it references history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, and philosophy.

Stephenson explained the title of the novel in his 1999 essay In the Beginning... was the Command Line as his term for a particular software failure mode on the early Apple Macintosh computer. Stephenson wrote about the Macintosh that "When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set — a 'Snow crash'".

Snow Crash was nominated for both the British Science Fiction Award in 1993,[1] and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1994.[2]



The story begins and ends in Los Angeles, which is no longer part of what is left of the United States, during the early 21st century. In this hypothetical future reality the federal government of the United States has ceded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs.[3] Franchising, individual sovereignty and private vehicles reign (along with drug trafficking, violent crime, and traffic congestion). Mercenary armies compete for national defense contracts while private security guards preserve the peace in gated, sovereign housing developments. Highway companies compete to attract drivers to their roads rather than the competitors', and all mail delivery is by hired courier. The remnants of government maintain authority only in isolated compounds where they transact tedious make-work that is, by and large, irrelevant to the dynamic society around them.

Much of the territory ceded by the government has been carved up into sovereign enclaves, each run by its own big business franchise (such as "Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong") or the various residential burbclaves (suburban enclaves). This arrangement resembles anarcho-capitalism, a theme Stephenson carries over to his next novel The Diamond Age. Hyperinflation has devalued the dollar to the extent that trillion dollar bills — Ed Meeses — are nearly disregarded and the quadrillion dollar note — the Gipper — is the standard 'small' bill. For physical transactions people resort to alternative, non-hyperinflated currencies such as yen or "Kongbucks" (the official currency of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong).

The Metaverse, a phrase coined by Stephenson as a successor to the Internet, constitutes Stephenson's vision of how a virtual reality-based Internet might evolve in the near future. Resembling an MMO, the Metaverse is populated by user controlled avatars as well as system daemons. Although there are public-access Metaverse terminals in Reality, using them carries a social stigma among Metaverse denizens, in part because of the poor visual representations of themselves as low-quality avatars. Status in the Metaverse is a function of two things: access to restricted environments such as the Black Sun, an exclusive Metaverse club, and technical acumen, which is often demonstrated by the sophistication of one's avatar.

Plot summary and major themes

Snow Crash, UK version cover shot

Plot overview

At the beginning of the novel the main character, Hiro Protagonist, discovers the name of a new pseudo-narcotic, "Snow Crash", being offered at a posh Metaverse nightclub. Hiro's friends and fellow hackers fall victim to Snow Crash's effects, which are apparently unique in that they are experienced in the Metaverse and also in the physical world. Hiro uses his computer hacking, sharp cognitive skills, and sword-fighting skills to uncover the mystery of "Snow Crash"; his pursuit takes the reader on a tour of the Sumerian culture, a fully-instantiated laissez-faire society, and a virtual meta-society patronized by financial, social, and intellectual elites. As the nature of Snow Crash is uncovered, Hiro finds that self-replicating strings of information can affect objects in a uniform manner even though they may be broadcast via diverse media, a realization that reinforces his chosen path in life.

Condensed narrative

The protagonist is the aptly-named Hiro Protagonist (Hiro being a homophone of hero), whose business card reads "Last of the freelance hackers and Greatest swordfighter in the world." When Hiro loses his job as a pizza delivery driver for the Mafia, he meets a streetwise young girl nicknamed Y.T. (short for Yours Truly), who works as a skateboard "Kourier," and they decide to become partners in the intelligence business (selling data to the CIC, the for-profit organization that evolved from the CIA after the U.S. government's loss of power).

The pair soon learn of a dangerous new drug called "Snow Crash" that is both a computer virus capable of infecting the brains of unwary hackers in the Metaverse and a mind-altering virus in Reality. It is distributed by a network of Pentecostal churches via its infrastructure and belief system. As Hiro and Y.T. dig deeper (or are drawn in) they discover more about Snow Crash and its connection to ancient Sumerian culture, the fiber-optics monopolist L. Bob Rife, and his enormous Raft of refugee boat people who speak in tongues. Also, both in the Metaverse and in Reality, they confront one of Rife's minions, an Aleut harpoon master named Raven whose motorcycle's sidecar packs a nuke wired to go off should Raven ever be killed. Raven has never forgiven the U.S. for the way they handled the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands (see Aleutian Islands Campaign in World War II) or for the nuclear testing on Amchitka.

Hiro, with the prompting of his Catholic and linguist ex-girlfriend Juanita, begins to unravel the nature of this crisis. It relates back to the mythology of ancient Sumer, which Stephenson describes as speaking a very powerful ur-language. Sumerian is to modern "acquired languages" as binary is to programming languages: it affects the entity (be it human or computer) at a far lower and more basic level than does acquired/programming language. Sumerian is rooted in the brain stem and related to glossolalia, or "speaking in tongues"—a trait displayed by most of L. Bob Rife's convertees. Furthermore, Sumerian culture was ruled and controlled via "me," the human-readable equivalent of software which contains the rules and procedures for various activity (harvests, the baking of bread, etc). The keepers of these important documents were priests referred to as en; some of them, like the god/semi-historical-figure Enki, could write new me, making them the equivalent of programmers or hackers.

As Stephenson describes it, one goddess/semi-historical figure, Asherah, took it upon herself to create a dangerous biolinguistic virus and infect all peoples with it; this virus was stopped by Enki, who used his skills as a "neurolinguistic hacker" to create an inoculating "nam-shub" that would protect humanity by destroying its ability to use and respond to the Sumerian tongue. This forced the creation of "acquired languages" and gave rise to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Unfortunately, Asherah's meta-virus did not disappear entirely, as the "Cult of Asherah" continued to spread it by means of cult prostitutes and infected women breast feeding orphaned infants; this weakened form of the virus is compared to herpes simplex. Furthermore, Rife has been sponsoring archaeological expeditions to the Sumerian city of Eridu, and has found enough information on the Sumerian tongue to reconstruct it and use it to work his will on humanity. He has also found the nam-shub of Enki, which he is protecting at all costs.

Hiro and Y.T. each eventually make their way to Rife's Raft, a massive refugee flotilla centered around Rife's personal yacht, the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. Juanita has already infiltrated this floating caravan for the express purpose of helping overthrow Rife. Y.T. becomes romantically associated with Raven for a short time and is eventually captured by Rife's outfit, but not before getting the nam-shub of Enki to Hiro, who together with Juanita uses it to save the virus-afflicted. Hiro then goggles into the Metaverse and foils Raven's attempt to widely disseminate the Snow Crash virus to a grouping of the hacker elite. Meanwhile, Y.T. is brought to the mainland by Rife, but she escapes the helicopter before Rife and Raven proceed to an airport, where they are confronted by Uncle Enzo (the Mafia kingpin) and Mr. Lee (leader of a series of Hong Kong-esque franchulates). A critically wounded Enzo disarms Raven, while Rife is killed and his virus destroyed when Fido, a cyborg "rat-thing" who used to be Y.T.'s dog, propels himself through the engine of L. Bob Rife's plane at beyond Mach 1, incinerating Rife and his plane. The novel ends with Y.T. driving home with her mother, and with hints of a future rekindled relationship between Hiro and Juanita.

Important characters

Hiroaki "Hiro" Protagonist
A part-black, part-Korean[4] hacker, swordsman, pizza delivery man, and CIC intelligence agent. Hiro has extensive access to the Metaverse, as he was one of its original developers. He is the undisputed champion of in-Metaverse sword fighting, having written the code which makes sword-fighting possible. However, he is completely broke in Reality, having sold his stock in Black Sun before the Metaverse got really popular.
Y.T. ("Yours Truly")
A 15-year-old skateboard "Kourier" who helps Hiro investigate the mysterious meta-virus. She is Hiro's "partner" in information-gathering for the Central Intelligence Corporation. Her real name is never stated, though she is alluded to in a later book by Stephenson, The Diamond Age. Like all Kouriers, she uses an electromagnetic harpoon to hitch a ride from (often-unwilling) motor vehicles, such as Hiro's. Though she does not carry any lethal weapons, all Kouriers are outfitted with a wide variety of defensive countermeasures, which Y.T. uses throughout the book to escape sticky situations. Her mother is a worn-down programmer for the irrelevant Federal Government; Stephenson satirizes American bureaucracy (in particular, the real-life Code of Federal Regulations) via a multi-page memo on intra-office toilet paper policies which good employees are expected to spend 15.62 minutes reading.
Juanita Marquez
A computer hacker and techno-mystic, Marquez was once romantically involved with Hiro Protagonist. She then left Hiro for his friend and rival, Da5id, the phenomenally-successful founder of Black Sun. After her marriage to the latter dissolved, she embarked on a quest to study the upcoming infocalypse. She becomes a key player in the race to avoid the twin threats of the meta-virus of Asherah and the nam-shub counter-virus of Enki. She was also involved in the programming of the Metaverse, specifically the faces of Metaverse avatars which are (later) realized to be one of the main keys to its success.
Da5id Meier
Co-creator (with friend Hiro) of the elite Metaverse club The Black Sun. First victim of the Snow Crash virus shown in the book.
Dr. Emanuel Lagos
A researcher who discovered the Snow Crash meta-virus and told Rife about it; he then told Juanita about telling Rife, thus allowing her to mobilize Hiro. Developer of the Librarian, a research/index AI described below. Introduced as a "gargoyle": someone constantly wired into the Metaverse. Killed by Raven shortly after his first appearance.
Uncle Enzo
The highly charismatic head of the American Mafia, which in this hypothetical future operates publicly and freely, and now runs legitimate enterprises such as the Nova Sicilia Inn, CosaNostra Pizza, and the Our Thing Foundation. The Mafia considers itself to have a "personal relationship" with each of its customers and employees. This gets Hiro in trouble at the beginning of the book, as, while employed as a pizza "Deliverator," he accidentally crashes his cutting-edge Mafia-owned pizza-delivery vehicle, forcing Y.T. to complete the delivery so that the Mafia does not have to default on its 30-minute-delivery guarantee. However, this means Y.T. now has a "personal relationship" with the Mafia in general and Uncle Enzo specifically, which comes in handy later on. Enzo served in the Vietnam War.
The Librarian
A complex but non-sentient software application that runs in the Metaverse designed by Lagos. The Librarian's conversations serve as simple exposition, giving Hiro background information about Sumerian religion, Snow Crash, and the previous research efforts of other characters.
L. Bob Rife
All-around magnate, though his main claim to fame is having installed the massive Fiber-optic communication network that makes the Metaverse possible. He plies the seas in an aircraft carrier with a city's worth of people living in boats lashed to it — the Raft, which moves in a five-year circle around the Pacific Rim. His name and depiction evokes L. Ron Hubbard, who also founded his own religion and spent much of his time on a boat out at sea with his followers. Some have also noted similarities to Ted Turner and John C. Malone[citation needed].
Dmitri "Raven" Ravinoff
An Aleut native who works as a mercenary. His preferred weapons are harpoons, spears, and glass knives — undetectable by metal-searching security systems, reputed to be molecule-thin at the edges and able to penetrate the bulletproof windbreakers which most characters in Snow Crash rely on for protection. He travels on a motorcycle whose sidecar has been replaced with a hydrogen bomb that will automatically detonate if his brain ceases to emit electrical impulses. Raven has the phrase "POOR IMPULSE CONTROL" tattooed on his forehead, an indication that he has been arrested for committing a violent crime at least once in his life. His stated goal in life is to "nuke America" in retaliation for the historical treatment by America of native Aleutians, such as using their lands for nuclear testing (e.g., at Amchitka). His combination of fighting ability, conscienceless killing, and personal nuclear umbrella prompt Stephenson to describe Raven as "the baddest motherfucker in the world".

Notable technologies

Rat Things

Rat things are the guard force in Mr.Lee's Greater Hong Kong also known as Semi-Autonomous guard units. It is Rottweiler-sized, segmented into overlapping hard plates and its tail is long and flexible.They move at 700 miles per hour and when not resting in their hutch (which is cooled with freon)must always keep moving to prevent overheating. When in their hutch they live in a Metaverse where porter-house steaks hang from low hanging branches and frisbees fly, waiting to be caught. Rat things also have the biological component of pit bull terriers. Rat things remember their previous life as a dog. They can also communicate with other Rat things by "barking" in their Metaverse. They can also act independently such as when Fido a.k.a Semi-Autonomous guard unit B-782, who was Y.T's rescued pit bull before he was converted by Ng industries, leaves his hutch in Phoenix, Arizona to rescue Y.T. at LAX.


Reason is a needlegun-type Gatling rail gun that fires depleted uranium ammunition. It consists of a large, wheeled ammunition box, an exaggerated Gatling gun configuration, a harness for user comfort, and a nuclear isotope power system, whose heatsink must be submerged in water. A nameplate on the device is engraved with the phrase Ultima Ratio Regum, Latin for "The Last Argument of Kings" (this phrase was engraved on all of Louis XIV's cannons).

The weapon, created by Ng, was still in beta testing, and suffers a software crash during a pitched battle. Hiro is later able to apply a firmware update, and uses it until its ammunition supply is depleted.

Within the novel, Reason has a certain particular status as a personal superweapon, and as such has a profound psychological effect on individuals using it or witnessing its use. Fisheye, the original user of the weapon, is posthumously chided by Ng because he overestimates the effect of the gun, leading to a lapse in tactical judgement which results in Fisheye's death.


The Metaverse is a fully immersive 3D virtual space, an outgrowth of the Internet.


The dentata is an anti-rape device employed by Y.T. It is worn in her vagina, and injects a general anesthetic into the assailant's penis upon penetration, rendering him unconscious in moments. Though the dentata is mentioned frequently, particularly when Y.T. thinks she might soon need it, Stephenson does not explain the device's specific effect until she forgets to remove it prior to sex with Raven, thus bringing their ardor to a premature halt. Its name references the vagina dentata folk tale.

Literary significance and criticism

Snow Crash established Stephenson as a major science fiction writer of the 1990s. The book appeared on Time magazine's list of 100 all-time best English-language novels written since 1923.[5]

Some critics have considered it a parody of cyberpunk[6][7] and mentioned its satiric or absurdist humor.[8][9]

In his book The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History, Walter Benn Michaels considers the deeper theoretical implications of Stephenson's book. Comparing the book with a range of contemporary writers—the fiction of Bret Easton Ellis, Kathy Acker, Octavia Butler, and even Paul de Man and the literary criticism of Richard Rorty—Michaels criticizes the deep claims of Stephenson's book: "And yet, in Snow Crash, the bodies of humans are affected by "information" they can't read; the virus, like the icepick [in American Psycho], gets the words inside you even if you haven't read them."[10]. Michaels especially targets Stephenson's view that "languages are codes" rather than a grouping of letters and sounds to be interpreted. Michaels further contends that this basic idea of language as code ("...a good deal of Snow Crash's plot depends upon eliding the distinction between hackers and their computers, as if – indeed, in the novel, just because – looking at code will do to the hacker what receiving it will do to the computer"[10]) aligns Stephenson, along with other writers mentioned, with a racially-motivated view of culture: that culture is something transmitted and stored by blood (or genetic codes), and not by beliefs and practices. This view entails little to no need for interpretation by people:

The body that is infected by a virus does not become infected because it understands the virus any more than the body that does not become infected misunderstands the virus. So a world in which everything – from bitmaps to blood – can be understood as a "form of speech" is also a world in which nothing actually is understood (emphasis in the original), a world in which what a speech act does is disconnected from what it means.

Walter Benn Michaels, The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History[11]

Rorty's Achieving Our Country uses Snow Crash as an example of modern culture that "express the loss of what he [Rorty] calls "national hope"...the problem with Snow Crash is not that it isn't true – after all, it's a story – but that it isn't inspirational."[12] This lack of inspiration is offset by something else Snow Crash and other works like it offer: "These books produce in their readers the "state of soul" that Rorty calls "knowingness," which he glosses as a "preference for knowledge over hope" (37)"[12]; this preference for knowledge "contribute[s] to a more fundamental failure to appreciate the value of inspiration - and hence of literature - itself."[12] The Raft, a collection of ragtag vessels bringing poor Asians to California, resembles the "Armada of Hope" described in Jean Raspail's novel The Camp of the Saints (1973), in which a vast flotilla carries a million of India's poor to the southern coast of France[13]; in Rorty's reading, the Raft is emblematic of the final destruction of any sense of community in the United States: "In Snow Crash, the relation of the United States to the rest of the world is symbolized by Stephenson's most frightening creation – what he calls the "Raft"...Pride in being an American citizen has been replaced by relief at being safer and better-fed than those on the Raft."[14]

Influence on the World Wide Web

While Stephenson was not the first to apply the Sanskrit term avatar to online virtual bodies (the video game Habitat did that),[citation needed] the success of Snow Crash popularized the term to the extent that avatar is now the accepted term for this concept in computer games and on the World Wide Web.[15]

Many virtual globe programs including NASA World Wind and Google Earth bear a resemblance to the "Earth" software developed by the Central Intelligence Corporation in Snow Crash. One Google Earth co-founder claimed that Google Earth was modeled after Snow Crash, while another co-founder said it was inspired by Powers of Ten.[16]

One of Google's projects "Knol", announced July 2008[17], will enable experts, connoisseurs and possessors of uncommon knowledge alike to share and potentially monetize their information on a subject. Hiro made use of a similar system for part-time work, "collecting intel to upload onto the CIC library", by researching various subjects he predicted would be sought after in the near future. An example of his efforts included collecting intellegence on his roommate Vitaly Chernobyl's band and the rise of "Ukrainian nuclear fuzz-grunge collectives in L.A". Hiro is a stringer, one among a million other intellegence collectors and library contributors in Snow Crash.

Microsoft vice-president J Allard uses "Hiro Protagonist" as his gamertag.[18]

Film adaptation

The novel was optioned shortly after its publication and subsequent success, although it has never progressed past pre-production.[citation needed] In late 1996, it was announced writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff would adapt the novel for the Kennedy-Marshall Co. and Touchstone Pictures. Marco Brambilla was attached to direct the film.[19]

In popular culture

The 2003 science fiction novel by Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, is set in a future Disney World where one of the attractions is the Snow Crash Spectacular street parade, featuring the JapRap sounds of Sushi-K, to which the crowd dances, "aping the movements of the brave Hiro Protagonist."

The 2009 horror film Pontypool features a plotline that borrows from the Snow Crash idea of language-born viruses. Perhaps as a paean to Snow Crash, the book appears as a prop in the film.

See also


  1. ^ "1993 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  2. ^ "1994 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  3. ^ "Snow Crash tells of a twenty-first-century America in which the needs of the entrepreneurs have won out over hopes of a free and egalitarian society." pg 4 of Rorty, Achieving our country
  4. ^ "Beneath this image, it is possible to see Hiro's eyes, which look Asian. They are from his mother, who is Korean by way of Nippon. The rest of him looks more like his father, who was African by way of Texas by way of the Army – back in the days before it got split up into a number of competing organizations such as General Jim's Defense System and Admiral Bob's National Security." Snow Crash.
  5. ^ TIME All-Time 100 Novels
  6. ^ Nakamura, Lisa (2002). Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. Routledge. pp. 69–70. ISBN 0-415-93836-8. Retrieved 2009-12-5. 
  7. ^ Brooker, M. Keith; Thomas, Anne-Marie (2009). The Science Fiction Handbook. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 278–286. ISBN 1-4051-6206-6. Retrieved 2009-12-5. 
  8. ^ Wolfe, Gary K. (2005). Soundings: Reviews 1992–1996. Beccon. p. 130. ISBN 1-870824-50-4. 
  9. ^ Westfahl, Gary (2005). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, Vol. 3. Greenwood Publishing. p. 1235. ISBN 0-313-32953-2. Retrieved 2009-12-5. 
  10. ^ a b Michaels, Walter Benn (2004). The shape of the signifier: 1967 to the end of history. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. pp. 68. ISBN 0-691-11872-8. 
  11. ^ Michaels, Walter Benn (2004). The shape of the signifier: 1967 to the end of history. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. pp. 69. ISBN 0-691-11872-8. 
  12. ^ a b c Michaels, Walter Benn (2004). The shape of the signifier: 1967 to the end of history. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. pp. 74. ISBN 0-691-11872-8. 
  13. ^ Snow Crash and The Camp of the Saints
  14. ^ pg 5 of Rorty, Achieving Our Country.
  15. ^ A Beginner's Web Glossary
  16. ^ Avi Bar-Ze’ev (from Keyhole, the precursor to Google Earth) on origin of Google Earth
  17. ^ "Article on". 
  18. ^ Q&A With J (James) Allard for
  19. ^ "Nachmanoff to script 'Snow Crash'". 'Variety'. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

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
  • 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)
  • "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)
  • "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
  • 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
  • "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
  • "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, 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
  • 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 [he] would not be able to see it, if it were not headed directly for him.
    • Chapter 71 (character's name omitted to prevent possible spoiler)
  • 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

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