Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash coming to Amazon Prime

“Snow Crash will be a one-hour drama. A product of the early 1990s, it’s set in a failed state that used to be America, where the corporations run everything. It too has a vast artificial location, but this time it’s the Metaverse, Stephenson’s extrapolation of a VR-enabled Internet. Hiro Protagonist—an on-the-nose name if ever there was—is a hacker and pizza delivery driver for the Mafia who comes into possession of dangerous file, Snow Crash, which sends him on a rabbit chase.”

Amazon commissions three new sci-fi shows: Lazarus, Snow Crash, and Ringworld

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

I really wanted to like this book. Neal Stephenson has written some of the best stories I’ve ever read and I’ve read most of them two or three times. And how can I say I read 740 pages and didn’t enjoy the book? At least a little.

But it just did not work for me. Maybe it was the witches and time travel. Maybe it was writing with a co-author (Nicole Galland). I don’t think I’ve ever read a book written by two people that I really enjoyed. Wait! Not true! James S. A. Corey, the pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I love the Expanse series. But I can’t think of any others off the top of my head.

I struggle with the paradoxes inherent in stories about time travel. I appreciated the premise of Memento and Loopers but my mind kept drifting as I tried to work out the time stuff. No such problem, however, with William Gibson’s The Peripheral.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with Cryptonomicon and REAMDE being 5’s), I’d rate this latest book a 3. Maybe. I do hope you enjoy(ed) it more than I.

Wikiquote

I recently stumbled upon Wikiquote (“a free online compendium of sourced quotations from notable people and creative works”). I have a quotation jones. When I read a book I obsessively underline passages for hoarding on Google Docs. So I can get lost for hours on Wikiquote. Here’s one from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (Erasmas theorizing why others are joining his journey):

“The work that people did had been broken down into jobs that were the same every day, in organizations where people were interchangeable parts. All of the story had been bled out of their lives. That was how it had to be, it was how you got a productive economy. But it would be easy to see a will at work behind this: not exactly an evil will, but a selfish will. The people who’d made the system thus were jealous, not of money and not of power, but of story. If their employees came home with interesting stories to tell, it meant that something had gone wrong: a blackout, a strike, a spree killing. The Powers That Be would not suffer others to be in stories of their own unless they were fake stories that had been made up to motivate them. People who couldn’t live without story…had to look somewhere outside of work for a feeling that they were part of a story, which I guessed was why Sæculars were so concerned with sports, and with religion. How else could you see yourself as part of an adventure?”

Has all the story been bled out of your life? My life?

The Cobweb

thecobweb“On the eve of Operation Desert Storm, the murder of an Arab exchange student at a local university puts Iowa deputy sheriff Clyde Banks on a collision course with both the CIA and Saddam Hussein. It seems the students are Iraqis conducting agricultural research on biological weapons in his midwestern town.” (Goodreads)

I really enjoyed this book. I tried the other book he co-authored with J. Frederick George (Interface) but couldn’t get past some of the long, wordy passages. This story really worked for me and I can highly recommend the book.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

sevenevesOf the half dozen or so Neal Stephenson novels I’ve read, Seveneves (pronounced seven Eves) is probably my least favorite. That might say more about how much I enjoyed his previous books. I need to make a few notes here while the book is fresh in my mind. [SPOILERS: If you haven’t read it yet, there will be a few] In no particular order:

  • If humans have any long-term future, it will involve space travel. And, if humans survive, they will evolve into beings that are different — in important, significant ways — from what we are today. Future humans will have god-like powers (genetic engineering, to name one)
  • The story brings to mind The Martian (Andy Weir); Contact (Carl Sagan) and Red Star, Winter Orbit (A short story by William Gibson). And some clear echoes of Stephenson’s Anathem.
  • Regarding the author’s choice for bringing about the end of the world: an unknown Agent blows up the moon which — within a couple of years — destroys all life on Earth. Not climate change; plague; nuclear war or alien invasion. And even though Stephenson chooses destruction by fire, he avoids the obvious Biblical reference.
  • Stephenson made the “end of the world” seem real to me in a way that other apocalyptic tales have not. I found it difficult to read. He points out that “within about 100 years” everyone who is alive today will be dead. Something I never consciously considered.
  • The story made me appreciate water and clouds and gravity in a way that I don’t think I ever have. I hope I don’t live to see the end of this world. Or the beginning of the end. Oops. Never mind.
  • Robots figure prominently in this story but they are tools, not metal “people” No mention of Artificial Intelligence in this story. I came away with a feeling that this is how things will probably go. Not the romantic vision Hollywood has provided.

I’ve read most of NS’s novels more than once. Some so often the books have started to come apart. Seveneves is a good yarn but one read will probably be enough. Excellent review of 7Eves.

Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)

“The world is full of power and energy and a person can go far by just skimming off a tiny bit of it.” — Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (pg 31; 1992)

“The business is a simple one. Hiro gets information. It may be gossip, videotape, audiotape, a fragment of a computer disk, a xerox of a document. It can even be a joke based on the latest highly publicized disaster.

He uploads it to the CIC database — the Library, formerly the Library of Congress, but no one calls it that anymore. Most people are not entirely clear on what the word “congress” means. And even the word “library is getting hazy. It used to be a place full of books, mostly old one.

Then they began to include videotapes, records, and magazines. Then all of the information got converted into machine-readable form, which is to say, ones and zeros. And as the number of media grew, the material became more up to date, and the methods for searching the Library became more and more sophisticated, it approached the point where there was no substantive difference between the Library of Congress and the Central Intelligence Agency. Fortuitously, this happened just as the government was falling apart anyway. So they merged and kicked out a big fat stock offering.

Millions of other CIC stringers are uploading millions of other fragments at the same time. CIC’s clients, mostly large corporations and Sovereigns, rifle through the Library looking for useful information, and if they find a use for something that Hiro put into it, Hiro gets paid.”

“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 canyons, and you find the land of the refugees. They have fled from the true America, the America of atomic bombs, scalpings, hip-hop, chaos theory, cement overshoes, snake handlers, spree killers, space walks, buffalo jumps, drive-bys, cruise missiles, Sherman’s March, gridlock, motorcycle gangs and bungee jumping. 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, vast house farms out in the loglo wilderness, a culture medium for a medium culture.”

“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, fourwheel-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. The byproduct of the lifestyle is polluted rivers, greenhouse effect, spouse abuse, televangelists, and serial killers.”

Christ’s gospel is a new nam-shub, an attempt to take religion out of the temple, out of the hands of the priesthood, and bring the Kingdom of God to everyone. That is the message explicitly spelled out by his sermons, and it is the message symbolically embodied in the empty tomb. After the crucifixion, the apostles went to his tomb hoping to find his body and instead found nothing. The message was clear enough: We are not to idolize Jesus, because his ideas stand alone, his church is no longer centralized in one person but dispersed among all the people.

People who were used to the rigid theocracy of the Phansees couldn’t handle the idea of a popular, nonhierarchical church. They wanted popes and bishops and priests. And so the myth of the Resurrection was added onto the gospels. The message was changed to a form of idolatry. In this new version of the gospels, Jesus came back to earth and organized a church which later became the Church of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire—another rigid, brutal, and irrational theocracy.

Cryptonomicon: Wisdom teeth

I don’t know when I read Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon for the first time. My first post here was back in 2003. I linked to a horrifying (to me) passage that deserves an encore.

Wisdom. A few years ago, when Randy became tired of the ceaseless pressure in his lower jaw, he went out onto the north-central Californian oral-surgery market looking for someone to extract wisdom teeth. His health plan covered this, so price was not an obstacle. His dentist took one of those big cinemascopic wraparound X-rays of his entire lower head, the kind where they pack your mouth with half a roll of high-speed film and then clamp your head in a jig and the X-ray machine revolves around you spraying radiation through a slit, as the entire staff of the dentist’s office hits the deck behind a lead wall, resulting in a printed image that is a none-too-appetizing distortion of his jaw into a single flat plane. Looking at it, Randy eschewed cruder analogies like “head of a man run over several times by steamroller while lying flat on his back” and tried to think of it as a mapping transformation—just one more in mankind’s long history of ill-advisedly trying to represent three-D stuff on a flat plane. The corners of this coordinate plane were anchored by the wisdom teeth themselves, which even to the dentally unsophisticated Randy looked just a little disturbing in that each one was about the size of his thumb (though maybe this was just a distortion in the coordinate transform—like the famously swollen Greenland of Mercator) and they were pretty far away from any other teeth, which (logically) would seem to put them in parts of his body not normally considered to be within a dentist’s purview, and they were at the wrong angle—not just a little crooked, but verging on upside down and backwards. At first he just chalked all of this up to the Greenland phenomenon. With his Jaw-map in hand, he hit the streets of Three Siblings-land looking for an oral surgeon. It was already beginning to work on him psychologically. Those were some big-ass teeth! Brought into being by the workings of relict DNA strands from the hunter- gatherer epoch. Designed for reducing tree bark and mammoth gristle to easily digestible paste. Now these boulders of living enamel were horrifyingly adrift in a gracile cro-magnon head that simply did not have room for them. Think of the sheer extra weight he had been carrying around. Think of the use that priceless head-real-estate could have been put to. When they were gone, what would fill up the four giant molar—shaped voids in his melon? It was moot until he could find someone to get rid of them. But one oral surgeon after another turned him down. They would put the X-ray up on their light boxes, stare into it and blanch. Maybe it was just the pale light coining out of the light-boxes but Randy could have sworn they were blanching. Disingenuously—as if wisdom teeth normally grew someplace completely different—they all pointed out that the wisdom teeth were buried deep, deep, deep in Randy’s head. The lowers were so fir back in his jaw that removing them would practically break the jawbone in twain structurally; from there, one fuse move would send a surgical-steel demolition pick into his middle ear. The uppers were so deep in his skull that the roots were twined around the parts of his brain responsible for perceiving the color blue (on one side) and being able to suspend one’s disbelief in bad movies (on the other) and between these teeth and actual air, light and saliva lay many strata of skin, meat, cartilage, major nerve-cables, brain-feeding arteries, bulging caches of lymph nodes, girders and trusses of bone, rich marrow that was working just fine thank you, a few glands whose functions were unsettlingly poorly understood, and many of the other things that made Randy Randy, all of them definitely filing into the category of sleeping dogs.

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N1H1 is not the virus that will destroy us

The notion of “viral ideas” is a central theme in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. And the “birther” nonsense is a near-perfect illustration:

“We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep 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. The only thing that keeps these things from taking over the world is the Babel factor — the walls of mutual incomprehension that compartmentalize the human race and stop the spread of viruses.”

A world where all, or most, of the people speak English would be a dangerous thing indeed.

“No surprises”

I love the novels of Neal Stephenson and find that I can read them again and again, always discovering something new and fresh. The excerpt below is from Snow Crash, written in 1976. published in 1984.

“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 canyons, and you find the land of the refugees. They have fled from the true America, the America of atomic bombs, scalpings, hip-hop, chaos theory, cement overshoes, snake handlers, spree killers, space walks, buffalo jumps, drive-bys, cruise missiles, Sherman’s March, gridlock, motorcycle gangs and bungee jumping. 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, vast house farms out in the loglo wilderness, a culture medium for a medium culture.”

It means nothing out of context, I suppose, but this is where I put things I want to find again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Neal Stephenson do an interview but perhaps I just missed them.

Quotes from Anathem

“What would motivate someone to sit alone in a one-room apartment reading and thinking? What would have to be true of a person for them to consider that a life well spent?”

“What if the places you went and the things you encountered in o
your work were more interesting than what was available in the physical world around you?”

“They knew many things but had no idea why. And strangely this made them more, rather than less, certain that they were right.”

“I am tormented, or tantalized, by the sense that I am almost in view of something that is at the limit of my comprehension.” — Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (pg 543)

“All the story had been bled ut of their lives.” (pg 414)

“…in the intervening hours, my brain had been changing to fit the new shape of my world. I guess that’s why we can’t do anything when we’re sleeping: it’s when we work hardest.” (pg 366)

“…we do not perceive the physical universe directly, but only through the intermediation of our sensory organs.” (pg 529)