Saturday, March 27, 2010

# 26 Snow Crash, # 24 The Martian Chronicles

Snow Crash:

“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.” 
“..this is just like life must be for about 99 percent of the people in the world. You're in this place. There's other people all around you, but they don't understand you and you don't understand them, but people do a lot of pointless babbling anyway. In order to stay alive, you have to spend all day every day doing stupid meaningless work. And the only way to get out of it is to quit, cut loose, take a flyer, and go off into the wicked world, where you will be swallowed up and never heard from again.”

First and foremost, I must say that I found Snow Crash to be an awesome, fun, ridiculously entertaining read. Neal Stephenson's novel struck me as a  fast-paced, cool, crazy, and foul-mouthed ride through the vulgar and insane near-future. It is such a blazingly "in-your-face" type of novel, that I could heap adjectives and superlatives upon it for quite a while, but I have probably done so enough already...
Snow Crash is located only a few years from the present, although the date is never specified, it is about a half a century or more removed from World War II, but no more than 100 years after it. The main character is a pizza-delivery guy/ swordfighter/ professional computer hacker who is interestingly given the name Hiro Protagonist. In the near future, we are told, all pizza delivery is openly controlled by the Mafia --headed by kingpin Uncle Enzo.
In this bizarre near-future scenario, Stephenson presents us with a reality in which large, independent countries no longer exist, and city-state-like franchises own land all over the world, each with their own constitution, laws, cops, etc. Everything is franchised and nothing is government owned --from different companies' jails competing for criminals detained in the city-states, to Judge Bob's Judicial System, which promises fair and cheap judgements, to the Meta-Cops (rent-a-cops basically). There's no doubt that is anti-consumerism cyberpunk at its best. A good portion of Snow Crash takes place in virtual reality, in a place called the Metaverse (quite popular in the mainstream world of Snow Crash).
When one of Hiro's friends, Da5id, has his brain somehow "fried" via a drug called Snow Crash he took in virtual reality, he must set out to find the culprit. Along the way, Hiro meets a young sidekick named Y.T (short for "Yours Truly") and, as the reader begins to realize from the opening scene onward, mayhem ensues in spades. I haven't even been able to touch on all the complexity and behind-the-scenes action that goes on in Snow Crash.
 There's stuff in here about Sumerian myths, the origin of language, computer programming, the Chinese, Japanese, Colombian, Italian, and Jamaican mobs, nuclear warfare, and terrible rap music. I can always open up Snow Crash, immediately find a scene I love (there are many) and start reading...the opening scene with its epic, over-the-top imagery and glorification of high-speed pizza delivery, the sword fight Hiro has in the Metaverse, the chase scene with Raven and the Crips, the escape of Y.T. from the Feds, the demolition of pirate Bruce Lee's boat, and numerous others.
This isn't exactly a book for the uptight, "Hard SF" fan who likes lots of technical minutiae explained. It's more about crazy chase scenes, vivid, obscenity-laced descriptions, and wacky philosophies. Because of this it can be quite polarizing --I loved every minute of it, but many SF fans complain that it is too ridiculous, too over-the-top, and even poorly written. Snow Crash certainly comes across as a "love-it or hate-it" type of affair. I might also add that it's also not depressing as most SF either, and that it has a fairly happy ending. I would suggest that anyone, SF fan or not, read this book; it's fun, fast-paced, and exciting!

The Martian Chronicles:

"There was a smell of Time in the air tonight. He smiled and turned the fancy in his mind. There was a thought. What did time smell like? Like dust and clocks and people. And if you wondered what Time sounded like it sounded like water running in a dark cave and voices crying and dirt dropping down upon hollow box lids, and rain. And, going further, what did Time look like? Time look like snow dropping silently into a black room or it looked like a silent film in an ancient theater, 100 billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and down into nothing. That was how Time smelled and looked and sounded. And tonight-Tomas shoved a hand into the wind outside the truck-tonight you could almost taste time.” 
“It is good to renew one's wonder, said the philosopher. Space travel has again made children of us all.”
The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories about human voyages to Mars, by Ray Bradbury. When I started looking at this book, I thought that there would be a lot of exploding reactors, strange discoveries, calamitous emergencies, huge battles with Martians, and much mayhem and destruction described within its pages. However, this is not the case.
The Martian Chronicles is actually a very eerie and mystical work throughout it's entirety --and there are barely any battles. Another curveball comes with the fact that the Martians themselves are few and far between: in the first stories, they succinctly destroy the first manned missions to Mars by driving the men insane somehow. By the fifth story, it is learned that the Martians have been eradicated by a mysterious plague. I won't mention much more of the plot, but I liked this collection as a whole because of how each story worked with the others to create an intriguing, coherent future history with a unique tone throughout its entirety.
The collection was especially eerie, mystical, and powerful in certain stories, such as: "There Will Come Soft Rains"-a haunting tale with no dialogue, chronicling an automatic house going about daily business after a nuclear holocaust on Earth , "Ylla"- the story of an unhappy Martian wife who admires Earthmen from afar, only to have them telepathically killed by her jealous husband, "The Million Year Picnic"-a story of a happy family on Mars in the year 2026, which somehow is very disturbing in its enthusiasm, considering the tone of the previous stories in the collection, "Rocket Summer"-a great one page descriptive story of rockets setting off from Earth and disrupting the natural winter with their engine workings, and "Night Meeting"- a classic tale of perspective as a human and Martian meet without any one to back up either of them, to show how different the two are, and yet how they are alike in some ways. The best characters in the book were Spender, and Tomas Gomez, in my view. These two characters stuck out due to their fleshed-out processes of thought and comparative depth. Bradbury, while he is not a master of vivid action sequences, is quite skilled in producing poetically detailed characters.
This is definitely a book to check out for readers interested in the "Canon of SF"--it is vitally important in the history of science fiction. It's quite not up there with the absolute best, what I like to call the "first tier of science fiction"-- which includes Dune, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Star Maker, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Lord of Light --but it's definitely a classic, if impersonal and eerie at times. 

No comments:

Post a Comment