Discovering the Machine in You: The Literary, Social, and Religious Implications of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash

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Grassian, Daniel. "Discovering the Machine in You: The Literary, Social and Religious Implications of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash." JFA 12.3: 250-267.

Dissects the "Metaverse" virtual landscape of Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992) and its impact on the characters' mechanically infrastructured minds. Looks at Stephenson as "not the first American writer to conceive of cyberspace," that was William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984), but "with the possible exception of Gibson, Stephenson is the first American novelist to write about an envisioned and shared virtual reality landscape," VR. "Stephenson first coined the term 'avatar' [...] referring to a user's virtual body" (p. 253). (Maly, 27/06/02; RDE, 2May19)

Puts Snowcrash into the context of Stephenson's body of work and what he sees as "a new science-fiction Renaissance" in both print media and film with cyberpunk. For a couple substantial paragraphs in each case, Grassian puts Snowcraft into dialog with Stephenson's own Diamond Age (1995)[1] and, on language, Darren Aronofsy's film PI (pp. 252, 260-61).

Grassian sees Snowcrash as "a second-generation cyberpunk novel" exploring "the implications of technology, virtual reality[,] and narrative" (p. 252). And deals with cyberpunk and Snowcrash and the architecture of its "Metaverse" in the context of postmodernism and post-postmodernism: the Metaverse

uses Las Vegas as an architectural model, but with a post-postmodern twist. "It is always nighttime in the Metaverse and the Street is always garish and brilliant, like Las Vegas freed from constraints of physics and finance" ([Snowcrash] 26). Despite the fact that the foundation of the Metaverse is mathematical, it defies mathematics and geometry [...]. Ultimately, it has no real constraints. Even the basic geometrical foundation of the Metaverse could be changed at will. (Grassian p. 254)

On language, Grassian argues (with some support from Noam Chomsky and post-Structuralist linguistics), that as in PI "there is a numeric and linguistic infrastructure in the human mind." Unlike a possibility in PI, Stephenson doesn't accept the idea of a Creator. He "suggests that the linguistic infrastructure of the [human?] mind is ultimately no different from a computer's infrastructure of built-in memory." Therefore, if seeking power over people — "In order to regress people to a primitive, automaton or computer-like state and subsequently control them, a user need only discover and implement the appropriate software" (p. 261).