Vanity Fair have an interesting interview up with Neal Stephenson about Snow Crash, the novel that made his name back in the 90s.
I must have bought it pretty much as soon as it came out, as I remember reading and re-reading it when I was an final-year undergraduate.
I had already been converted to cyberpunk by William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, but Snow Crash was different.
Gibson’s books had made a huge impression on me, but there weren’t – for the impressionable young man that I was then – any characters that inspired me as role models. The closest was probably Turner, from Count Zero, with his paramilitary competence and business sense but, ultimately, he’s just another action hero, isn’t he? If the Sprawl books woke me up to the world of business – and they did – they didn’t change my worldview. (Important exception: Count Zero‘s treatment of voodoo woke me up to the world of trance, religion, and human interaction with the spirit world, in which I’ve maintained an interest. See here and here for earlier things I’ve written about that).
Snow Crash was different, though. Its depiction of the metaverse; its conception of networked technology being normal and everyday; the concept which inspired Google Earth… all of this was transformative for me, at a time when mobile phones were still years in the future. Heck, even email required going to the computer centre at the university, and logging in to a boring DOS interface. Snow Crash convinced me that computers and networks were inspiring and exciting, when up to that point I’d considered anything to do with computers to be dull, dull, dull. If I hadn’t read Snow Crash, I seriously doubt I would have gone on to take a conversion MSc at Aberystywyth – and, even if I had, I wouldn’t have spent hours geeking out over the World Wide Web and how it worked – and I would never have gone on to get a job in one of Wales’ first internet companies just as the Internet started to become important to the world outside universities. But, I did, and that career happened, and that led me to Asia, and the rest of my life happened…
That wasn’t the only thing. If the book’s main character, Hiro Protagonist, hadn’t been both a hardcore hacker and martial artist, would I have been inspired to carry on with martial arts? Maybe… maybe not. But, Hiro did inspire me, and the effect it had on me at 20 is still strong now that I’m mid-40s…
Stephenson’s follow-up novels also influenced me – Cryptonomicon to an extent, but The Diamond Age profoundly changed my ethical and political stance on a lot of issues – though that, perhaps, is a story for another day.