Sunday, April 5, 2009
As I recently delved back into Neal Stephenson's 1992 sci-fi classic Snow Crash, I realized something: This guy, despite a couple anachronistic early-90's giveaways (characters say things like "'Sup?" and refer to each other as "hackers"), pretty much had a handle on where society would be 10, 20, or 30 years later. Which is pretty much the whole idea behind sci-fi. Stephenson's near-prophetic visions of the not-so-distant future predicted such events as the rise and complete domination of the internet and people's addiction to alternate digital realities (Myspace, Facebook, etc... Snow Crash's "Metaverse" was a direct prediction of the short-lived Second Life craze that came 15 years later).
Stephenson's follow-up to Snow Crash was 1994's Interface (which I haven't read), which in turn was followed by 1995's The Diamond Age, a nanotechnology-obsessed thriller whose basic premise will certainly come to fruition within the next 10 years or so. Microscopic bugs that enter the human body to collect data? Nevermind, make it 5 years.
Stephenson's ability to predict the future (especially concerning the rather unpredictable issue of technological expansion) is by no means his only virtue as a writer. He spins one Hell of a yarn, wrapping up white-knuckle plots in tasty coatings of hard sci-fi.
Even his non-sci-fi work is pretty goddamn epic. 1988's Zodiac was a 007-esque spy thriller, but instead of tuxedos and martinis, the story was told through the eyes of a framed eco-terrorist doing battle with both a group of Satanists and an evil corporation against the setting of the Boston Harbor.
Which brings us to another point: Why has Neal Stephenson strayed so far from his sci-fi roots in recent years? The last of his books I read was 1999's Cryptonomicon, which I found completely absorbing and totally fucking epic. But where did the sci-fi go? With a name like that I was expecting something totally different.
In recent years, he's gone in a much more 'historical fiction'-type direction with his work (The Baroque Cycle, a series of books set in the distant past, has been his most recent publication), which I think is cool, but what the Hell?
Neal, I know you're reading this. You're a Total Bro. That's beyond a doubt. Bring back the HARD SCI-FI, man! PLEASE! For the Bros!
Above: Mr. Stephenson models the "1998 Burner" line of gear from Patagonia. Not shown: Sandals by Teva and fanny pack by Arcteryx.