(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com)
Guys, I had no idea what to expect jumping into this book. I've seen Stephenson's titles at the book store I work at, but they've never really caught my eye. I had no idea how beloved this book is to many, and that it was one of the pioneers of cyber-punk fiction.
I almost didn't finish this book. I almost put it down and gave up on after only the first 30 pages, because frankly, I have so many other books that I don't want to waste time with something that can't pull me in. But, because this is a challenge book, I decided to read up until page 50, and if I still hated it that much, I would quit. I'm not sure what exactly changed my mind, but I did end up finishing this. I'm still not very enamored with it though. However, I can see where the appeal is, and why this might have been a big when it first came out in 1992.
That first thing that really turned me off when I cracked this open was the narration. It's third-person in the present tense, and it completely failed to engage me. I got used to it as I read on, but I never warmed up to it either. This style also made all the characters feel flat (for me.) Upon finishing the book, I tried to describe the characters and their personalities, and I found that I couldn't. What do I know about Hiro besides that he's a person of color, is good with a sword and is a hacker? Not much. Y.T. had a little more personality, but it wasn't anything I particularly liked. She was a bit of a shit actually, always having to swear and be rude to people. I guess this was supposed to make her "spunky", but she was always just kind of bitchy, so I never warmed up to her either. The villain, Raven, didn't have much meat to his character either; his motives for wanting to screw everyone over was pretty bland (he's from a native tribe and his people got nuked -- so maybe bland is the wrong word, but it was so straightforward and didn't have anything else to it, making him come off as rather flat, like the rest of the cast.)
The idea of the Metaverse is one that I'm obviously very familiar with, being a product of my time. I've been going on the internet since I was ten and the ideas of virtual reality have been around since I was a kid (ie. The Matrix). So this wasn't anything new and innovative for me. I'm pretty sure it was at the time it came out though, so I can see why people would get excited over a concept like this being in a book. I also think this was one of the first cyber-punk novels, or one of the first big ones anyway, which would also lend to its popularity. There's a lot of computer jargon that's thrown around in here that's all very run-of-the-mill for me, and a lot of people my age, but in 1992, I'm sure only people who lived and breathed computers had a really firm grasp on it. Maybe I'm just making assumptions? I'm not sure. My point is, I'm sure this was all very new and different when it was released, so I can see why people would like this book while I wasn't brought to my knees by the idea of the Metaverse. I was somewhat surprised by how small of a role it played in the grand scheme of things though. I mean, its existence was fairly prominent, but it was never *especially* important.
One of the aspects of the novel that kept me reading were all the parallels made to computers and technology with language, and how that was brought back all the way to Sumerian times. Now, I wasn't completely bought on all the ideas (that language is like a computer program, and as such can work like a virus), but it was interesting enough; these were the parts of the novel that I was engaged with the most. I think part of this is because I took an Ancient Civilization course during my second year of uni, so I was already familiar with a lot of what Hiro was discovering in the Metaverse library. History has always fascinated me, so revisiting that stuff was kinda fun.
While I wasn't very invested in the overall story, I still found myself mildly curious as to how everything was going to go down. However, when I got to near the end of the novel, it was about 3 in the morning, so I actually don't remember much of how it ends. Honestly though, I'm not curious enough to go and re-read the ending.
Final Verdict: Unfortunately, this novel was a bit of a miss with me. The narration almost turned me right off from this novel, and it made the characters come off as really flat. I seriously can't remember any defining characteristics about any of them, save for surface details (Hiro being of a multi-cultural heritage and a hacker, for example.) Because of this, I never really warmed up to any of them, or cared about them. The plot itself was mildly intriguing, and it clipped along at an okay pace so that I wasn't completely bored to tears, but when I got to the end, I still didn't care all that much. I didn't buy into the parallels that Stephenson made between language and computers, but for me, they were the most interesting aspects of the novel, and was a fun throwback to learning about Sumerian times (because I'm a bit of a nerd and I'm into that kind of thing.) Will I be reading other books by Stephenson? No, probably not. However, I can see why this is a classic of the cyber-punk sub-genre. This stuff must have been quite different and exciting when it first came out in 1992. Being a child of the 90s though has disenchanted me of the whole virtual-reality schtick, so the Metaverse wasn't anything groundbreaking for me. Overall, a disappointing reading experience, but oh well. You're not going to love every book you read. :)