May 02, 2008

Snow Crash, White Noise, and Momoko's Picture Diary

Three books that I read in the last couple of weeks are Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, White Noise by Don DeLillo, and Sakura Momoko's Picture Diary.

Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is a book popular with programmers, and it is easy to understand why. The protagonist, Hiro Protagonist, is a hacker and the plot revolves around new exotic types of hacking—neural hacking performed via a human’s AV inputs. Most importantly, the book gives an importance and an air of mystery to programming by inventing for it a history that dates back to the beginning of history. I read some reviews that complained that the research scenes where this mythology is exposited and analyzed are boring, but they were probably the most interesting part of the book for me. The theories are far-fetched and incomplete, but at least interesting.

The other part of the book that was most fun was the hypercommericialized world of the future, where gated suburban communities have evolved into city-states and the US government warns not to use the hyper-inflated currency as toilet paper.

I enjoyed this book so much that I recommended it to a friend even before I was finished reading. However, after finishing the book, I’m not sure if I should cancel that recommendation. My main complaint is that there is just too much action. It was originally supposed to be a graphic novel, which may explain why the action is so non-stop. I also wasn’t happy with a brief “love” scene that I would like to say was out of place, but it actually seems right at home in the action movie genre.

White Noise by Don DeLillo also left me with a mixed but mostly positive reaction. The book is neatly divided into three sections. The first section of the book is almost plotless. It introduces the narrator, a professor of Hitler studies, his wife, his children from his many marriages, and a friend who is a visiting professor. The focus is the intellectual discussions with the professor friend about the supermarket and about modern society. In the second part of the book, a “real” plot unexpectedly emerges when a chemical accident occurs in the fictional town. The third section of the book takes off in a different direction.

The dialog in the book is unusual—clearly not intended to reflect actual human speech. Several times when reading a scene, I had to backtrack to assure myself that the dialog was not occurring in a dream. Sometimes it is satiric and terse, like Catch 22 or a two-man comedy routine, sometimes it is dense like a computer-generated post-modernist theory generator.

I found the book interesting from beginning to end. The only negative element that led me to have a mixed reaction to the book is that it is so saturated with little theories and analysis, some of them interesting and some of them nonsense, that you don’t have time to digest it all. After finishing the book, you can’t help but wonder if you missed a major part of the novel.

The last book here is a comic diary by Sakura Momoko, author of the Chibi Marukochan comics and cartoons. The book is titled Momoko's Picture Diary (桃子的繪圖日記 in Chinese). The book has almost a hundred drawings, each one illustrating a short anecdote from the author’s life. Most of the anecdotes are only a few sentences. They are mostly unconnected and are not dated but appear to be in chronological order, so the book still belongs in the comic diary genre. I think picture diaries are great. Would the autobiographical American Splendor comics have been popular as a novel? Probably not, but add artwork and they are classics. The drawings are in color and the book is hardbound.



  • Back when I was a linguistics major, nearly all my friends were bugging me to read Snow Crash. I finally did this year, and I found that my reactions towards it were much like yours. It started off with a bang, but gradually went downhill throughout the second half.

    The Diamond Age was a far, far better book.

    By Blogger Mark, at July 10, 2008 10:04 PM  

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