What is the Snowcrash of today?
November 7, 2017 1:34 AM   Subscribe

What is the Snowcrash of today? In my youth, the novel Snowcrash was quite a phenomenon: it was a fun, exciting read, with crazy ideas, and you didn't have to be into sci fi to enjoy it. People who were into literary fiction, or who didn't even normally read books, had read it. What book holds a similar sort of place nowadays? It doesn't have to be sci fi.
posted by surenoproblem to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 122 users marked this as a favorite
Ready Player One, I would think.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:07 AM on November 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I don't know if it has the same buzz as Snowcrash did, but Lexicon by Max Barry is exciting and full of wild, reality changing ideas.
posted by gt2 at 3:20 AM on November 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

Ready Player One, I would think.

Different circles, maybe, but most people I know panned it hard and roll their eyes at it.

This is not what you asked for but is an interesting read that may, by means of a specific example, address the difficulty of pointing to such a book, since I think the flaws it outlines in The Magicians trilogy (which holds that kind of popular place, but is still somehow not Snowcrash, and not just because it's technically not SF) are the flaws of RP1 and other books:

"Fantasy is ultimately about invention—pushing the imagination so far it threatens to snap. And those littler fissures, those breaks with reality, is where magic is born. Not enough of the Magicians trilogy lives and grows in those weird cracks; too little of it is truly inventive."

Both RP1 and Magicians remix and retread popular tropes in their selected genres, which can be satisfying, but they both suffer from this problem. They don't manage to be new, somehow.
posted by halation at 3:55 AM on November 7, 2017 [15 favorites]

A couple of years ago I'd say the Oryx & Crake trilogy, or perhaps even Harry Potter – the latter more lazy reading than novelty, but still.

Lexicon sounds like a good read – added to the never-ending list!
posted by monocultured at 5:01 AM on November 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

+1 for Lexicon, I really enjoyed it. The Circle by David Eggers takes today's world of social media to its obvious end point. Maybe not mind blowing, but given recent events, maybe a little too relevant for comfort.
posted by COD at 5:48 AM on November 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you liked Snowcrash, you'll probably like Reamde. It's maybe my favorite of Stephenson's books, super fast paced and exciting. It was released in 2011.
posted by something something at 5:53 AM on November 7, 2017 [10 favorites]

If you're looking for a cultural phenomenon, rather than a reading experience, I'm not sure. I might say Game of Thrones, because a lot of non-fantasy people are into it (and were, even before the TV show).

I can name a number of books that I'd recommend for a reading experience like you describe (The Fifth Season and Ancillary Justice right off the top), but as a cultural phenomenon I'm not as sure.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:00 AM on November 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Ancillary Justice is definitely full of thrilling, crazy ideas: it is speculative about consciousness and personhood in a way that is very now and also very timeless.

Ted Chiang's short story collection "Stories of Your Life And Others" is a low-key/cultish phenomenon too: people who recommend it recommend it very rabidly, like Snow Crash. It, too, is speculative about consciousness and explores really unexpected possibilities. Not every story in it is a gem, but the best stories in it are some of the most exciting stories I've ever read.
posted by xueexueg at 6:16 AM on November 7, 2017 [38 favorites]

This recommendation inspired by the quote halation. 'The Wandering Earth' and 'The Three Body Problem' They are both by Liu Cixin, the first is a collection of short stories, the second is a novel. Both 'pushed' my imagination quite far. The beats were classic sci-fi, but the melodies were beautiful alien music.
posted by deadwater at 6:21 AM on November 7, 2017 [16 favorites]

The Nexus trilogy by Ramez Naan.
posted by tayknight at 6:28 AM on November 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm surprised no one's mentioned House of Leaves. It's one of the few constants among most smart people I know.
posted by roll truck roll at 7:57 AM on November 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Weirdly I think The Handmaid's Tale is the currently zeitgeisty read. It's an old book, but everybody seems to be reading it at the moment.

As for recent releases, Ancillary Justice is definitely being spoken & written about a lot.
posted by kariebookish at 8:39 AM on November 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

There are several candidates that have managed to have fresh ideas and crossover from spec fiction to lit fiction or become bestsellers.

The Martian by Andy Weir is one.

Station Eleven (which I hated) was another

NK Jemisin's Broken Earth series has won all the awards

Claire North's the First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey was a book club favorite

Neal Stephenson has been hit or miss Anathem, Reamde and Seveneves all had fans but none of those really caught fire

Going back a few years Wool by Hugh Howey was a sensation for the way it was published and the success it had

I agree with others here that Lexicon is terrific, so maybe it should be the MeFi hit even if it never got big elsewhere.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:55 AM on November 7, 2017

Maybe Daemon by Daniel Suarez. A few years old now.
posted by salvia at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I just picked it for my book club, but everyone had already read it—and they're not typically science fiction readers.

Perhaps also The Goldfinch, from a couple years ago? At the time, it seemed like everyone had either read it, intended to read it, or was halfway through reading it. Up until then Donna Tartt had been kind of a cult thing; not so any more, I think.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 2:36 PM on November 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Slightly dated by now, but perhaps China Miéville's Perdido Street Station?
posted by Pfardentrott at 3:29 PM on November 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I would list 'Blindsight' by Peter Watts as one I consider a pivotal moment in scifi. I still think the Ware Tetrology by Rudy Rucker holds up, but a lot of the body-morphing imagry feels dated. Some people might say 'Too Like the Lightning' by Ada Palmer, but I found it sterile and unconvincing. 'Accelerando' by CStross is up there too.
posted by Dmenet at 3:41 PM on November 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

I have to second Blindsight by Peter Watts, as well as the sequel Echopraxia and his earlier novel Starfish. I yearn for a world with more science fiction like this. It's unique and forward-thinking, nuanced, connects the fundamental questions of physical reality with those of experience, thought, and personal identity. For similar reasons, I've also really enjoyed Chris Moriarty's Spin State trilogy.
posted by doteatop at 4:23 PM on November 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Blindsight by Peter Watts is fantastic, and probably the best book I've ever seen that was given out for free.

It's not fun - it borders on a horror novel at points - but has the best future-predictive science I've ever seen while having a novel alien antagonist that's better thought out and more consistent than anything since The Mote in God's Eye in the 70s.

It then cites sources at the end of why a lot of the imaginative stuff could be a lot closer than we might imagine, which was a hell of a present.

For fun pageturners, John Scalzi's Old Man's War. It feels like Heinlein learned from later authors and came back again for more; among larger points, Scalzi doesn't just have women in stories as props, but as characters.
posted by talldean at 6:31 PM on November 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Came to say Ancillary Justice and Story of Your life but was beaten to it. Can’t recommend highly enough-absolutely ground breaking.
posted by purenitrous at 8:12 PM on November 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you clarify? Are you asking "what current book holds the broad cultural position once occupied by Snowcrash" or are you asking for recommendations of books you might enjoy as much?

Apologies if I misunderstood.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:06 AM on November 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: > Can you clarify?


Thanks for making this distinction more clear. I'm definitely asking the former, i.e. "what current book holds the broad cultural position [or is really innovative while also being popular and entertaining] once occupied by Snowcrash"

So to put it another way, my question is not like, say, my grandpa being like, "What bands today sound like The Rolling Stones. I liked them", it's more like my grandpa saying, "What Kendrick Lamar track should I listen to, if I'm only going to listen to one?".
posted by surenoproblem at 7:54 PM on November 8, 2017

It's young but New York 2140 has the potential to infiltrate this way
posted by mannequito at 1:41 AM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm definitely asking the former, i.e. "what current book holds the broad cultural position [or is really innovative while also being popular and entertaining] once occupied by Snowcrash"

Well then I am going to have to go back to my original answer of Ready Player One. MeFi skews old for the book's intended audience, I think; the 80s references are neither fun nor nostaligic for us. But to be fair, there was also an age and digital experience divide for Snow Crash.

But the two books have a lot in common in terms of book reviews, reader reviews, sales, NYT bestseller list duration, etc. Looking just now, I was surprised to note that not only do they have similar rankings on Goodreads; the reviews are practically interchangeable.

I would argue that Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979), Snow Crash (1992), and Ready Player One (2011) have all held similar positions in their relative, similarly spaced generational pop-cultures.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:38 AM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

A relevant book that I read a few years ago is LoveStar by Andri Snaer Magnason. The book is essentially a satire, but it does provide some interesting commentary about what the technology of the near future might look like.

The premise of the book is that a centralized corporation controls everything from matchmaking to genetic engineering to career choices. The author takes some present day concerns about technology and humanity, and spins them into a bizarre cautionary tale about the dangers of putting too much trust in any one device, website or idea.
posted by carnival_night_zone at 7:23 AM on November 10, 2017

I've been thinking about this some more.
While Snowcrash was a great read and very memorable I wouldn't consider it a breakthrough book in regards to popularizing SciFi for a mainstream audience. I think it was self-contained in a way that genre books sometimes aren't. You didn't have to have read a bunch of books of its ilk to understand what the hell the author was talking about, and Stephensen is a good enough author to be able to bring the reader up to speed quickly without the feeling of being spoon-fed. I don't remember it holding a 'broad cultural position,' but that might be because the Harry Potter books redefined what the statement means a few years later.

Iain Banks wrote books that stand well on their own, introducing well fleshed-out characters and revolve around interesting ideas.

If you are willing to move away from books, the Black Mirror series has been transmuting a lot of the ideas that SciFi has been mulling over for the past 30 years into a very digestible, easy-to-pick-up format. That series has more popular appeal in the mass-media sense than any book I can think of.

Ancillary Justice has some important new ideas, and will probably sit as one of the most influential of the decade. I would not describe is exactly as fun and exciting. Mainstream SciFi is looking inward right now - interested in righting a lot of its past wrongs, and writing stories that counter the older generation's insistence on positivist, colonialist, varyingly racist stories.
posted by Dmenet at 10:27 AM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dug up this old account that I never got to use. Good thing - changed password and added it to the password manager!

Anyway, other than many of the mentioned, I highly recommend William Gibson's The Peripheral. So so so good. Actually rereading it right now.
posted by twrlip at 1:06 PM on November 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

In my circles, based on popularity/buzz/communally-acknowledged-'must-read'-status:

couple years ago:
The Girls by Emma Cline -- huge buzz, though most people I know were disappointed by it

couple years ago, and ongoing:
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson -- every young writer I know has read this book, and for good reason. Nelson has a strong claim to best literary writer writing in English today and the people I know who have read all her work (I haven't) seem to consider this her best book

right this minute:
literally show me a healthy person by Darcie Wilder
posted by skwt at 4:10 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

You know, I was thinking something similar last night as I drifted off to sleep: what is today's The Matrix? I know there have been bigger films that more people have seen and that have made way more money, but none of have made that much of a zeitgeisty impact. Like, The Matrix was responsible (at least partly) for the resurgence of goth and all its appurtenances (music, primarily). It kick-started (for better or worse) heavy reliance on CGI and frantic kineticism in cinema, and in movie series' being planned in advance. "I know kung fu" is a line that everybody remembers. The Matrix and the Lord of the Rings films really plugged themselves into everybody's psyche. I barely remember a single thing (beyond the gist) from any of the e.g. Marvel movies, despite enjoying them all quite thoroughly.

As for your specific question, the closest I can think of is the relatively recent (2006) World War Z by Max Brooks, which, in my opinion, kicked off the zombie media plague of the past decade. Actually it was probably the Zombie Survival Guide, from a few years earlier, but that's more of a toilet book than an actual novel.

It's actually a really excellent read, too.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:29 PM on November 12, 2017

Blindsight, the legal, free, electronic version if you want to take it for a test drive.
posted by mecran01 at 7:13 PM on November 13, 2017

> If you liked Snowcrash, you'll probably like Reamde.

Ugh - I loved Snow Crash but was pretty meh on Reamde, and very meh on Seveneves; Anathem was a bit more to my taste but it wasn't a great book either, honestly.

There's lots of good book recommendations in this thread - Ancillary Justice was fantastic, The Fifth Season, Blindsight, I really enjoyed Max Barry's Lexicon - but I don't think any of them quite rose to the level of a book that is pushed on non-SF readers by fans to get a taste of the possibilities.

Arrival, the movie version of Story of Your Life, led to a small Ted Chiang boomlet, and if anyone deserves to be pressed on non-SF readers, it's him.

And yes, World War Z was an early zombie book, again, brought to mainstream prominence by the Brad Pitt movie.

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union - maybe? Good cross-over appeal.

It's a good question, and I don't have a satisfactory answer.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:26 PM on November 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

> I barely remember a single thing (beyond the gist) from any of the e.g. Marvel movies

"I am Groot."

(To think that CGI Vin Diesel out-acted every single DC comic book movie except Wonder Woman. What a waste, DC!)
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:28 PM on November 13, 2017

"I am Groot."

(To think that CGI Vin Diesel out-acted every single DC comic book movie except Wonder Woman. What a waste, DC!)

In my experience, Vin Diesel's acting ability is directly inversely proportionate to the number of lines he is given. I mean, seriously, look at Groot and The Iron Giant compared to Riddick, for example.
posted by Samizdata at 8:27 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not every story in [Stories of Your Life and Others] is a gem

you take that back right now
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:15 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Black Mirror is a great candidate.

One of the ambiguities in the question depends on how you remember taking Snowcrash in the first place -- how dystopic. Was it a warning or a game?
posted by clew at 12:05 PM on November 14, 2017

RedOrGreen: "I loved Snow Crash but was pretty meh on Reamde"

I read like 35% of Reamde and just stopped reading. Didn't really seem to be going anywhere or making any kind of sense.
posted by signal at 6:04 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I loved Reamde, but possibly that was because it was set in a fictional version of my small town in the Kootenays.

I have a different reading of Snowcrash from most, I think. I'd read as much of the cyberpunk stuff I could get my hands on by the time it came out, and found that a lot of it was straight up parody. "Hiro Protagonist"? Really? He just took the genre to the absolute limit and came out the other side. I love that book, and have read it a few times, but I took it a lot less seriously that others seem to.

As for current books that hold the broad cultural position, well I think we're going to have to wait a while to see. Culture is so much more fragmented now than it used to be, and I don't know if there will ever be books, or anything else really, that has both the broad appeal and critical acclaim AND has a hold in the general public's imagination. There are a lot of good suggestions above, and I think that Atwood and Ready Player One (even though I *hated* the whole "antisocial gamer saves the universe" thing) may come as close as any. The Fifth Season may be a bit of a watershed too, as it won multiple awards, is a fantastic book, and there isn't a white dude gamer/nerd/hero anywhere to be found.
posted by sauril at 8:45 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

For an interesting enough page turner I liked The Martian (Andy Weir).

Accelerando (Charles Stross) felt to me like exponential fast forward. What a rush. The Golden Age (John C. Wright) is from 2002, but similarly rushy. I also really liked the "futurism" I found in Blindsight (Peter Watts).

More near future interesting stuff I liked is The Peripheral (William Gibson), and actually the whole trilogy. The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Neal Stephenson) is from 1995, maybe the most direct successor to Snowcrash. Daemon, and Kill Decision (Daniel Suarez) have been mentioned. Very scary stuff, compare to the Slaughterbots video.

I had trouble getting into The Three-Body Problem (Liu Cixin) what with no real science fictiony stuff happening for the first 200 pages.

Last two I'll mention here is Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie) for a really unusual perspective, and Ninefox Gambit (Yoon Ha Lee) which took me two chapters to even half understand and it got better and better.

To do, and thanks for the recommendation: Arrival (Ted Chiang).
posted by flamewise at 1:00 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Blindsight x100
posted by OldReliable at 5:56 AM on November 16, 2017

A quick point, flamewise. The short story Arrival is based on is called "Story of Your Life" and can be found in the collection of the same name. All of Chiang's short stories are worth reading. Everyone I've ever recommended that book to, sci-fi fans or not, has enjoyed it.
posted by sauril at 10:50 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

The things that made Snow Crash what it was and is are very different from RP1, which has been described, here on the blue and elsewhere, as basically a recitation of nostalgic references. SC actually takes a hard look ahead, in a way that RP1 apparently never really does (I've never been able to get into the book, even though it's in my iPad; that wasn't a problem with SC, which hits the ground running and picks up speed quickly), and is pretty blunt about what a crapsack world it's going to be. And it's crammed full of ideas: the central premise, that the brain can be programmed and hacked in pretty much the same way that a computer can be; that privatization will continue until there's virtually nothing left of the public sector (the federal government becoming increasingly more obnoxious and superfluous); everyone spending more time online even though it's got its own set of nontrivial problems. Pretty heady stuff for a book that, while it partook heavily of existing cyberpunk tropes, also was very much its own thing. I'd say that H2G2 was its equivalent, but can't think of anything else quite like it, really.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:05 PM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

And to continue the analysis of Snow Crash, that book was about intelligence and the future; we're living in that future now. The genre that crosses over now, the books that break out, are the Young Adult genre, which are often books with a central premise that is about emotional intelligence - The Girl With All The Gifts, Uglies, The Knife of Never Letting Go are all examples which were read everywhere.

Also, I'm going to stick up for Anathem. That books was so danged good, had such a carefully crafted structure of continually revealing the world, and a slightly unreliable narrator who acknowledged his inability to understand what was happening, that I feel it's continually underrated.
posted by The River Ivel at 2:41 PM on November 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree with almost all the recommendations above. Lexicon is especially excellent.

But if you want the Snowcrash-iest thing I have read recently (actually heard because the audiobook version is insane and has everyone from Felicia Day to John Hodgeman playing roles), I would suggest After On. Very as it is very much the same mode- near future technology (nearer than Snowcrash), thriller, fun characters, many ideas.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:30 AM on November 17, 2017

I have never read Snowcrash, but I fit the description of someone who doesn't normally read scifi, and I enjoyed both The Martian and Ready Player One.

I liked The Circle as a book, but was soooo disappointed with the movie that it even made me think less of the book. (Seriously, do not watch. I already had several people tell me they ignored my warning and regretted it.)
posted by easternblot at 2:36 AM on November 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't really have a good answer to the question of what book today is occupying a similar position in the culture, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that both Snowcrash and the Westworld TV series draw on the concept of the bicameral mind. So there's that.

Neal Stephenson seemed to be writing with day-glow colors and neon tubes in Snowcrash and Diamond Age; after that, he seemed to get more serious. Rudy Rucker has consistently written in that over-the-top style and weird ideas, if that's something you're looking for.
posted by adamrice at 7:30 AM on November 22, 2017

I love this thread and wanted to capture all the great suggestions, so here's a compiled list: MefiSciFi. It's a work in progress (most titles need links) but it should be exhaustive up to this post. Feel free to send me pull requests!
posted by simra at 9:52 PM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

simra, that's terrific! Just want to note (for accuracy's sake) that I mentioned The Goldfinch as an "everyone's reading it" title, not a scifi title. Oops. It's definitely not science fiction, so it probably doesn't belong on that list.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 10:14 PM on November 23, 2017

Yes, I was indiscriminate about including titles, including disrecommends. Maybe I'll asterisk a few with notes. Related to this I specifically excluded LOTR since it's only mentioned as a film.
posted by simra at 11:22 PM on November 23, 2017

For those keeping score (+x==positive mentions in this thread):

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (+7)
Blindsight, Peter Watts (+6)
Stories of Your Life And Others, Ted Chiang (+5)
The Fifth Season, and the Broken Earth Series, J.K. Nemison (+4)
posted by simra at 9:29 AM on November 24, 2017

The Snowcrash of today would have to replicate what Snowcrash was back in 1992:

a) Hot, contemporary prose
b) Mining a relatively obscure SF subgenre (or approaching a subgenre in a wildly different way)
c) From a new/relatively unknown author
d) That immediately becomes a critical and/or commercial hit.

I remember reading Snowcrash for the first time and my takeaway of it was that this is what it would be like if Hunter S. Thompson wrote cyberpunk. Literally no one (or at least no one I'd read) had ever done that before -- all the cyberpunk I'd read to that point was dour as shit. Snowcrash blew the doors off that. I'd never heard of Stephenson before but he immediately went on my "buy everything" list. Even now I think Snowcrash's first chapter is about as perfect a first chapter as the genre has ever had, in terms of creating mood, world and character. I could teach a class on it (and it's the standard to which I hold my own first chapters; if you want to see my most obvious attempt at a Stephenson first chapter, read Chapter One of The Android's Dream).

While Talldean was kind enough to give me a shout-out upthread, I wouldn't compare Old Man's War to Snowcrash. OMW fails a) and b) at least, because I was (intentionally) writing Heinlein pastiche in the very common SF subgenre of military science fiction. Stephenson was doing punk and I was doing Album Oriented Rock, as it were.

In the last decade I think the two works that come closest to the Snowcrash formula have already been mentioned here: Ready Player One and The Martian (and both in fact were rather more commercially successful than Snowcrash was out of the gate). I can't think of anything too similar since The Martian.

Please note this is not to minimize Jemisin, Leckie, Chiang, et al, all of whom are obviously hugely important in contemporary science fiction. But I'm going to say that what they're doing, while wonderful and in fact essential, isn't all that similar to Snowcrash. They're different species of science fiction/fantasy.
posted by jscalzi at 8:31 AM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm pleased MeFi's own cstross' Accelerando was mentioned. While I agree Ready Player One could be a Stephenson novel, I think Accelerando could just about be a sequel to Snow Crash.
I'd also give a shout out to Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End. I see these are both 10 years old now, but well worth it if you missed them.
Both had the 'hang on for a ride' aspect that Snow Crash delivered in spades.
posted by bystander at 7:03 PM on November 28, 2017

I've had random people recommend seven eves by neal stephenson a number of times to me, people I had just met. I saw people reading it on BART. That and The Martian by Andy Weir.
posted by gryftir at 1:14 AM on November 29, 2017

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