My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Why did I wait so long to read this book? Fortunately, it holds up well, even in the places where it explains computer lingo—a flaw of many other novels from that era. I was worried when I opened the first page that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. There is a pace to the writing which is nosebleed-inducing at the onset. But once you commit, it feels more like what you would expect from a good thriller.
But let’s talk about the world Stephenson creates/portends. My favorite neologism in the book is “loglo,” which represents the blinding spectacle of light radiating from towering electric roadside signage in every direction. These advertise franchulates, which represent customer service points for franchised corporates that are now sovereign territories as well. Much of the United States government has been privatized. Most notably the Library of Congress and the NSA/CIA have merged and corporatized into the CIC, which employs people as stringers to vacuum up intel for its repository. Stringers make royalties off the intel they collect through the sublime melding of sousveillance and surveillance—it’s libertarian without being liberating. The evolved form of this practice is realized in “gargoyles,” which are essentially stringers with wearable computers and augmented reality googles not unlike Google Glass. Here we come!
The Metaverse is a virtual world, roughly like what Second Life aspired to be, gargoyles are plugged into both simultaneously. Those that have the means—largely “hackers”—have avatars in this world and conduct business here, but it’s only accessible to those with the means of technical chops, finances, and infrastructure to connect and participate. Only a small fraction of the world’s population enjoys the benefits that come from being part of the technological priesthood that “inhabit” the Metaverse. The Third World is largely untouched and referred to as a kind of distant other. There is no mobile computing revolution yet for them—then again it appears that a good bit of East Asia has collapsed—so who knows what happened.
This was too much fun to read, and heartily recommended to the few souls like myself who have not picked it up yet. It was originally meant to be a graphic novel, but even as simply a novel it’s a very engrossing and imagery-rich work, full of creativity and intelligence.