Monday, March 26, 2018

Sidebar III: Snow Crash vs Ready Player One

Sidebar III: Snow Crash vs Ready Player One

I find it interesting that the two books are even compared at all really. Usually comparison arises when books are published fairly closely together, have similar characters or subject matter. Instead Hiro and Y.T are very different from Wade and the worlds they inhabit are fairly different as well. The stories themselves are different in a lot of ways a well. Still let's take a look at the two shall we?

First let me map what I found the books shared. Both books have a semi-humorish tone to them, Snow Crash's humor comes from the near parody like nature of it's world. Where it rides that fine line between absolute parody of cyberpunk and maintaining a fairly serious world. Ready Player One's humor comes more from the situation of imaging a teenager in 2045 being obsessed with Atari games and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The humor is fairly different though, Snow Crash invites us to share a chuckle while Ready Player One works really hard to make that outlandish behavior make sense and feel serious. I'm going to be honest and Ready Player One is actually fairly successful in that by tying that ridiculous behavior into a high reward in the story (If you can remember the lines to War Games, you might have a shot at winning enough money to match the GDP of a medium sized country after all). Both Hiro and Wade are fairly skilled with computers and like Y.T, Wade is growing up in a world that is flying to pieces. The biggest common ground however is the existence of a virtual reality internet in both stories. The Metaverse in Snow Crash and the OASIS in Ready Player One. Let me take a look at them.

The Metaverse is fairly constrained and honestly somewhat pedestrian compared to the OASIS. It presents itself as a single vast globe that can be traveled by train or programmed vehicles. People buy virtual estate in the Metaverse and build offices, homes and headquarters for their internet needs. People move about in avatar with most people using black and white flat avatars with computer experts using more realized avatars and the wealthy buying off the shelf colored avatars for their convenience. All in all it's not a terrible view of the internet but it is constrained by the fact it was written in 1992 when the web was in it's infancy at best and no one really quiet knew it's full potential. Additionally the Metaverse does not get the same amount of attention lavished on it as OASIS does as most of Snow Crash takes place in the real world.

Meanwhile in Ready Player One, the OASIS is where the action is. The OASIS is bigger, more realized and immersive then the Metaverse. It's not a single globe, it's a galaxy of planets you can teleport around in if you have the money or fly using spells, spaceships or anything a programmer can dream of. People conduct business, play games, go to school, work, hang out, fight and love in this place. The OASIS feels like the internet turned into a truly amazing Massive Multi-Player Online Game. Everyone starts off with fully rendered and 3d avatars just like most MMOs but through grinding or money you can upgrade pretty quick. Ready Player One details the world of OASIS fairly deeply and devotes a good deal of time to it because the OASIS is most of the story takes place. Given that the book was written in 2008, it's no surprise that a greater understanding of the internet and it's culture is displayed in this book.

Let's take a look at our characters. I'm going to stick to our 3 main characters for brevity sakes. Hiro is a loner who could take a respected position in his society of hackers and programmers but refuses to due to distinct distaste for authority and a fear of being turned into an assembly line worker. Y.T is young woman who has rejected most of her society because it requires her to dumb herself down and pretend to be less capable then she really is. Hiro chooses to do most of his work in the Metaverse but has no problem getting his hands dirty in the real world (or even resorting to reason if necessary) if the stakes become high enough. Y.T is unrelentingly a citizen of the real world and embraces it fully. Both Hiro and Y.T accept their world and don't waste a lot of time thinking about how things were better in the past. That may be because Hiro as African American would look at the past as a time when he would have been locked out of his rightful part of things for something as petty as his skin color and Y.T simply inclined to think that way as she's very much someone who focuses on the present. Wade makes no bones about the fact that he thinks he lives in one of the crappiest times in history (I would say he's wrong but would admit the world he describes can't be called good). He, unlike the two above is very focused on the past and how things were better back then. Wade is also someone who has a community but refuses to take a bigger part in it out of a combination of pride and shame. Shame over his poverty and pride in refusing to ask for help instead clinging to the hope that he can strike it big on his own efforts. While it would look like something he shares in common with Hiro along with a love of computers, there's a difference. Hiro is coder and a programmer, one of the men who actually built the Metaverse, line by line. Wade is a gamer and while not a terrible programmer it's not his main skill set nor did he have anything to do with the creation of the Metaverse, Wade's struggle to take over a fully created world that he had no choice but to be in. Hiro's struggle is to understand the world he's help create, his role in it and to protect it. I suppose Wade might grow up in way to be like Hiro but I find it unlikely. Wade is honestly more set in his ways then Hiro and more committed to a course of action. I would honestly say both men reflect the generations they come from with Hiro being full of Generation X confusion bordering on apathy and Wade showing the self belief and frustrated determination of the Millennials.

This leads me over to the themes of the books in question which are also both very different. Snow Crash is a consideration of what Memes mean and what they do, how they tie into language and the very power of language over how we view the world. After all if you don't have a word for something how can you fully understand it? How can you explain it to others without words to give the concept meaning? What if someone could use a word to take that understanding away from you? What if someone could use a word to take you away from you? Weaving through that is a theme of coming to understand yourself and what it is you want to do in the world. Although I would consider that a lesser theme in Snow Crash. In Ready Player One, what Wade has to learn is that his obsessions are not a replacement for real relationships with real people. That while it's perfectly fine to have interests that you devote time and energy to, you also need to devote time and energy to being a member of society and not shutting yourself away from everyone. Wade's struggle to connect to his fellow human being is part of his coming of age. This is a young man who only had one close friend that he had never met in real life and never been on so much as a date by the start of the story.

Although now that I think about it there are a couple of other things that the books have in common. Wade, Hiro and Y.T are all status quo heroes. Wade wants to protect the current status of OASIS from being changed by the greedy corporation of IOI. Hiro and Y.T want to protect their world from being overwritten by a businessman who thinks he can become a god. Both are trying to maintain the world in it's current state against people would change it, in their opinion at least for the worst. This doesn't mean that they're against change but the changes that Hiro, Y.T and Wade do push forward in their stories are changes on a personal level in how they relate to their world and those around them. They don't seek to make sweeping changes to that world for good or for ill. It also interesting to note that in both books the villains are corporations. IOI is faceless villain for the most part, the sixers all look alike and Nolan Sorrento the leaders of the sixers is only a lackey for faceless powers that be. Meanwhile the corporation in Snow Crash has a face in Bob Rife, who is the owner of the business and the mastermind of the plot that Hiro and Y.T work to foil. The motivations are different however, as IOI seeks to seize the OASIS as a profit engine and possibly gain control over a major engine of the world's economy, while Bob Rife intends to flat out rule the world through being able to control the populace directly.

In the end I don't think Ready Player One stole anything from Snow Crash, the idea of a virtual reality style internet is one that has been around for a long time. If nothing else the existence of stories like Tron and Lawnmower Man would inspire someone towards that end eventually. Also corporations as villains is a staple in dystopias and cyberpunks and the motivations, organization and operations of the two villains in question are so different that I can't see Mr. Cline has taking to much inspiration from Snow Crash. I would argue that these are two very different books and I remain surprised at the threads on reddit and the various articles that insist on comparing them.  While there are similarities, they're fairly skin deep ones in alot of ways.  I remain steadfast in my belief that Snow Crash is the better book and the better story but I can also see how some people would prefer Ready Player One as the themes of that story and the journey that Wade goes through are very modern ones and might resonate more with certain readers then the themes in Snow Crash.

Next Friday, we take on Ready Player One the movie and after that Platinum Magic. This has been your reviewer reminding you, keep reading!

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