A Bad Mutha -- Shut Yo' Mouth

Adam mazer '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University

Amongst all the satirically exaggerated elements of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash world, a few important powerful elements keep the story grounded in concrete human emotions. One of the most significant of these elements is the mind of Hiro Protagonist, the, well, hero and protagonist of the novel. Despite a somewhat ridiculous name (apparently self-bestowed) and a standing as the best swordsman in the world (as far as he knows), Hiro provides a relatably human, often humorous, viewpoint into the greater world of the novel. In the following passage, for example, Hiro expresses the inner thoughts of all self respecting wannabe-heroes.

Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Columbian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.

Hiro used to feel that way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this is liberating. He no longer has to worry about trying to be the baddest motherfucker in the world. That position is taken. [p. 271]

This excerpt is but one of the many times in which glimpses into Hiro's mind (and Y.T.'s as well) keep the story -- full of sword fighting, Metaverse-hacking, and nuclear machine gunning -- from becoming so foreign that it becomes merely an amusement, losing its emotional connection.


1. Why did Stephenson choose not to make Hiro white (he is half black, half Korean)? Is there a significance to it beyond plot (i.e. New South Africans attack him cause they're racists)?

2. Why sword fighting? Why are swords so effective in the Snow Crash world? Is there an inherent strength in combining elements associated with the far past -- Samurai, for example -- with futuristic creations like the Metaverse?

3. Why is Hiro so concerned with being the "baddest motherfucker in the world," when he has no girlfriend, little money, and -- after the second chapter -- no steady job? Does this make him a more or less sympathetic character, and how?

4. Is Hiro the baddest motherfucker in the world? At the end of the novel, when he finally defeats Raven, he accomplishes this feat by using the rules of the Metaverse against his enemy. Isn't that kind of a cop-out? Who defeats Raven in the real physical world?

Website OV Cyborg Literature SnowCrash

Last modified 14 April 2005