Snow Crash redux

We’ve already had some excerpts from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash on Ogle Earth, and we’ve found that John Hanke took inspiration for Google Earth from the Earth in Snow Crash.

I read Snow Crash over the past week, and bookmarked the Earth passages. Here they are, at least all the ones longer than a passing mention:

There is something new: A globe about the size of a grapefruit, a perfectly detailed rendition of Planet Earth, hanging in space at arm’s length in front of his eyes. Hiro has heard about this but never seen it. It is a piece of CIC software called, simply, Earth. It is the user interface that CIC uses to keep track of every bit of spatial information that it owns – all the maps, weather data, architectural plans, and satellite surveillance stuff.

Hiro has been thinking that in a few years, if he does really well in the intel biz, maybe he will make enough money to subscribe to Earth and get this thing in his office. Now it is suddenly here, free of charge. (Ch. 13)

Hiro turns his attention to Earth.

The level of detail is fantastic. The resolution, the clarity, just the look of it tells Hiro, or anyone else who knows computers, that this piece of software is some heavy shit.

It’s not just continents and oceans. It looks exactly like the earth would look from a point in geosynchronous orbit directly above L.A., complete with weather systems—vast spinning galaxies of clouds, hovering just above the surface of the globe, casting gray shadows on the oceans—and polar ice caps, fading and fragmenting into the sea. Half the globe is illuminated by sunlight, and half is dark. The terminator—the line between night and day—has just swept across L.A. and is now creeping across the Pacific, off to the west.

Everything is going in slow motion. Hiro can see the clouds change shape if he watches them long enough. Looks like a clear night on the East Coast.

Something catches his attention, moving rapidly over the surface of the globe. He thinks it must be a gnat. But there are no gnats in the Metaverse. He tries to focus on it. The computer, bouncing low-powered lasers off his cornea, senses this change in emphasis, and then Hiro gasps as he seems to plunge downward toward the globe, like a space-walking astronaut who has just fallen out of his orbital groove. When he finally gets it under control, he’s just a few hundred miles above the earth, looking down on a solid bank of clouds, and he can see the gnat gliding along below him. It’s a low-flying CIC satellite, swinging north to south in a polar orbit. (Ch. 13)

Earth materializes, rotating majestically in front of his face. Hiro reaches out and grabs it. He twists it around so he’s looking at Oregon. Tells it to get rid of the clouds, and it does, giving him a crystalline view of the mountains and the seashore. Right out there, a couple of hundred miles off the Oregon coast, is a sort of granulated furuncle growing on the face of the water. […]

Hiro looks up, focuses his gaze on Earth, zooms in for a look. As he gets closer, the imagery he’s looking at shifts from the long-range pictures coming in from the geosynchronous satellites to the good stuff being spewed into the CIC computers from a whole fleet of low-flying spy birds. The view he’s looking at is a mosaic of images shot no more than a few hours ago. (Ch. 35)

Hiro reaches out and grabs Earth.

“YOU ARE HERE,” he says.

Earth spins round until he staring straight down at the Raft, then it plunges towards him at a terrifying rate. It takes all of three seconds for him to get there.

If he were in some normal, stable part of the world, like lower Manhattan, this would actually work in 3-D. Instead, he’s got to put up with two-dimensional satellite imagery. He’s looking at a red dot superimposed on a black-and-white photograph of the Raft. The red dot is in the middle of a narrow black channel of water. YOU ARE HERE:

It’s still an incredible maze. But it’s a lot easier to solve a maze when you’re looking down on it. (Ch. 58)

2 thoughts on “Snow Crash redux”

  1. How Snow Crash! The Inflatable Pub

    Remember that part in Snow Crash (if you have never read Snow Crash, you should be ashamed to be seen around these internets) where Hiro talks to the President who is drowning his sorrows in a beer, and then those hicks come up and he totally cuts the …

  2. I’m amazed how few people noticed where Google got the idea from. Actually CNC and The Raft was my first thought when hearing of Google Earth. Still needs a couple more satellites up there to make it realtime.

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