May 27, 2006

Snow Crash and The Camp of the Saints

I just finished Neal Stephenson's famous 1992 sci-fi satire novel Snow Crash, which is kind of like The Da Vinci Code for smart people (although I imagine Dan Brown was inspired, if that's the word for it, more by Umberto Eco's 1989 bestseller Foucault's Pendulum).

It must have been a startlingly great book back in 1992. It's the early 21st Century in Los Angeles, and government has fallen apart just about everywhere in the world, except perhaps Japan. Private enterprise has taken over all the functions of the state. A few ethnic groups -- the Cantonese and the Sicilians -- are flourishing in the absence of public order (indeed the Mafia are pretty close to being the good guys in the novel). I guess a lot of libertarians see it as a utopian novel, but I doubt if Stephenson would agree. (Here's an interview with him in Reason magazine where he appears to be implicitly suggesting that libertarianism is another mind-virus.)

A major plot element in Snow Crash is the Raft, a vast agglomeration of flotsam, inhabited by impoverished south and southeast Asian refugees drifting inexorably across the Pacific, headed for California. Stephenson's description of The Raft is a pretty funny variation on the usual sentimental cant about how illegal immigrants have more gumption than us natives, and thus are just what us decadent Americans need:

"When [the Raft] gets to California, it will enter a new phase of its life cycle. It will shed much of its sprawling improvised bulk as a few hundred thousand Refus cut themselves loose and paddle to shore. The only Refus who make it that far are, by definition, the ones who were agile enough to make it out to the Raft in the first place, resourceful enough to survive the agonizingly slow passage through arctic waters, and tough enough not to get killed by any of the other Refus. Nice guys, all of them. Just the kind of people you'd like to have showing up on your private beach in groups of a few thousand." [p. 272]

Clearly, Stephenson picked up his idea for the Raft from Jean Raspail's 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints, which is about a similar ramshackle armada heading from south Asia to the south of France. So, I went to Google to read about the influence of Camp of the Saints on Snow Crash. As a cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash is, unsurprisingly, much discussed on the Internet, with 360,000 Google hits. Camp of the Saints shows up in 53,000 places.

And how many webpages discuss the overlap between them? As far as I can tell, exactly one.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


fod said...

two now, eh?

Steve Sailer said...

Three now that it's on Wikipedia.