Hiro Protagonist is defined from the second page as someone who kicks ass:
"Since then the Deliverator has kept the gun in the glove compartment of his and relied, instead, on a matched set of samurai swords, which have always been his weapon of choice anyhow. The punks in Gila Highlands weren't afraid of the gun, so the Deliverator was forced to use it. But swords require no demonstrations" (2)
Now, there is some satiric bite to Stephenson's picture of America as a cross between a streetfight and an NRA convention, but there is rather more to the violence than necessary that particular aim. Which is not to say that Stephenson worries to much about wearing his jokes out, or even advancing the plot smoothly. But there is another motive behind all this--it's central to Hiro's development as a character.
"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 Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street cimre. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad. Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken" (271)
It is not plot that drives the violence of the book. It is not satire, either. It isn't even the congenital obsession of science fiction--the invention of new and amusing ways for characters to fold, spindle and mutilate each other. It is the way Hiro grows. We know he likes swords, we know that he no longer wants to be the world's baddest motherfucker, and we know that he can administer the coup de grace when he must. Big parts of Hiro's personality, as Stephenson presents it, are caught up in the way he fights, and how he feels about that fighting. This seems, somehow, caught up in the way that he constructs gender--when he says all men under twenty-five, he means all men. If it were only Hiro, perhaps this could be overlooked. But it's not only Hiro, though. All three of the main male characters in SC are killers--Hiro, Raven and Uncle Enzo. YT, a fifteen-year old girl, also fights when she has to, but it's non-lethal. She has a sonic skateboard that breaks glass, and pepper spray, and bracelets that give people shocks, but she doesn't use swords, or guns, or nuclear weapons. But it's Hiro's ex-girlfriend, the linguistic hacker Juanita, who shows the difference between men and women in Stephenson most explicity.
"First things first," Juanita says. "The control tower."
"Okay, you get ready to grab the tablet, and I'll take out the control tower."
"How are you going to do that? By cutting people up with swords?"
"Yeah. That's the only thing they're good for."
"Let's do it the other way around," Juanita says.
The violence is intended to make the book more entertaining, at least--science fiction readers buy books much more preoccupied with killing than Snow Crash. And it is partly satirical, and Hiro is mocked (gently, compared to the treatment that just about everyone and everything else in the book gets) for it, but there is also a bonding between him and Raven, and Raven and Enzo, over their willingness to fight. A willingness that is needed, to survive in, and save, the America of the future. For all his parodying, I think that Stephenson, whose vision of America is all the more nightmarish because it is one big free-fire zone, thinks this willingness is worthy of praise.
One more thing that concerns me, partly because of the way this novel follows Slow River in our Syllabus: in the not-too-distant future of cyberpunk, Is homosexuality an anachronism? After reading a few cyberpunk novels, I am beginning to wonder about the future of the love that dares not speak its name. Whether due to authorial puritanism or purposeful absence, there is an extreme void in the fiction of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson when it comes to either man-to-man or woman-to-woman love. Gibson skirts around the issue by being farely prudish about sex in general. In Neuromancer, the one encounter between Molly and Case is empty, and lacks any substantial repercussions on either character. Sex is like cyberspace, plug-in and plug-out, only cyberspace is the much more enjoyable of the two activities. Snow Crash treats sexuality as virtually unchanged from today (with a few technological enhancements, such as the dentata). A natural sexual tension between YT and Hiro builds up through the novel, and much of the plot revolves around Hiro's desire to reinstate himself with Juanita, and YT's fling with Raven. Despite the prominence of the sexual side of human interaction, there are few to no references to homosexuality whatsoever in his novel. Where are they? Identity politics definitely exist (look at the apartheid burb-claves), yet no gay identity. Stephenson's vision, where commercialized or self-designed avatars act as go-betweens for human interaction on the Street, both point to a redefinition of identity by the sudden lack of physical context to human interaction. In a sympathetic or even passive reading of Gibson or Stephenson, this redefinition implies an abandonment of sexual politics as a viable means of forming community. Considering the embracing of the Internet and WWW by the gay community, the absence of homosexuality in these futurist settings is problematic. Well, I think so.