Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, is often considered one of the most idiosyncratic and enjoyable cyberpunk fictions ever produced. Its inventive world, tongue-in-cheek humor, and eerily accurate predictions of the information age have made it one of the most renowned American sci-fi novels of the last 30 years. Fans of the book and cyberpunk should be happy to hear that the novel is currently being adapted for a series on HBO Max.
HBO has proven its capability for lending astounding production value to genre shows. Just look at Westworld, which is easily the closest any live-action TV series has come to perfecting a cyberpunk aesthetic for the small screen — even more so than Altered Carbon. The upcoming Snow Crash adaptation is in very trustworthy hands at HBO, especially with Joe Cornish (Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King) and Michael Bacall (21 Jump Street) taking the reins. They are both adept and engaging genre filmmakers.
When adapting a cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash is probably the single best one to pick. While William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer, is often considered more important for bringing cyberpunk to a mainstream audience, Snow Crash’s prose is richer. The book’s take on a futuristic L.A. is vivid enough, but its most fascinating environment is the Metaverse. A sprawling virtual-reality where people choose digital avatars to control and compete with each other to rise in status, it’s nigh-unbelievable to think Stephenson wrote this book years before the Internet really took off (no less, MMORPGs).
Furthermore, Snow Crash is an accessible book, despite its complex themes regarding linguistics and philosophy. It’s also incredibly funny and approaches genre almost as a parody would, through some very broad means. For example, the central character’s name is Hiro Protagonist. Like any good satirist, Stephenson uses embellishment to comment on actual concerns. Snow Crash visualizes a world where an economic collapse has ceded power to private organizations, conglomerates, and even criminal organizations. While readers might laugh when they find out this world’s pizza industry is ruthlessly controlled by the mafia, there’s a lot of subtext to read into how the book conflates crime with business with government.
Cornish is the ideal director to handle this material. The British funnyman is well known in the UK for his collaborations with Adam Buxton in the comedy duo Adam Baxton, but the last decade has really demonstrated his talent as a director and screenplay writer. He co-wrote both The Adventures of Tin-Tin and Ant-Man and furthermore directed and scripted Attack the Block and The Kid Who Would Be King. While The Kid Who Would Be King was a well-received fantasy film, his previous feature, Attack the Block, is a more integral example of why it makes sense for him to take on a project like Snow Crash. A high-octane sci-fi film that featured urban kids fighting off an alien invasion (and brilliantly launching a career for Star Wars’ John Boyega), Attack the Block was a fun film that also snuck some topical commentary in amidst the viscera.
Bacall is also a good fit for Snow Crash. Probably most reputable for writing both of the recent 21 Jump Street movies, Bacall clearly knows how to use familiar genre tropes in self-aware ways. He also co-wrote the script for Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with Edgar Wright, who has also worked with Cornish, so it’s extremely likely the two will see eye-to-eye on a lot of creative decisions.
With outstanding source material and two experienced genre-helmers tackling the project, Snow Crash has boundless potential. Cornish had reportedly been trying for years to get a Snow Crash feature made and was having difficulties selling it to studios, but a TV series ultimately sounds like a safer route for translating the 480-page novel. There’s no firm release date for Snow Crash as of yet, but it will hopefully pick up speed in the coming years.
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The upcoming HBO Max adaptation of Neal Stephenson's 1992 cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash, may be the series fans have been craving.