Sotheby's to auction original manuscript for 'Snow Crash': Landmark novel which coined the term 'Metaverse'
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Sotheby's to auction original manuscript for 'Snow Crash': Landmark novel which coined the term 'Metaverse'
Neal Stephenson. The author’s original typed manuscript for Snow Crash, 1991-1992. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- To mark 30 years since the first publication of Neal Stephenson’s landmark 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash - a key pillar of the cyberpunk genre which famously coined the term ‘Metaverse’ - Sotheby’s will present a sale comprising physical and digital items connected to the book, with the majority of lots offered directly from author Neal Stephenson. Leading the sale is Stephenson’s never-before-seen original manuscript for the novel (est. $40,000 – 60,000), revealed to the public for the very first time. The sale will be further highlighted by a one-of-a-kind tachi sword (est. $120,000 – 140,000), crafted by award-winning Wētā Workshop, best known for their artistry and craftsmanship for some of the world’s greatest films including Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, King Kong, Blade Runner 2049 and Avatar. The sale will also contain digital offerings, including an edition of dystrophic generative art, titled Infocalypse. These original digital artworks, created by the artist Tony Sheeder in collaboration with Stephenson and artist and software developer Crispin Sterling, take inspiration from Dioxin Posse, the graphic novel project which would later become Snow Crash. The generative art sale will be held on Sotheby’s Metaverse – a full-circle moment for the man who coined the term.

Since its first publication 30 years ago, Snow Crash has had a vast influence across culture. Not least of which was Stephenson’s coining of the term ‘metaverse,’ which in recent years has grown into a household phrase, but also in the many ways the novel predicted how we interact with the omnipresent digital world. The work also popularized the term ‘avatar’ to describe a digital figure representing a particular person and was personally cited by director James Cameron as a primary inspiration for his blockbuster film series of the same name. Taking place in a neoliberal society run by corporations and ravaged by hyperinflation, the dystopic novel provides a prophetic look at the future, foreshadowing the vast possibilities of cyberspace; from cryptocurrency and open-source intelligence to corporate espionage and control. Listed among Time magazine’s Top 100 All-Time Novels written in English since 1923, the influential text served as a foundation for several of the world’s leading technology companies most notably Microsoft’s Xbox development team among other Silicon Valley heavyweights.

Stephenson’s manuscript for Snow Crash includes his many corrections and annotations, revealing significant additions, changes and deletions for the first time, revealing the ways in which he developed and honed the narrative. In the novel, Hiro Protagonist, a katana-wielding computer hacker stumbles upon a plot to distribute the drug/virus/religion Snow Crash to every individual in both the real world and the Metaverse. Aided by a “Kourier” named Yours Truly, or Y.T. the duo work to take down the distributor of Snow Crash, the communications magnate and religious cult-leader L. Bob Rife, and the assassin in his employ, the murderous Raven. Alongside the original typed manuscript, the auction will also include the typesetting manuscript of Snow Crash (estimate $20,000 - $30,000), which contains the final edits and changes, from text edits to notes on design and layout, to the manuscript by Stephenson and his editor prior to the novel's first publication.

The concept for Snow Crash was originally conceived as a graphic novel which Stephenson created with artist and collaborator Tony Sheeder, however, due to the high cost involved (they planned to first film it as a movie, and then cut up stills to create the graphic novel), all that exists are a series of 35 mm slides created by the pair to pitch the project. In another auction first, these slides, which are offered together with their digital versions as a 1/1 NFT ($6,000 - $9,000), will be sold alongside the original painting by famed science fiction cover artist Bruce Jensen, used as the cover art for the mass market paperback edition of Snow Crash, published by Bantam Spectra in 1993 (est. $30,000 – 50,000).

Alongside the material relating to the publication of the novel is a one-of-a-kind hand-forged tachi sword inspired by the weapon wielded by the novel’s protagonist. The sword forms part of the extended Snow Crash universe revealed for the first time; belonging to the Tsuji family (the original owners of Hiro’s sword) they forge a close relationship with Hiro Protagonist before the events of the novel and are among the first investors in the Metaverse. To commemorate their investment, and as a token of friendship, Hiro works with the fictitious “Meta Workshop” to create the tachi and present it to Hatsuo Tsuji, the patriarch of the family. The digital twin of the Tachi, offered together with the sword as a 1/1 NFT, not only identically captures every detail of the physical sword, but also showcases the beauty of the sword’s materials and craftsmanship in a virtual environment. The Snow Crash Sword One and its Digital Twin represent a symbol of humanity standing at the edge of a new epoch, as humankind continues to explore the digital frontiers of the future.

The sword is offered in a custom tansu storage cabinet, designed and created by Wētā Workshop, the foremost maker of weapons, armour, costume and physical effects for films such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, King Kong, Blade Runner 2049, Avatar and many more. The physical sword will be offered with an estimate of $120,000 –$180,000.

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