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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating vision of nanotech-driven future
This book is pleasantly dense with interesting ideas about what the future holds. The title refers to the progression of material-driven stages of human progress -- the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, etc. In "the Diamond Age", matter compilers can easily create diamonds out of raw carbon. Basic foodstuffs and many other material wants can be satisfied by these matter...
Published on July 11 2004 by Timothy H. Mansfield

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3.0 out of 5 stars Annoying Authors
Neal Stephenson (NS), the author of THE DIAMOND AGE, will go into my personal bibliography of annoying authors. He far outdoes Greg Bear, author of DARWIN'S RADIO and DARWIN'S CHILDREN. Bear introduces several new characters in each scene, without indicating who will be turning up again, as the scenes shift to new locales. Stephenson, in contrast, keeps a fairly tight...
Published on Nov. 11 2003 by Siri Peterson


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating vision of nanotech-driven future, July 11 2004
By 
Timothy H. Mansfield (Long Beach, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
This book is pleasantly dense with interesting ideas about what the future holds. The title refers to the progression of material-driven stages of human progress -- the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, etc. In "the Diamond Age", matter compilers can easily create diamonds out of raw carbon. Basic foodstuffs and many other material wants can be satisfied by these matter compilers. This has created a world in which no one need starve. However there are still tremendous disparities between rich and poor, because many human comforts such as entertainment and fine food still require the services of other people, which must be bought in hard currency. Networked nano-technology is all-pervasive, with microscopic robots putting these poorer citizens under constant surveillance. Faced with this hyperactive stew of technologies, ancient instincts and traditions run strong. Crime, poverty, and tribal conflict are still rampant in this world. People cling to old ways of thought (a strong Confucian motif runs through the book) to help make human sense of the rapidly changing world.
Against this backdrop, a fantastically advanced piece of technology (a sentient child's primer) is stolen, and winds up in the hands of a destitute young waif named Nell. Her resulting world-class education, and what she does with that education, is the binding for the various threads of the story.
The book's characters are well-realized for the most part, the writing style is honed and mature, the plot is intricate and engaging. The ending is controversial in its ambiguity, but that does not diminish the power of the book as a whole. In all, a very thought-provoking read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I read this book 7 years ago and it still affects me..., April 20 2004
By 
Christian Hunter "Christian Hunter" (Austin, TX, Santa Barbara, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
...few books do that. Admittedly at the time of read I would have given the book 3.5 to 4 stars. Lacking in my opinion was a coherent storyline; the book was convoluted, you never knew what the point really was.
However, this novel has left a lasting impression on me. Of the numerous "takeaways", the most enduring are these:
1. Nanotechnology will change everything (not so apparent to the public now, much less back in 97).
2. Technology of this magnitude could offer the key to "leveling the playing field" with respect to economic inequity.
3. I devised a business term as a consequence of reading this book that has helped me immeasurably in my career: "attention units". In the future Stephenson posits that marketing will be so efficient that virtually every piece of visual real estate will be covered with what he calls "mediaglyphs"; billboards with audio and video (even on chopsticks). Not saying that I think that's a future I'd like to help build, but it does give you greater appreciation for any venue that could garner consumer attention.
And finally, my greatest lesson of all was what the Primer (the supercomputer/teacher designed by the futures equivelant to a Bill Gates for his grandaughter in an effort to stave off the near inevitable corruption of his heirs owing to great fortune); the Primer's number one lesson in all of it's teaching was appreciation and capability in one principal skill; subversion. It taught her how to go "around, under, over" any obstacle with unorthodox, even risky thinking.
Cool stuff.
Anyway, didn't give anything away of great substance there, but did want to give you a few more reasons from my perspective to read this very special book.
Hope this was helpful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Original, May 9 2004
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This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
The Diamond Age is the second of Stephenson's books that I've read. I enjoyed it far more that Snow Crash. While Snow Crash got off to a great start, I didn't enjoy the second half at all. I found myself reading it because it was a groundbreaking book, not because I enjoyed it. I read The Diamond Age because it was a fast-paced enjoyable read AND because it was unique and thought-provoking.
The Diamond Age is set is a very plausable near future where nanotech has eliminated basic problems, such as starvation, but its created its share of problems as well. Nasty nanotech devices that can track or kill people require sophisticated nanotech defenses.
Meanwhile, all nanotech products are provided be a central feed that both controls what can be delivered, what is free and what costs money, and frees peasents from substistence farming and the poor from working to survive. While this world is harldy a utopia -- as there are still massive economic disparities between the rich and poor and a tremendous amount of crime and pollution -- Westerners on the whole seem happy with this arangement.
But there are more than a few who are unhappy or restless. The Diamond Age is the story of what happens when a father who wants a better life for his daughter collides with an entire culture that wants change. Throw in an enormous computer made of human bodies, an interactive storybook that tells a story that takes over a decade to read, an army of teenage girls and a few other interesting characters and you have a compelling and fascinating view of the future.
When I first finished the book, I thought the ending was abrupt and disappointing. But, as I started to think about the end, I could see everything falling into place.
This is the best book I've read in a while and I highly recommend it.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Social commentary over plot; ramblings that go nowhere..., Feb. 11 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
The first third of the book is reasonably compelling... you forgive the tangents as world building and the slow pace as character development. Then all at once the book looses steam and degenerates into busy work. The tangents are irrelevant ramblings intentionally obtusificated for no other purpose than to be explained, concisely and briefly, in the next chapter... leaving the reader to wonder why he didn't just say so in the first place rather than pad his book. One could literally skip entire chapters losing none of what little plot there is, and arguably missing little of the story's richness. Other tangents are self-indulgent allegory which the sharp reader which disassemble in a glance yet be forced to plod through his ponderous analogies in pretentious fairy-tale speak. As a computer scientist, even I didn't find the tales to be interesting illustrations (than compared to, say, a Christian's adoration of the allegory in C.S. Lewis' works). The final major tangent are the large portions of social commentary, which work fine in SciFi, but by this point you wonder if you are being entertained at all- why bother to read this? Any "plot" is fully predictable from the moment their conceits begin save for the moments when the characters fall completely out of their character- at which point, you feel like you're reading a bad dream and promptly forget as the character "wakes up" back into their normal persona.
This is a novel (but not much of a story) with a lot of great ideas, a rich world, and initially compelling characters. But their interaction is stifled and the entire plot runs out of steam, chugging along on auto-pilot after the first third-to-half of the book. When at last we get to the end the relief is more because your ordeal is over than the characters. Most of Stephenson's curious ways of writing can be forgiven or even endearing if he just made sure it was all going somewhere... unfortunately, The Diamond Age is burdened with a lot of dead weight. An abridged concise novella version might actually be compelling....
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1.0 out of 5 stars So promising...., Jan. 19 2004
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
This book started out with a remarkeable amount of promise. The opening third of it is very, very good. The details and crafted naturalness of the various plot threads is better than nearly any other SF writer out there... but then something happens. it's almost as if the writer became so sure of his inate talent that he didn't care to really think out what he was writing anymore.
He began clearly writing a modified victorian novel, complete with the pedigree prologue dovetailing into the main plot, but then- bam!
By the end, the neo-victorian structure of the novel is lost in a morass of plotting that no self-respecting novelist should allow himself anywhere outside of his own journals and musings, and self-stimulating pleasure.
Stephenson is not a bright enough person (his OS book, being a prime example of mediocrity and plagiarism in thought posing as an amusing parle with a man of mind), nor a skilled-enough craftsman to get away with it- not even close.
The originality of his idea (small as it is) is lost in a book this size. He would have been better off writing this condensed to about half the size- that would have suited the neo-victorian style he attempted here much better.
A real waste of money, again. I've learned my lesson with this guy- he's just not a very good writer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Yes, the ending is rushed--but what a ride!, Jan. 11 2004
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This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
Stephenson has undoubtedly created one of the most intricately designed futureworlds imagined during the last decade, and the plot and characters of "The Diamond Age" are equally complex. The first forty pages work as a preface of sorts: even though the main character, a petty criminal named Bud, quickly bites the dust, his story sets the scene, introduces elaborate technological advances (nanotech viruses, surgically implanted weapons, and fully--and I mean fully--interactive media), and posits a nightmarish tribal society divided into such "claves" as the Vickys (or neo-Victorians), Parsis, and Hindustanis.
After Bud's trial and gruesome execution, the focus shifts to his daughter Nell. Lord Finkle-McGraw hires John Percival Hackworth, a pseudo-intelligence (A.I.) engineer, to create an interactive primer that will not only teach Finkle-McGraw's granddaugher useful lessons but keep her removed from the "degeneracy" of society by making her life "interesting" and "subversive." Finkle-McGraw has chosen his engineer all too well, however, and Hackworth performs his own act of subversion: making a duplicate of this book for his own daughter, Fiona. His crime fails when he is mugged and the book falls into Nell's unwary hands by way of her brother Harv, a street tough.
The rest of the story intertwines these female-male, daughter-patron strands from three different levels of society: impoverished Nell and Harv (and, later, Constable Moore, a Dickensian father-figure), middle-class Fiona and Hackworth, privileged Elizabeth and Finkle-McGraw, along with an ingenious assortment of supporting characters. There's Judge Fang, a strict by-the-book disciplinarian whose Confucianism allows him a soft spot for the care of children (including Nell); Miranda, the mothering "ractor" who provides the human voice behind Nell's interactive primer; and Dr. X, an underworld baron whose real allegiances are rarely clear even to his allies (or to the reader). The political and social intrigues greatly enliven Stephenson's philosophical ruminations, and there's too much going on to summarize in any meaningful way.
Still, in spite of everything it has going for it, "The Diamond Age" has its flaws. I enjoyed the first half of the book immensely--it reads almost like a political thriller--but "Part the Second" falters. Things take a bizarre turn when Hackworth is ensnared by the "Drummers," a communalistic underwater tribe that exchanges digital information by collective sexual osmosis. At this point, for my tastes, things get a little too New Age "touchy-feely" (excuse the double entendre), and the book never entirely recovers.
Other readers have noted that the finale is confusing, open-ended, and rushed. (And here I will be careful not to give anything away.) My initial confusion dissipated after I reread the last fifty pages, and the intended ambiguity didn't bother me since I don't mind certain things left to my imagination. Yet it's true that everything is too hastily wrapped up. There are several problems: first, Stephenson is unable to describe adequately a climactic confrontation involving armies consisting of hundreds of thousands of individuals; the mere dozen or so pages he devotes to this war resemble the confusion of a street brawl rather than the chaos of all-out battle. Second, even as he's trying to describe the battle, he's introducing new characters (such as Colonel Spence) right up to the penultimate chapter.
Third, and most seriously, although one of the strengths of the first half of the book is its character development, Stephenson pretty much abandons his protagonists and nearly all the supporting roles. Actors enter and leave the stage without rhyme or reason (Judge Fang, so fully developed early in the book, doesn't even appear in the second part). In the end, even Nell, Hackworth, and Miranda become little more than political symbols or plot devices. Adding to this impression: the last pivotal twenty pages are related from the point of view of a heretofore minor character, a strategy that only diminishes the book's emotional impact.
Those who expect their books to have satisfying endings, then, might well come away disappointed. I suspect, however, that if you read "The Diamond Age" knowing that the finale isn't entirely fulfilling, then you'll be able to sit back and enjoy the ingenious ride that makes up most of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gets better with each revisitation, Jan. 7 2004
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This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
I first read The Diamond Age before it was released, as my sister worked in a bookstore and provided me with an advance reader's copy (as she had done with Snow Crash before). I couldn't wait - I loved Snow Crash. I had also thought Zodiac was pretty cool, and was looking for the same irreverent and footloose style. After the first fifty pages, I put it down.
I went back to it a week later, and finished it in a day and a half. I couldn't put it down once I got used to the fact that an author is allowed to change his writing style without asking permission from his fan base. I thought the ending was a wee bit abrupt, but considering how well the rest of the work carried me through the weekend, I wasn't displeased.
I found it again in a crate of books, buried during three moves and having been in storage while I lived in California. Since reading it previously, I had married, fathered a child, and watched her grow to the same age Nell is at the beginning of the book. Needless to say, my empathy for her character, and therefore all the characters in the book, shot through the roof. The complexity and richness of the work as a piece of scifi remained as before but it's emotional scope was, for me, enormously broadened. I was moved. Lots.
I will always think that YT's appearance in the book is cool as hell.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Slow Start, Great Concept and Emotion, Disappointing Ending, Dec 29 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
First of all, if you come to this book from Snow Crash, know that it starts out MUCH slower. The pace picks up eventually, but the problem is that it takes about four or five years of the book's timeline to get to that faster paced portion of the story. Many of the ideas that this book explores are very exciting and interesting. The author definitely didn't get lost in the technical side of things as there is an emotionally rich storyline that overlays and incorporates those ideas.
However, I found the ending disappointing and abrupt. So much so, in fact, that I found myself looking for specific logical holes in the storyline (specifically near the end). I found myself asking a lot of "But why?" type questions. I guess what I'm saying is that the ending was so abrupt that the willing suspension of disbelief needed for any fictional story (and especially science fiction stories) was stripped away to a certain extent.
That being said, I thought the book was otherwise fantastic. Once you get past the slow opening, the story pulls you in and moves along at a great pace, without detracting or distracting from the emotional impact of the storyline. In addition, the ideas explored by this story are truly engaging and worth the read. I recommend it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Flawed Diamond, Dec 24 2003
By 
Garrett J. Menning (Albuquerque, NM) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
Neal Stephenson is a genius. In The Diamond Age, he combines hard SF with social commentary, political philosophy and touches of high fantasy, serving up a stylish vision of the 21st century in which nanotechnology is dominant and the nation-state has fallen away. Humanity has become divided into many different cultural formations called phyles. The dominant phyles are the neo-Victorians (or Vickys), the Hindustanis and the Nipponese, all of whom base their power on control of the Feed, a centralized matter-conversion technology. The plot revolves around an interactive book called The Primer and its role in the revolutionary conflict between the Feed and a new, alternative technology called the Seed. As the novel unfolds, we meet colorful characters like the Vicky Artifex Sir John Percival Hackworth, the Confucian Judge Fang, the reverse engineer and criminal mastermind Dr. X, and the young heroine Nell, who gets her power from a purloined copy of the Primer.
Stephenson writes with zest, humor and mind-blowing creative energy. Almost every page holds an insight, plot twist or at least a good laugh that repays the whole price of the book. That's why I really wanted to give this book five stars. But The Diamond Age is, after all, a novel, and the reader has a right to expect the author to adhere to the conventions of the form. These conventions include an ending that ties up loose ends and provides a satisfying resolution to the plot. Unfortunately, Stephenson closes the book without explaining what happens to most of the main characters or providing answers to many of the compelling questions he has raised. At this point, we can only hope for a sequel.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Annoying Authors, Nov. 11 2003
By 
Siri Peterson "PhD^2" (Philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Paperback)
Neal Stephenson (NS), the author of THE DIAMOND AGE, will go into my personal bibliography of annoying authors. He far outdoes Greg Bear, author of DARWIN'S RADIO and DARWIN'S CHILDREN. Bear introduces several new characters in each scene, without indicating who will be turning up again, as the scenes shift to new locales. Stephenson, in contrast, keeps a fairly tight rein on his characters, except for the boyfriends of the heroine's mother. Once or twice he reintroduces one of these men that he's mentioned before, usually to play a slightly different role in the children's lives. It isn't necessary to reintroduce someone just to keep the characterization tight; Stephenson already has us believing in the interchangeability of the mother's relationships with men. Each man is a little different, stays longer or disappears more quickly, and is more or less aware of the children, more or less brutal in his treatment of the family of mother, son, and daughter. As far as I can tell, about half way through The Diamond Age, NS balances characters and scenes fairly well.
Unlike Bear, however, NS is atrocious at self-editing his material. Clearly he has used a spell checker. It appears he also has gotten high on the power of the integrated thesaurus to elevate his language. Occasionally, the precise word is needed to convey a meaning that is a soupcon more accurate than the term that is commonly used. But such accuracy is at war with familiarity. If you want a larger vocabulary, circle every unfamiliar word and look it up! My own preference is to read for narrative flow; stopping to look up a word impedes the page-turning speed that NS's narrative demands.
That is not the worst of the annoyances found in NS's book. Judging from the results, which I assume are from the manuscript that the author submitted to the publisher, no one has gone over the final copy. Why do I say this? There are such easily spotted problems as sentences that begin with "It," where there is either no antecedent in the previous sentence or paragraph, or else there are at least two possible antecedents. The reader has to pause to decide how to understand the pronoun "it."
A further problem occurs when our view of the sf world that NS has created is jarred by a casual reference to a television set; previously we have been wooed by descriptions of nanotechnology applied to communication, and the omnipresent screens of information. Screens are available to present "ractives" or interactive dramas; NS doesn't tell us that television survives, and when he mentions a television set offhandedly, we find the lack of explanation odd. This lack of explanation for television's presence means that our willing suspension of disbelief has been challenged.
Another challenge is to get through the scenes where some of the parameters get mixed, without a storyline accounting for them. For example, Nell's toy Dinosaur transforms into a real Tyranosaurus Rex at night, and reverts to a toy at dawn. One time when this happens, NS notes the change from dino to toy, and then talks about people not being around "in the wee hours." Shortly thereafter, without shifting scenes, he uses the term "tonight." I'm accustomed to reading consistent Aristotelian narrative, with unities of time, place, and person. So I stop and say "What th'? Is this really so confused, or am I just misreading it?" So, once more I stop and check what I've just read.
Such interruptions are frequent, so far. I am assuming that NS can write, and would recognize most of these errors himself, upon rereading his book. He is an inventive writer, but I will not be reading any more books that NS has written, unless a review convinces me that his work has been thoroughly edited and proofread.
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The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson (Paperback - May 2 2000)
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