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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
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Showing 1-10 of 16 reviews(2 star)show all reviews
on February 11, 2004
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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on July 20, 2002
It is interesting to see the author's take on a future with nanotechnology, and the plot appears to have promise at the beginning. But, it becomes too convoluted and forced. What started off as an interesting premise ends in the poor execution of a storyline that starts to push the limits of my ability to suspend disbelief (particulary the story surrounding the "Drummers," where the main character is taken prisoner for years and becomes part of some kind of collective-consciousness supercomputer) and becomes quite boring as the author tries to be didactic (a large amount of space is spent in a seeming effort to educate the reader on the basic concepts of programming and that different systems can be logically equivlent, even though implemented on different hardware and with a different language -- so much time is spent on this that it is almost bizarre -- like what he really wants you to get out of this book is an understanding of a Turing Machine). The plot ends up feels very jumbled and contrived, and the ending is a disappointment.
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on October 9, 2000
I forced myself to read to the end of the book because of the good critic the book has. The end of the novel was the "Best part" in the sense that the pain of reading had finnaly come to an end.
Then I started "Snow Crash" (god knows why) and I couldn get past the 4th chapter: "a super hacker that does pizza deliveries and if he doesnt reach the destination in X minutes he get killed?...And the mafia rules the pizza biz?". I HAD to stop reading, I felt stupid...
Neil Stephenson is the worst writer in have ever read in my life. I am cleary stating all this because these reviews can really be misleading. I have to admit that he has some brilliant ideas like the nanotech world, but save me all the rest of the story.
To the ones that didn't like this book I recomend them to take a look at "Hyperion" or "RAMA" (for hard sci-fi) and "The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy" (for fun sci-fi) and the good old Neuromancer and secuels (for cyberpunk csi-fi).
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on March 27, 2000
The first half was great, after a shaky start. I almost gave up on The Diamond Age after about 50 pages, because everything was so densely technological and impersonal. However, I stuck with it, and after a while became totally absorbed. I wanted to know how things would turn out for everyone - I cared about what happened to almost every single character. Some of them I rooted for, and I hoped others would get what they deserved, but either way I was drawn in to the story and felt that the characters were complex, interesting people. Rather than a straightforward story with a specific goal, The Diamond Age is more of a character study - we see part of Nell's life, which does not follow a linear, prefabricated plot. Since I enjoy involving characters, I didn't see a problem with this.
However, things decayed rapidly when the book reached the half-way point, and the unnecessary and monstrously tacky underwater sex cult appeared. As much as I was tempted to abandon the book at that point, I slogged through the second half because I still wanted to see how things turned out for characters for whom I had high hopes.
In the end, I wished that I had given up in the middle. The ending doesn't resolve much of anything that I cared about, and didn't seem like a sensible place to stop. My initial reaction was, "Where are the last 50 pages?" I felt cheated and betrayed. I'd been drawn in by an emotional and fascinating story, only to be fed garbage at the end.
Since I liked almost all of Snow Crash and Zodiac, I was surprised and disappointed by what happened to The Diamond Age. What's worse, I have serious reservations about reading Cryptonomicon, or any subsequent books by Neal Stephenson. I'll have to read a lot of reviews ahead of time, I suppose.
In the end, I have to recommend Snow Crash or Zodiac instead. Maybe you'll love this book - a lot of other people here certainly did. For me, though, this was a big disappointment.
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on August 21, 1999
Under the nebulous rubric of post-modernism, Neal Stephenson has carved his niche. Readers of his work toil on, heedless of who Stephenson's main characters are, what his central conflict is, why so much contrived techno-babble is necessary at all (except that it adds to his chaotic ambience), and what, if anything, its illogic could possibly mean anyway. (Nell's "Primer" in DA is intelligent and wouldn't need a human "ractor," whom it directs; it could create an image: it is smart enough to interact fully and write its own lines!)
Ironically, and sadly, when Stephenson is at his best, his writing is absolutely dazzling; but this occurs piecewise -- a short sequence here ("The Dinosaur's Tale" in "Diamond Age," the "Vickers" story in "Cryptonomicon," etc.), an intro, an image, a choice of words there (teenage girl entering room: "all gangly and awkward and beautiful" DA; "ghost mall" and "franchise ghetto" SC et al.). For the most part, it looks as if even his editors, by the ends of his works, have given up trying to grammaticalize his sentences and cut the fat from his prose. His works need serious streamlining, especially in their middles, where everything seems to break down into a welter of directionless verbosity -- characters getting lost forever, potential plots unraveling before our eyes, endeavors begun in earnest dropped as if aflame with narrative responsibility.
Too bad. This guy has a masterpiece or two at his fingertips, if only he were not so in love with his own prolixity.
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on February 15, 1997
Having heard only positive reports of Stephenson's work (especially "Snow Crash") I expected interesting ideas and a good story when I picked up "Diamond Age." I found the former, but not the latter.

The world setting of the story was quite novel, and had great potential. The concept of an interactive educational tool, completely self-customizing for the needs of its user was another attendtion grabber. Besides the technological marvels and the admittedly excellent characterization, the plot was,alas, quite weak. The introduction of unexpected elements ('the Seed'??!) seemed a markedly artificial means of enlivening the story, and the actual conclusion itself was quite unsatisfying.

Overall, the book failed to come anywhere near my expectations of a book from the well-recommended Neil Stephenson.
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on September 15, 1999
After reading Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash, I jumped right into Diamond Age with enthusiasm. Based on those two books, I felt that this author could not possible write anything short of outstanding. How wrong I was!
Diamond Age began with pathetically uninteresting characters in a future that makes me want to run off and live in the woods. I know that Stephenson likes to paint dreary pictures of the future in which technology does not solve all our problems, but it is the ridiculous cultural setting as well as the tech that ruins this book.
The book is waaaay too long, incorporating about 100 times more of the Primer than is necessary to make the story interesting. I must say that he does salvage it somewhat in the end, with an interesting finish.
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on June 1, 2000
A lot of people read SF primarily for the ideas, and I'd argue there is no better fiction for that purpose. Add at least two stars to this review if you are an 'ideas' reader, because Stephenson has more ideas than the next five successful SF writers combined.
For me, though, the lack of suspense, the lack of absorbing characters, and the lack of story momentum led me to abandon this book after I had dutifully slogged through more than half of it.
Maybe it picks up dramatically near the end, but frankly, at this point, I just felt my reading time would be better spent elsewhere.
It would be interesting to see Neal Stephenson team up with a strongly character-based SF luminary for a collaboration.
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Like _Snow Crash_, _The Diamond Age_ is populated with wonderful characters, some of whom we have the privilege to see growing up. But the book loses something once the characters have grown up, as though the training they are given in order to be smoothly assimilated into the elite of society requires instead that they somehow dominate--even subjugate--that group.
The concept at the core of the book--the Primer--is a bit reminiscent of Ender's desk in Orson Scott Card's seminal _Ender's Game_, but is handled in a fairly original way.

Though I was completely enthralled its first half, this book--much like Gibson and Sterling's _The Difference Engine_--fails to capitalize on its finest ideas.
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on March 3, 2003
Nano-plot is a pretty apt description. And it is executed flawlessly in this sloppily written slice of futurama.
The setup is great.
The setting is imaginative and well crafted.
The problem is that there is not much of a story here. Consequently the author must not really feel compelled to conclude it.
For example: Stephenson spends the first 40 pages developing a bit character that is abruptly killed off, but he has no qualms about concluding the whole book in about 5 pages...in the middle of some battle no less.
Read the first few chapters - you'll get all of the good techie stuff without the time commitment necessary for the big let- down, er ending.
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