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on February 13, 2017
OK. So overall I'm leaning towards 3/5 stars. I'll start with the stuff I didn't like first so it ends on a positive note. Warning: I go on a diatribe about the lazy use of a trope in the book and having a section with spoilers, though not enough to spoil the story at all, I think.

I've only read this and Snow Crash from his work, but I think I just do not like his writing style. Everything is very passive and dispassionate. It was really hard for me to care about any other characters besides Nell.

The details he chooses to provide often are really presumptuous of a shared headspace that he doesn't create. Because of that it took me a while to finish and it felt like more of a chore than a pleasure. I kept getting jarred out of the fiction with the format and descriptions, then would attempt to refocus until I could get back into it. This happened throughout.

Near the end Stephenson leans hard into a typical trope, female protagonist getting assaulted by men, which is really upsetting in of itself. It pissed me off so much it was hard to enjoy the last two chapters of the book. Especially since it's two paragraphs, which,

- Spoilers -

is made clear later on in the fiction when he needed to explain the nanites in Nell's bloodstream. It also just felt super at odds with the rest of the story, even though it was used also to tell the reader that despite all her training with the primer, there's forces in the world that she can't surmount. Obviously super important since that in its entirety is 3 paragraphs including the rape she sees coming and dispassionately removes herself from. Only afterword easily getting a sword she uses to easily kill everyone.

His writing style also clashes with the theme of the book with being subversive of established cultures as every character in different cultures speaks the same way, except for Nell when she's younger. Who then speaks like the "Vickey's". Aside from the beginning which also includes a little bit of racist language when asians speak, not trusting the reader to be able to picture an accented Asian dialect not completely fluid in English.

— end spoilers --

I think it's safe to say that the story is more interested in viewing the characters and places in the world as an oversized chessboard, with the satisfaction coming from watching the story unfold instead of losing yourself in the character. That's not my thing, though. Especially with one of the main characters specifically because, aside from Nell once again, if you pay close attention exactly what the other characters say is most important to them is completely skipped over or glossed over in the story. Makes it particularly hard to care about them, right? Also the only main character that is female is Nell…it feels a lot like fake agency that smells of Snow Crash’s YT.

Also, the pacing off the book was really, really slow.

Now the positive:

It was actually not altogether unpleasant for me to read a story like that even though it wasn't my preference. It was a really intricate story with a lot of moving cogs, that, when revealed (very slowly albeit) was interesting. Even captivating sometimes. It allowed for me to actually finish the book. But the strength of the novel has mostly nothing to do with the characters and everything to do with the overall narrative that makes these shapeless masses churn into a desirable end goal.

World building was fantastic, the ideologies between each place was palpable. How each place looked when the characters were travelling through it, not the best. But when they're in a specific place interacting, it's pretty good.

It is unequivocally well written in my opinion. It's an interesting story that despite a bunch of things I dislike, as you can see. I still enjoyed it and am glad I read it if only just to see other perspectives on the genre.
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on August 12, 2015
This is an incredibly creative journey. Completely unpredictable, elegantly written. Some future tech, without feeling like full on sci-fi. This is the second Stephenson book I've read (first is Snow Crash - also an awesome book), and this renews my excitement to read more of his work.
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on December 3, 2013
My second reading of the book and I learned more than I had before. The ending seemed different, but maybe time has changed my perception of what occurred. Still, stunning work by Stephenson, a first rate vision of the future and it's utopian/distopian possibilities.
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on February 11, 2017
A story I immediately feel like reading again well done. It paints a deep world with reflections on our time.
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on February 5, 2016
Excellent! Loved it!
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on April 5, 2008
This gargantuan novel, like a lot of Stephenson's works, contains two interconnecting stories based on the life of Nell, a tribeless, orphaned, and John Hackworth, an ostracized engineer, both trying to establish themselves in a post-modern society governed by nanotechnology. This scientific concept entails society allowing the individual the capacity to produce anything he or she needs by re-arranging the molecular structure of any substance. The primer (interactive training manual) is full of all kinds of technological wonders, such as matter compilers, smart paper, chevalines, artificial intelligence and aerostatic micromachines, all of which Nell learns to master in her efforts to form an independent society. Her teacher is the ractive (interactive actor in the primer) who teaches who the virtue of learning how the technology works to her advantage. Hackworth is one of those shadowy characters who operates under a number of covers in order to create a more enlightening form of nanotechnology that will be shared among the cultures of the world in the interests of peace and justice. As a fugitive from a Confucian society that has rejected him for his decision to make his own copy of the primer, Hackworth assumes a double identity that will allow him to start transforming nanotechnology into some new and better. Throughout this very complex and multi-layered novel, Stephenson shows the reader that technology in itself is pointless unless i
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on April 20, 2004
...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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on January 11, 2004
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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on March 13, 2003
Remember Mary Shelley's signature work about a man whose ultimate knowledge of technology seemingly gives him control over even life and death only to realize that his creation is not only out of control but to be his own undoing?
Think of The Diamond Age as a neo-Frankenstein story reflecting the same themes: the Victorian idea of total control through technology (here, nanomachines that can build or modify nearly any structure) verses the ultimate trimuph of chaos and Nature over that control (again, the nanomachines as a vector unseen of ultimate loss of control).
In Diamond Age, Stephenson presents a more mature work than his very entertaining "pizza mafia" book, Snow Crash, with complex themes of man verses nature and a reflection of the Victorian-era ideas of Frankenstein. One example is a local toughguy who uses technology to build up his muscles even while he sleeps but is done in by "cookie cutters," nanoexplosives that basically shred his body into pieces without his even knowing they were there.
The story mainly centers on two characters, one a brilliant nanoengineer stifled by the neo-Victorian society within which he lives who finds himself put in contact with the kind of dirty life that is anethema to his culture; the other is a young, underprivilidged girl who comes by his creation, a powerful nanotechnological book to serve as a primer, through which she learns and grows and even raises her own army of sorts taught by the same book. At the same time, tensions in the Middle Kingdom (that's China, by the way) threaten an agrarian revolt and invasion akin to what happened in Cambodia, yet another facet of the nature/chaos vs. technology/order storyline.
The Diamond Age is a tougher read than Snow Crash but yet a more fulfilling one, indicative of Stephenson's growing mastery of his writing talent. Casual readers may have some difficulty penetrating the text and find themselves skimming ahead at first (as I did when I first picked up the book), but most will also find themselves drawn back into the book as the pace picks up and the plot thickens.
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on November 11, 2003
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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