Top critical review
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.