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Reviews of Diamond Age, the (1995)

Review by polarisdib (2009-10-05)

Whooooo! Here is, by far, Neal Stephenson's best book*.

Basically, The Diamond Age; or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is a post-modern Pygmalion set in "The Diamond Age" (or, the age in which humans can create diamond cheaper than glass) in which nanotechnology not only exists as the basis of everyday life and organization, but has also come to the level of being programmable to a "book" called the Primer that can teach young women... everything. It can raise them, it can teach them self-defense, and it can act as a personalized store-house for their entire intellectual lives. Neal Stephenson's not simplistic, though, and the Primer itself is not the come-all end-all solution to world education. Things are more complicated and as an economic climate in The Celestial Kingdom goes sour it's pretty much up to everyone even remotely connected to the Primer (i.e., in this hyper-webbed world, quite a lot of characters) to pull together to survive a massacre waiting to happen.

In minor ways this book follows up Snow Crash, but is much more mature and organized; it's also worth noting that Stephenson does not delve into the level of minutia he adopted immediately afterward with everything he's written since. I don't want to compare this book to an apogee because that claims that his earlier and later work isn't as good, but on a cartesian graph where the x-factor is "coolness" and the y-factor is "encompassing knowledge of every facet of the world he's writing", The Diamond Age scores highest on both--plus a z-factor of poignancy gets a good level of depth to the work as well. Stephenson isn't only positing a nano-tech world here, he very clearly understands some great things about human nature, personal and global development, epistemology, and the ever-present power of myth, and nearly every part of this book should feel recognizable and familiar to the reader while opening one's eyes to entire new worlds. The technology itself feels very familiar (along with his favored Turing machine details, the Primer is something like an Amazon Kindle set-up with a narrative Wikipedia with Artificial Intelligence, the only thing really missing is the "ractor" to run it from the other side) already, and the debate between "The Feed and the Seed" is pretty much the double-edged sword of technological dispute that runs throughout human history, turned into an elegant theme.

Up to this point, Cryptonomicon remained my favorite Neal Stephenson and I bought it with the intention of reading it maybe every few years or so. I may have to buy The Diamond Age, and soon, because I'm practically ready to read it again right now. It was immensely enjoyable and the type of book that really grows on you, where the book it was when you started is different than the book it ends up being when you finish it, and yet all you can do is want to loop around and go through the whole thing again. Also up to this point I pretty much kept Stephenson to myself as far as real-life friends were concerned, though a surprising lot of people have read Snow Crash and so I'm able to engage in them that way, however now I have another book I just wish everyone has read. So, if you're reading this review, and you haven't read this book yet, I strongly recommend you get to it.


*keeping in mind that I haven't gotten to Anathem and he has another one set to come out in a few years, and I haven't read any of his pre-Snow Crash stuff but have never heard it argued that they are his best book

Review by archaic (2008-02-29)
Diamond Age left me with mixed emotions. It was a rather slow novel that lacked an intriguing climax, and never seemed to pick up momentum. The basis of the story was interesting and Stephenson developed his own future Earth quite uniquely. The few characters that the novel focused upon were a bit bland. They lacked the quirks that characters had in some of the authors other works, such as Snow Crash, and they seemed distant at times.

If you're looking for an absolutely enthralling novel then look elsewhere. If you're looking for a light read with a steady plot and likable characters then Diamond Age may just be what you're looking for.

Review by kadambi (2006-12-19)
The Diamond Age is not as good as snow crash and certainly not as good as cryptonomicon, but still well worth a read. Unique in its style and storytelling.

Set in the future where nation states have fallen apart, diamond age traces the life of Nell, a street urchin, who gets hold of the "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer", a magical book (a supercomputer really) and the effect it has on her growth.

Contrary to everybody's opinion, I found the ending to be pretty good even if a bit Neal Stephenesque..

Review by alanhunt (2004-08-26)
Although an excellent premise and a good read, the ending of Diamond Age left much to be desired, and left me feeling unsatisfied. I would still recommend the book, but it was not as good as snow crash.

Review by littlerubberfeet (2003-05-06)
I loved this book. It is well worth a read or three. The exposition starts with the portrayal of a protagonist who is not too likeable. He dies and we get Nell, and the Young Ladies Illustrated Primer, a book. These then become the characters on which the story is based.

Being science fiction, there is quite a bit of interesting ideas about technology. Stephenson's interpretation of nanotechnology is simple and interesting, as is his vision of society.

Review by Pandora (2003-03-10)
Diamond Age is a compelling piece of fiction indeed. While there were some spots that really did not blend in with the rest of the book, the pace was good, and the main charecters were well endowed with zest. Like many other readers have noted, the ending was a bit abrupt. However, if new technology, our social culture, and new ideas are some of your interests, this book will deliver.

Review by Glutnix (2003-03-08)
Set in the neo-victorian future where glass has been replaced with diamond, because it's easier to manufacture with nanotechnology, John Percival Hackworth creates 'The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer', a 'magical' book (which is actually a highly advanced nanotech computer), which falls into the hands of an orphan girl named Nell. The book teaches her to read, fight armed and unarmed, and a guide into the real world she lives in.

An exciting read, and a must-read for fans of Snow Crash. Stephenson fails to disappoint. The only problem with reading the book is that it chops and changes between Nell and the Primer, and other story lines happening around her - the reader is constantly waiting to return to the Nell-Primer thread. If you can stick with this, it's worth it, and it all makes sense in the end!


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