Chad Perrin: SOB

16 April 2009

PPR: The Diamond Age

Filed under: Geek,Review — apotheon @ 02:55

Book Review from the Pocket Pistol: Diamond Age, or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson (Roughly 500 Pages)

This is my most recent read by this author. I’ve read four other books by him, three of which are novels (the other being a very long nonfiction essay, In the Beginning was the Command Line). Of the five Stephenson books I’ve read, I think Diamond Age falls in place as my fourth favorite, with Snow Crash bringing up the rear, making this my second-least favorite. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, though. I had a difficult time consistently caring about any of the characters, as several of them drifted listlessly between being sympathetic characters and being people about whom I don’t give a crap. The ideas explored in the book are not only great ideas (this author is nothing if not a really amazing idea guy), but also brilliantly presented.

As with all of his novels that I’ve read, some of the ideas he develops start out difficult to grasp because of the way he doesn’t really explain everything up front, but by the end it all fits together; in this case, that applies to the plot, too. I felt like the first two thirds of the book were essentially an extremely long-winded prologue while I was reading it, but by the end I could see how the plot was being developed and advanced all along. While parts of the story certainly absorbed me along the way, the book as a whole didn’t really suck me in until near the end, as the climax approached.

The climax and denouement were relatively brief, and came at me quite quickly once the story got to that point. In fact, there arguably wasn’t any denouement, though one could be inferred somewhat from the way it ended (rather abruptly — something the author says used to be a problem with his writing, that he has been working on since). With the kind of “postcyberpunk” pseudo-singularity speculative fiction this story represents, though, there’s so much to keep the free thinking technophile’s mind occupied that any deficiencies in story structure are made up for easily, I think. It is very much worth a read.

I give it four bullets out of five.

Book Reviews from the Pocket Pistol

Filed under: Review — apotheon @ 02:53

I’m going to start posting short reviews of books I have read recently. I may not review everything I read, but I’ll review a lot of it, anyway.

The metaphorical pocket pistol in my review series will be a small automatic with a five round magazine. The more bullets in the magazine, the better. It’s always nice to have more ammo for when the fit hits the shan, as they say. I call them “Pocket Pistol Reviews” for four reasons:

  1. They’ll be relatively compact reviews.

  2. They won’t pull any punches, but they may not do much damage either.

  3. I want to use a standard five-point rating system, and a pocket pistol doesn’t carry much ammo, so it seems to fit.

  4. I like the idea of using bullets instead of stars to indicate how well I rate the book. Thanks to Sterling for the idea.

I’ll start each review with the title, the author, and a rough page count. I’ll round the page count to the nearest multiple of 25, with the format “Roughly 200 Pages”, to avoid confusion. After all, page counts differ in different editions, and even between paperback and hardcover versions of the same edition sometimes, to say nothing of the fact that the story usually doesn’t start on page one. Rather than do arithmetic or give the exact number on the last page of the story, I’ll just round to something that sounds good. The point is to give you a time investment estimate to weigh against the review I provide to decide whether you want to read the thing.

My bullet rating will be the end of each review. The meaning of the various bullet ratings follows:

  • No bullets at all means it is so bad that reading it would, at best, be a complete waste of your time, guaranteed (unless, for some reason, you just feel a desperate need to read a really atrocious book just for the sake of reading a really atrocious book). Avoid these books at all reasonable costs.

  • A single bullet means there’s some minor excuse for reading it under rare circumstances, perhaps, or it at least isn’t an actively painful read even if there aren’t any redeeming qualities to it at all. An example might be Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read — but one might have reason to read it, if only to be able to say “Yes, I read it, and it sucks; here’s how it sucks, in excruciating detail.” That’s the only reason I bothered to finish reading it, myself.

  • Two bullets means it’s not very good. It may just be superficial fluff without any particularly redeeming qualities at all, but without any real value to reading it at all. It may also be a book with some good qualities, but also some qualities bad enough to effectively counteract whatever good there is in reading the book. A lot of so-called “classics” fall into this category, alas. Bram Stoker’s Dracula comes to mind, notable only for its historical relevance and how thoroughly dull a read it is.

  • Three bullets means it’s a good book, but not remarkable, per se. It might be a really good read, but with only a modicum of deeper value. It might be a merely above-average read, but predicated upon fascinating principles. It might be a very important work, but uninspired in its presentation. If a book gets three bullets, though, it is definitely worth reading, as long as it doesn’t displace anything higher up the priority list. Most reviewers would probably give a book in this category four stars out of five, but I’m a picky bastard.

  • Four bullets means it’s an incredibly good book; you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it. To qualify for four bullets, it needs to be at least engrossing, understandable, intellectually stimulating, and relevant to some important (in my opinion, at least) topic. These are the “must read” books.

  • Five bullets means “Drop everything and read this book right now!” Put these books at the top of your reading list. They impress the pants off of me. They’re books everyone (or at least everyone with good taste and a free mind) should read.

That should about cover it. The following are Book Reviews from the Pocket Pistol.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License