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.

7 Comments

  1. […] Diamond Age, or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » Book Reviews from the Pocket Pistol — 16 April 2009 @ 02:55

  2. I’ll have to check it out someday.

    Comment by Sterling Camden — 16 April 2009 @ 03:05

  3. Funny, I approached Stephenson from teh opposite direction – first Snow Crash, then this, then Zodiac. I like the humour and the ideas in his books (the virus in Snow Crash was a great idea) but I think the stories really start to fall apart in the last 3rd. He just seems to get more and more distracted by his own plot and ideas. I thought the ending of Diamond Age very sprawling and confused, and it lacked the power it could have had. Zodiac is his only focussed book.

    But the first 3rd of this book was completely awesome.

    Comment by faustusnotes — 18 April 2009 @ 03:37

  4. My favorite Stephenson books so far, as I mentioned in a comment on recommended books (fiction), are his later works. Cryptonomicon and Anathem were considerably less “scattered” than Snow Crash and Diamond Age, and the ideas presented were even better in the later works than in those earlier novels.

    I recommend giving later books, from Cryptonomicon onward, a try — if you’re into that kind of detailed geeky subject matter.

    Comment by apotheon — 18 April 2009 @ 10:35

  5. I think I’m kind of not into that sort of subject matter. Also, besides a cryptographer I used to know (who apparently worked with one of the characters in cryptonomicon), no-one I have ever spoken to has recommended anything later than it. I am trying Anathem at the moment but I a) can’t get into it and b) can’t read it on the train (it’s just too big). So I’m not going very far…

    Comment by faustusnotes — 19 April 2009 @ 01:43

  6. oh, and I might add – in connection with his earlier novels – that in general, I think cyberpunk as a genre was a huge disappointment, which is really disappointing because it had so much promise.

    Comment by faustusnotes — 19 April 2009 @ 01:43

  7. I think the problem cyberpunk as a whole genre was largely disappointing was mostly because it was viewed, and used, primarily as a superficial genre than as a thematic class of ideas and a presentation aesthetic for those ideas. This is why Philip K. Dick and William Gibson wrote some excellent “cyberpunk”, while a bunch of other writers wrote what amounts to thin gruel with an even thinner coat of cyberpunk paint over it.

    In fact, the writings of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson that helped to define the cyberpunk genre had more in common with those of Michael Moorcock that helped redefine the swords and sorcery fantasy genre than those of most other “cyberpunk” writers, in terms of what made those writings different from most fiction, and in terms of what made them good. Hell, in those respects, I think they were more similar to some of David Bowie’s music than to most other “cyberpunk” books.

    Comment by apotheon — 19 April 2009 @ 04:12

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