Diamond age

Here is the one before last of my vacation reads! As obvious from several earlier posts, I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s books. e.g. Snow Crash is one of my preferred cyberpunk books (along with Neuromancer), and I consider Stephenson’s approach to the genre deeper and more scientific than Gibson‘s. So when in Lancaster I picked the Diamond Age, I was quite excited to have discovered an overlooked volume of his’! The more because the story was partly taking place in Shanghai. Alas, I am rather disappointed by the result. Indeed, the book does not read well: the “suspension of disbelief” does not operate.

The Diamond Age brims with (too many???) brilliant techno-societal ideas, colourful characters, literary references, and exciting settings, but the plot dries out much too quickly. The universe Stephenson depicts is a mix of cyberpunk centred on nanotechnologies and of steampunk with Victorian codes and attitudes. (In a sense, the Diamond Age is Dickens mixed with Gibson and van Gulik.) One of the great ideas in the Diamond Age is the “primer” that educates the central character, Nell, who has been neglected by her alcoholic mother. It is a quite compelling concept, the one of an interactive book backed by an AI and by real actors that turn Nell into a real scientist (the part about Turing machines is quite good) and cryptographer, as well as teach Chinese orphans (although it does not work so well in the latter case because of the lack of real actors).  The fact that the level of the story remains one of a fairy tale while Nell is growing up and maturing is a bit of a disappointment. What really put me off, though, half the book read, is the appearance of the Dreamers, an “unnecessary and monstrously tacky underwater sex cult” that doomed my “suspension of disbelief” for the rest of the book… (The criticisms are mostly positive, though.)

2 Responses to “Diamond age”

  1. […] interesting, and the notion of linking Thomas Bayes with Ada Byron Lovelace promising in a steampunk universe, however I remain unconvinced by the universality of the target, as approximations such as […]

  2. +1 for the Dreamers spoiling the whole thing. Add to that ambiguous descriptions and distance relations throughout the whole book — I hate not knowing where things are, when I’m being shown something: the Dreamers tunnels are one example, and, from what I remember, following the trips between a city to another via the weirdly-characterized mechanic horse was just annoying: the lack of information on the capacities of said transportation means were a pain in the neck to situate time and action.

    I loved Snowcrash, but had to plow my way through Diamond Age.

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