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The Diamond Age 86

Given the recent well deserved critical acclaim that surrounds Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon , we thought it would be good to also remember that he's written other great books as well. Clampe has graciously offered to review Stephenson's prior book. Click below for more details.
The Diamond Age or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
author Neal Stephenson
pages 499
publisher Bantam Books
rating 9/10
reviewer Clampe
ISBN
summary Interesting offering from everyone's new favorite

The Scenario

First off, let me say we know that Diamond Age came out 1995. It is not our intention to review every book ever written, but Stephenson has received so much attention lately from Cryptonomicon that it is of some use to show that he did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. For those old school fans of Stephenson, this review will allow them to sit in renewed righteousness, while helping the new fan pick their next Stephenson read, assuming they managed to pound through all nine hundred plus pages of Cryptonomicon.

I'm going to spare you the book synopsis other than to say that this is a science fiction novel set in the not too distant future. It is heavy into nanotechnology, and treats the subject with insight and forethought. The real glory of this book, however, is in its examination of the nature of intelligence, human social interaction, and culture.

Stephenson crafts a very believable story centered around a genius nanotechnologist who breaks the rules of his tribe to help his daughter, and the young girl from a poor background he inadvertantly helps. The development of Nell, the tortured child who rises above her early experiences, allows the author to dive deeply into the differences between knowledge and intelligence, offering up a richly detailed conversation with the reader.

What's Bad?

There are passages in the book where the protagonist is in a computer story of sorts, engaged in a fantasy setting. While these pieces aren't bad per se, I treated them a little like the poetry fragments in Tolkien. They're OK sometimes, but I skipped them maybe more than I should have. There is also a very annoying character named Miranda who seems superfluous to the story to me.

The other trouble I have with the book is the way it ends. Now Stephenson, like Orson Scott Card, seems to have a damned tough time ending a book. For Card it stems from deep personal philosophies, but I'm not sure that's the case for Stephenson. Still, while the last five pages of the book slide, it does not detract significantly from the rest of the book.

What's Good?

Alot. First of all, this is a very believable view of life after nanotechnology hits its stride. It's also a great forecast on future geopolitical tensions, and how the next century will deal with group identification when physical distance is overwhelmed by omnipresent communications.

Still, the most enjoyable part of this book is the examination of what makes people both intelligent and driven. Stephenson seems to say that a rough childhood can sometimes create an adult who is super intelligent. Many Slashdotters may agree with this sentiment. Though it's not a completely convincing argument, it is good to see a book treat it not in just a singular character sense, but as a larger social phenomenon.

So What's In It For Me?

Reading this book will not only satisfy that craving for quality science fiction, but will make you think also. Very few writers are able to do that, and Stephenson seems to have it down. It's one of those books where a few weeks after finishing it you'll still turn some of its ideas around in your noggin. It's probably not as good as Cryptonomicon, but it's pretty darned close.

Go buy this book. Do whatever it takes to convince Stephenson to continue writing quality science fiction.

Other important links...

Check out the Slashdot review of Cryptonomicon .

Buy this fine text at Amazon

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The Diamond Age

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  • Zodiac appears to be set approximately in 1990. Unlike Snow Crash, there are no characters with superhuman powers. It's a very engaging and thoughtful speculation about biological eco-hazards. The main character is tind of a brilliant arrogant prick hero type -- I think he has a sort of Heinlein-esque feel to him. Zodiac is not the pulse-pounder that Snow Crash was, but I'd say it's more exciting than Diamond Age. I have liked all three enough that I'd buy Stephenson's books on the author's name alone.
  • I agree -- Diamond Age and Snow Crash both had pretty disappointing endings. I think Stephenson's books and William Gibson's are similar in many ways. The endings are interesting to contrast. For both authors, at the end of their books, there is the prospect of a quantum leap in evolution, (not of the human kind). In Neuromancer and one other by Gibson (Mona Lisa?) the networks of machines get so big that some sort of gestalt effect gives rise to a conscious being, and we find out that beings of this sort are in contact with one another. This isn't presented as good or bad; it just happens.

    In Snow Crash and Diamond Age, the alternative (the Drummers in Diamond Age; the antenna-heads in Snow Crash), are portrayed negatively and defeated at the end.

    The problem I have with both authors is the length of the elaborate "action sequences" needed to push these plots to their fantastic conclusions. I find the descriptions of technology and sociology, and the atmospherics much more interesting. Diamond Age was really spectacular in this way.

  • Heh. Heh heh. Infinite Jest is so great. It explains everything going on, but not in any sort of order that you would expect. It's even less linear than most William Burroughs.

    Patience, grasshoppper. Remember everything you read in the book (especially the footnotes; don't skip them!), and the actual sequence of events will slowly start to assemble in your head. Don't watch that tape with the happy face on it, and beware the squeak!

    mahlen

    Decisions terminate panic.
    --Chinese fortune cookie
  • I completely agree. It's pretty easy reading, and it's a great story. It's been a long time since I read it, so I can't really give any specifics of why it was so good. I do remember laughing out loud a couple of times, and I liked the characters a lot.
  • Another one to pay attention to is "Spew" available at http://www.wired.com/wired/archiv e/2.10/spew.html [wired.com].

    I would say that "The Great Simoleon Caper", "Snow Crash", and "Diamond Age" form sort of a trio in Stephenson's writings: they are all bound together around very similar idea of future geopolitics (e.g. First Dustributed Republic appears first in "The Caper", then migrates into the "Snow Crash", then "Diamond Age").

    "Spew" is a bit off the track there--the story is different, but still interesting for geeky folk--it actually is about the geeky folk.

  • I have read all of the Stephenson books and I never had a huge problems with the endings, but I agree that he does end his books too abruptly. I could have read twice as much in Diamond Age about the nanotech and the society that Nell and the rest lived in. But i digress, my real question is what is the philisophical problem that Orson Scott Card has with ending? I have read the entire Enders Game series and I thought it was incredible.
  • and I liked the characters a lot

    Yes I think his characters are realy good, from punks (YT) to nerds (Da5id). He seems to realy let the characters live.
  • What was subversive about how Miranda "raised" her? She just read the damn book every day and got emotionally
    involved. Nell didn't even think about Miranda's existence until the book was almost over (during her discussion
    with Hackworth when she finished the Primer). It made Miranda's importance seem like one of Stephenson's
    afterthougts.





    If she would have had random ractors rasing her,she wouldnot have become so emontinly envolved.
  • I loved the Diamond Age right up until the "Drummers" started getting involved. Snow Crash, too, descended into metaphysical silliness at the end, to a lesser degree. The two BEST books of his I've read are Cryptonomicom (I LOVE this book) and Interface (under the name Steven Bury). Read Interface ASAP! It's a political sci-fi thriller with some really cool ideas.
  • One of the threads in TDA that I enjoyed was the group identification issue that Clampe mentioned. However, one the major social groups in the book are neo-Victorians, who have revived a LOT of old words that range from quaint to baroque to fossilized. Given Neal's research, I knew they were worth tracking down.

    What I did (and I strongly recommend) is that you keep a list of words you don't know (and their page numbers), and look 'em up in the biggest dictionary you can access (if I were less lazy, I'd provide an online dictionary link - right about here!). Then scan back over the page they came from and see how much that knowledge richens the book for you.

  • I've rather noticed the same phenomenon in Cryptonomicon. I read voraciously, and I haven't had to look up words this often since I was preparing for the SAT back in high school.

    (Of course, that was only 4 years ago...)
  • If you're reading Neal's books for the story, you might as well give up now. That's not the point. He crafts a story which serves little purpose except to illustrate a complex and incredibly interesting world that he has dreamed up. I think that the Diamond Age was probably the most 'guilty' of this, since the setting for the book was the most unique. Cryptonomicon, even though it is set in 'real' times (eg the present and the past), describes a world of cryptography and wartime intrigue that is mostly in Neal's head. (Actually, Crypto probably has a more interesting story and characters than any of the others.)
    Snow Crash still remains my favorite simply because of being so easy to read. I think I read it in two days because I just couldn't put it down. But they are all excellent: Stephenson is radidly becoming one of my favorite authors. Everything he writes is excellent.

    Possibly the best part of his writing style is the almost Hitchhiker's Guide-style dry witicisms. My girlfriend always asked me, "Is that a funny book?" when I was reading Cryptonomicon. And I'd say, 'no, not really'...but of course I burst out laughing every so often as I read it, so I guess that it is.
  • Reading through the comments I get the feeling that this is a book you'll either hate or love. Personally I loved it, I think it's even better than Snow Crash. If you liked Snow Crash but didn't like Diamond Age you should check out Zodiak if you haven't read it yet. I have The Cobweb and Interface by Stephen Bury (Neal and his uncle) standing in my bookcase, but I haven't had time to read them yet (so little time, yet so many books, maybe when I'm finished with the Shockwave Rider (most of the books I've bought lately are from recommendations by /. readers =) )), so I can't say if they are any good.
  • I'm glad I'm not the only one having this problem. I always thought my english was pretty good, not being a native speaker. Stephenson's books always cause me to grab for my webster's though...

    I guess I just should see reading his books as the best fun to be had while extending your vocabulary...

    Wouter
  • by Morgaine ( 4316 )
    It's written in the same style as Simoleons, but without the same degree of humour.

    Yes, I suppose it is about geeky folk as you say, but more like Hackers than like Slashdot.
  • Humans with superhuman powers?

    I think Stephenson was saying that those powers are potentially within the grasp of real (skilled) humans. Hiro and ST(?) are a lot alike in that both are skilled, heroic, and very talented, but are basically (as the story begins) losers.

    Now as to buying Stephenson's books on name value, hell yeah! That even extends to articles by him. His books are very detailed and don't rely on technology alone for their plot lines unlike Gibson (who I also like) and Sterling.
  • "Not that they have any relation to each other but its nice to see his evolution in writing. "

    Actually, they do have a tenuous relation to each other. Ms. Matheson is (I believe) YT. I also believe the world of Diamond Age is the future of Snow Crash.

    My advice is, Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Zodiac, then Cryptonomicon. Of course, I haven't read the latter yet, but I just haven't found it out there yet. I can't wait to read it.
  • Zodiac and Cryptonomicon have something approaching more normal narrative structure and endings which work reasonably well.

    To me, the ending in Snow Crash was almost irrelevant to the sheer tidal wave of strange new ideas (the nam-shub of Enki, the supersonic rat-dogs, the Mataverse itself), weird but excellent characters (Raven, Ng etc.), the cultural references and in-jokes, and the sheer craziness, pace and voice of the writing itself - the pizza-delivery stuff at the beginning, the confrontation with Raven at the rock concert, and chapter 36 ("Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, givent the right circumstances, he could be the baddest motherf***er in the world ..."). One of my favorite reads of all time.

    Diamond Age is more measured and constructed with more care and thought than the adrenalin pace of SC, but its density of ideas is still to me the main fascination.

    I loved Neuromancer, but found the other two in that series, MLO and Count Zero were just more of the same. I really liked "Burning Chrome" especially the title story and "the Winter Market".

    But for my tastes, even though they're different, SC left Neuromancer in the dust as THE Cyberpunk novel.


  • by extra88 ( 1003 )
    I definitely recommend Interface, especially if you like Zodiac. If you're following excellent suggestions like reading Shockwave Rider, you have better things to do with your time than read The Cobweb, It's not bad but not really good either. Unless you have a large book-buying budget, don't spend money on reading The Big U. It's zany and juvenile so there is some funny stuff in it. The story arc will feel familiar.
  • I lived in Ames, Iowa, for eleven years. Neal Stephenson also grew up in Ames, and he came to talk to an English class of mine, several years ago.
    It's easy to see where he gets his geekiness from; he told us that he was in the Boy Scouts as a kid. That's pretty normal, but what's not normal was the fact that one or more of the troop leaders worked in the Ames Lab. Apparently one of their projects was to put corn seeds in high radiation, and plant them to see what happened. The most normal corn stalk got a prize, as did the most mutated. There were many other such stories we were told, but that one stands out in memory.
    I like to think that this explains a lot about his outlook on life and his writing...


    "During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I was riding the pogostick."
  • How strange?! I have just started to read "The Diamond Age" too! Recommended by a friend. Haha, as not to be biased, I have not read the review yet :) I am about 100 pages into the page. The impression that I get so far is that it is weird. Both the setting and his style of writing is strange to me, being have not read any of his work before. However, the plot is just starting to get interesting and I am finding it harder and harder to put it down :) haha first post?
  • Zodiac is still my favoriate. It isn't real sf in the same sense as Snow Crash or Diamond Age, but is a great, great book. Living in Boston makes it even better. I've had to cross comm ave at a dead traffic light ... :)
  • OK, so a friend persuaded me to jump on the bandwagon earlier this summer and find out more about Neal Stephenson. I picked up Snow Crash and Crypto* hoping that reading the former would offer some insight into his style - or any inside jokes. After finishing *Crash and the first 30 pages of Crypto*, they almost seem written by different authors. The vocabulary and level of detail description is >= 5 steps higher.

    Nanotech sounds interesting. Should I read Diamond Age before I start really getting into Crypto* to gain more insight on the background?

  • Hmmmm. I just got paid today. I try to make it a point of setting aside a certain amount of each pay cheque for books be they technical or just for fun. (of course a good deal of technical books can be fun too, but I digress)

    I must admit that I haven't read any of Stephenson's books, but I am interested. What do you guys/girls say? Is this a book worth ponying up the dough for or what?
  • I finished Cryptonomicon 2 weeks ago (got it based on /. discussion, actually) and was considering getting Snow Crash.
    Fate intervened, however, during a trip to the half price bookstore, where they had 1 brand new hardcover copy of Wallace's Infinite Jest (another book mentioned in the discussion). I'm up to page 50. It's quite enjoyable, but what the heck is up with "Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad" or "Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland"?
  • This ,to me is a no brainer. I was introduced to his works about 3 years ago and have gone through all of his books except his very first one, about the univeristy, the one he disowns. Hell I even read zodiac. I would start with snowcrash to get used to his style and then move to Diamond Age. Starting with Diamond Age is a difficult read, based on its size and his style as a whole. So my advice is GO BUY SNOWCRASH. Try to read them in order that he wrote them. Not that they have any relation to each other but its nice to see his evolution in writing.

  • While I liked Diamond Age, I thought it went a little bit too far into the "weird zone" at times.

    Snow Crash, on the other hand, is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. If you liked Cryptonomicon but couldn't get into Diamond Age as easily, you may want to try Snow Crash instead. And unlike Diamond Age, the ending of Snow Crash didn't make me feel like hunting down Stephenson and beating him with the manuscript until he coughed up the real ending.... ;-)

  • by C. E. Sum ( 1065 ) on Friday September 17, 1999 @01:56AM (#1676888) Homepage Journal

    I've read both Diamond Age and Snow Crash. Both books had great beginnings, but both books ended up meandering off into a very speculative (credulity-straining) endings.

    Both books had a semi-mystic subplot. In Diamond Age it was the cult of the mass-human-hosted computer. In Snow Crash it was the idea that our minds have a sort of primative assembly language that can be used to reprogram them. In both stories, these ideas were blown up too far. We get fantastic imagry of the driven scientist in Diamond Age, falling down into insanity as he is drawn toward the drummer cult (a group of people who together comprise a giant biologicly hosted computer). But at the same time, the wonderful future detail of the book is dropped as Stephenson descends into the murky realm of the mind. I love how he can paint the future--but switching gears bogs down his books.

    Compared with Snow Crash (8/10), I would give Diamond Age a 6/10. The first half of the book is so much fun to read. You just want to be a part of his future world (or at least, want to be shown more of it). But that just makes the second half more depressingly mediocre. And of course, you have a sudden, jolting ending as loose plot ends are quickly tied up and the whole thing shudders to a halt.

    I have a feeling the Crypt. is much better--and it's on my reading list. Stephenson is good, but not 9/10 good. Not in Diamond Age, at least.

  • by PollyJean ( 54795 ) on Friday September 17, 1999 @02:00AM (#1676889)

    The Diamond Age remains my favorite Stephenson novel. I've read all of his novels that he's published under his own name (I've read that he has a psuedonym, too) except for The Big U which I haven't managed to find.

    I find it interesting that the reviewer didn't like Miranda:

    There is also a very annoying character named Miranda who seems superfluous to the story to me.

    She's one of the reasons I liked this book so much. Stephenson's very good about speculating on what the future may hold (It's a good thing he's a speculative fiction writer, huh ;) ). I don't want to give too much away, but I think it's really important that Stephenson added her character into the interaction of the primer. I don't think that the primer could have worked without her. It raised Nell. I don't care how intricate a computer intelligence is, there's a level of human interaction necessary for raising a healthy child. I think Miranda represents the human aspect of advancing technology, and as such, she is in no way superfluous.

    On another note, I read The Diamond Age while studying for the GRE. I had to look up alot of words (i.e. "a Propaedeutic Enchridion" p. 184 paperback edition) that I'd never even remotely seen before. I ended up scoring really highly on the Verbal section, so perhaps I have Neal Stephenson to thank for that ;)

    I recommend all of Stephenson's novels. One criticism many people have about his novels are the detail he gives to secondary characters such as Miranda. I think this is one of the reasons why he's not only a good writer when it comes to scientific speculation, but why he's a great writer, period. He actually develops all of his characters to the point where he creates believable worlds and communities instead of empty plot outlines to show off his ideas like many SF writers unfortunately do. His books are literature. Read them.

  • Oddly ehough, Miranda was a very inportant charecter in 'the dimond age', without her being theier, a lot of things would have turned out diffrently. In Nell's devolopment, she was a key factor.

    One o the points this book makes, is the power of subversiveness. Miranda subversivly raised nell, witout knowing (till well after she started).

    Just wanted to make a note of this :)

    http://home.ispi.net/~purple.bie
    xpurple@email.com
    purple@beatricene.com
  • I think one of my personal favorite aspects of DA was the caricaturing of the various cultural groups and sub-groups. He, much as I also felt he did in Snow Crash, manages to craftily mix out-and-out sillyness with cultural stereotypes while still conveying a sense of respect for many of the groups about whom he writes. His sense of humor is, for me, one of the main reasons for reading his novels and it's used to great effect in this book.



    I have to agree about the ending, though. It was like eating those Snackwells cookies - it just left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

  • Not that playing favorites with an author's books is a particularly productive exercise, but Diamond Age was one of my favorites. Aside from Stephenson's writing style, Cryptonomicon was an entirely different novel. Also a book which I enjoyed immensely.

    I believe the order in which you read Stephenson's work is imporant. Starting with Snow Crash, I read them in the order in which they were released (haven't read Zodiak so I don't know what that does to my theory):

    • Snow Crash
    • Diamond Age
    • Cryptonomicon

    I at least recommend reading his earlier works before attempting Cryptonomicon. They will give you a taste of his writing style, which he takes to the max in Crypto, and I can imagine might be a turn off for the uninitiated.

    As far as this review, I disagree with all but one of the complaints. The ending is too abrupt, but then again, that seems to be a trait of Stephenson's work.

    Aside from the "moral" of the story, I also enjoyed Stephenson's great capacity to produce metaphors. Diamond Age is dominated by metaphors. Whereas the reviewer found them boring, I actually enjoyed them. I kept imagining what it would have been like to have that Book when I was a kid. It reminded how receiving a TI 99/4a computer as a child really started me on a different path from my peers. Anyhow, I liked the stories within the story...but then I also liked the movie Hackers so what do I know?

  • Yes, while Miranda's character is a bit flat and her entry into the Drummers is not explained to my satisfaction, she is extremely important to Nell's development and thus a crucial part of the book. The fact that Miranda is willing to sacrifice her Racting career in order to act as a surrogate mother to Nell is one of the reasons Nell's experience with the Primer is so successful.
  • After reading a Stephenson book, I always get the sense that this man cares more about the quality of the work than many other cyberpunk authors. For instance, when reading a Gibson book, it is common to come out the other end with a feeling of very cool scenery and some challenging possibility ideas; Stephenson, I find, provides the same with the addition of attempts to introduce correct moral lessons, thoughts about history, definite instructional themes and motifs, et cetera. I feel that I've actually benefited from reading the book rather than just introduced to a few cool ideas. Digital Age cemented this feeling for me (although I'm only 80% finished), proving that Stephenson is capable of more than the usual flashy-cowboy main characters we see in Zodiac (excellent book, by the way) and Snow Crash. He seems like someone who could conceivably be taught in literature courses in the future, which is a refreshing change (not that I would want his work to be perverted by school).

    On a side note, those of you who liked Snow Crash may be interested in Jonathon Lethem's Gun With Occasional Music, which I bought for the title and loved.

    ---
  • I've mirrored this on http://www.sarahandcasey.com/mirrored/ [sarahandcasey.com]
  • I've read both Diamond Age and Snow Crash. Both books had great beginnings, but both books ended up meandering off into a very speculative (credulity-straining) endings.

    While I haven't read Snow Crash, I did really feel that way about The Diamond Age. The first half to three-quarters of the book was incredible. I was so addicted to it that I had trouble putting it down to even get some sleep. So I guess I sort of read the ending just to finish it and out of inertia, since it got really, well, off. Didn't seem to fit the rest of the book, and in many ways was a let-down.

    The whole topic of the book however was so exciting. I've always had an interest in nanotechnology, but the amount he got into shows that he put a lot of thought and effort into trying to come up with something believable and realistic, based on what we know know.

    This book in a way pushed me even more into thinking about nanotech. Enough so as to do other reading on the web (such as checking out The Foresight Institute [foresight.org], and seriously considering doing more studying and going back to school to try and get into the nanotech field - instead of waiting and hoping, I think I'd much prefer to help make it happen in my lifetime.
    ---
  • More Stephenson....

    I believe he writes under the "pen-name": Stephen Bury. Under this name he has at least two books that I know about, but I can only remember one right now' "Interface". This is a weird book about, politics, media, mind contral and whole bunch more. Definitely not on the same level as "Snow Crash" or "Crypto.." but interesting nonetheless.
  • Mother Earth, Motherboard is an excelent article. That was actually my first introduction to Stephenson, and it was a couple years before I made the connection that he wrote that. I was reading a Bio in a review for Cryptonomicon and saw that article mentioned. I had to reread it.
  • The other title is "The Cobweb". It's a thriller with humour, and a pretty good read to boot.
  • I would say that either SnowCrash or Diamond Age would be an awesome buy. I had to buy SnowCrash like three times because people borrow it and then decide to "lose" it :P

    I really like the Diamond Age. It presents some amazing insights into technology and the uses/consequences.

    Neil has a way of invoking the thought process on what he wrote, even long after I am done reading. To me, thats a sign of a really good author.
  • I agree that Stephenson does have weak endings, in stark contrast to his strong and aggressive beginnings. Both Zodiac and Snow Crash have very strong beginnings (The Diamond Age, not so much, in my opinion), and endings that resemble nothing so much as turning a record player's power off and watching it slowly wind down. Both Zodiac and Snow Crash start off with a flurry of adjectives and snappy catch-phrases; I must admit that on my first reading of Diamond Age I was almost disappointed in the reserved way he used language. No one can accuse him of writing the same book twice (although I hope he leaves Turing out of his next book; I've heard about enough about it.)

    The "fantasy" sequences, as someone's mentioned already, are highly integral to the story, and not just there for atmosphere. The Turing machines are the key to the female protagonist's entire role in the story, as ineptly handled as some may think it to be.

    Incidentally, besides Snow Crash, his earlier work, Zodiac, is a great read, and well worth tracking down. Stephenson self-deprecates himself about it in the liner notes of his other books (Zodiac being very popular among "waste-water management engineers" and the like), but it's on par with, if not superior to, anything else he's done since.
  • ... try Greg Bear's Queen of Angels and even better, its sequel, Slant.

    Queen of Angels is set mostly in a near future LA, similar to Stephenson's Snow Crash. This novel isn't so heavy on the nanotech, but does introduce some concepts on alternate modes of networking. There's also a strong Voudon element, which you'll either adore or loathe.

    The sequel, Slant, is one of those rare novels that's better than its predecessor. But it's essential you read Queen of Angels for its development of the main characters. Here, Bear introduces some ingenious ideas on massively parallel computing, nanotechnology, and AI, making them jump to life. I also got the feeling that Bear either was inspired by The Diamond Age, or else had exchanged memes with Stephenson at some point. If you didn't like the slow pace of The Diamond Age, then Slant is more your speed.

    These novels represent some of Greg Bear's best work (which definitely does not include his recent Foundation novel). He's got an easily plausible view of where infotech and nanotech will take us in 20 or 30 years...

  • I loved The Diamond Age, prolly because I like interactive fiction [ifarchive.org] and it did it so well. The idea of phyles was also excellent, and the nanotechnology was cool, but some of the body-mods were just stupid. Skull-guns? Rumour has it Stephenson cut some of Purple's chapters dealing with sexuality... Adam Cadre [adamcadre.ac] who made the wonder piece of IF, Photopia, made a purple scene because of that cut. BTW, Adam just released a new game, and it's a doozie. But in the end, the ending was way to rushed and unexplained though I loved the Mouse Army, and the drummers, omigod, what a Beowulf cluster!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have become disappointed in all of Stephenson's latest works.

    I bought Diamond Age back when it came out, but haven't been able to get deep into it at all. I bought Cryptonomicon a few months back, but got angry at it and quit reading it at about the midpoint of the book.

    Stephenson has become pedantic, and he pads his prose with so much filler material that it's infuriating. His stuff reads like a quick thriller novel, except for the quick part. It can become painful, the action takes place so slowly.

    It's a shame, because he shows such potential in some of his earlier works. At least the stuff he's published under his psuedonym (Steven Bury) is still fun to read.

    One gets the feeling that he's grown full of himself. Has surrounded himself by a cult, and doesn't have to write very well anymore to keep a throng of admirers around him.

    It's dangerous to do that.

    I would like to sell my hardbound editions of Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age. If you're interested in buying them at a fairly low cost, write me at ScottSt@netscape.net. Both are very clean copies with undamaged slipcovers.

    My copies of "The Big U" and "Zodiac" are NOT for sale. And every time I loan out "Snow Crash" I don't get the copy back so I am looking for a copy of that at the moment.
  • It's been awhile since I read it, but as I recall Greg Bear's Queen of Angels was excellent. Nano is just one of several themes in the book.

    Though not exactly about nano, his Blood Music is also very good.
  • I'd say I'll have to agree. When I read Snow Crash I couldn't put the book down. I have been trying to get through Diamond Age forever now and I almost have to force myself reading it just so I can find out what happened. It's much much slower paced. Very similar to LOR. I couldn't get through that either due to all the tedious talk of hobbits doing this and that.... blech! Then again I'd say consider I was born at where the book takes place for its setting, it certainly is very weird reading about it in some fantasy/sci-fi setting....
  • ...the technical book on the real discipline: Nanosystems [foresight.org], by father of the field Eric Drexler. While Engines of Creation [foresight.org] explores the vision, Nanosystems explores how we'll really get there.
  • The technical book on the real discipline of nanotech is Nanosystems [foresight.org], by father of the field Eric Drexler. While Engines of Creation [foresight.org] explores the vision, Nanosystems explores how we'll really get there.
  • There's one work by Neal Stephenson that almost never gets mentioned here, yet it's absolutely excellent and is perched right in the middle of Slashdot territory.

    It's "The Great Simoleon Caper", a very funny yet "with it" story concerning digital currency, conspiracies and Jolt Cola.

    Here's a rare link:

    http://kuoi.asui.uidaho.edu/~kamikaze/documents/ simoleon.html

    Somebody please mirror it before it gets Slashdotted or is otherwise lost!
  • I've read Cryptonomicon, Snowcrash, Diamond Age (see below) and Zodiac as well as Interface, published as Stephen Bury (sp?) -I'm still tracking down the others written as Bury.

    I couldn't finish Diamond Age. About three quaters throught the book all semblance of a captivating plot disapears and the book degenerates into a bunch of frayed threads, that dangle in the air. (I'm trying not to post spoilers, but I'll be more specific if anyone likes).

    Don't get me wrong, Stephenson numbers amoung my favorite authors, but even the best authors have thier off days. IMHO, Zodiac (about an eco-terrorist) is a much better read then diamond age, (its about the same length) and it actually ends pretty well.

    Locust.

  • in the Diamond Age, Cryptnet was suposed to go up to 33 degrees. Was cryptnet an allusion to the Masons? Their overall plan was vague but slightly gnostic. And the drummers, just me, or did anyone else think Beowulf Cluster??
  • I just had to say that I in fact really enjoyed the fantasy world that Primer created for Nell. It was fascinating how it used a combination of Grimm Brothers fairy tales and the feel of heroic epic or myth to create a world where Nell could safely learn the lessons she needed.

    I especially loved the representations and analogies Stephensen used to teach computer science concepts. That was cool.
  • Don't forget the excellent short story, Spew [wired.com], that Wired also published.

  • If I could option the movie rights
    to only one book, this would be the one.

    I don't even think the ending bad, though
    it is a bit.. abrupt. another 50 pages
    to flesh out the "seed" concept would
    have been well spent.
  • Well done, Gnrc.

    It's a great short story, I think, and it would be a shame if it disappeared off the net like a few other early works of authors have done.

    I just love the Jolt-guzzling sloth ... :-)

  • I agree that Miranda was a rather important character, since she acted as a surrogate mother to Nell through the primer. She did provide continuity, which helped Nell growing up and prevented her from turning out like the other girl (don't remember her name and someone's borrowing my copy :) whose primer was read by a bunch of random ractors.

    Miranda was also important to Hackworth's development of the seed through the Drummers. Right before she was rescued she was about to combust from what were probably the final stages of the Seed design. It sounded like she was the only one who could complete that process, so the Seed wasn't completed. I'm not sure if it was because the information and nanosites that were in her were lost when she was rescued ... or if the reason she had all the information and nanosites in the first place was because she was the best carrier for them.

    Anyway, I still like Snow Crash better than Diamond Age .. after the first description of the Drummers I wasn't quite so eager to read .. still an amazing book though :)

  • Unfortunately, he's right.

    It's going to take a lot of ingenious work by a lot of people to avoid that particular end game. I hope to play a part.
  • According to the Internet Top 100 SF/Fantasy List [geocities.com], Diamond Age is #37 (right below the underrated but really excellent Best of Cordwainer Smith collection). Snow Crash comes in at #47, having recently passed the also excellent Feersum Endjinn. Cryptonomicon has not yet appeared on the list.

    The relative ranking of Diamond Age and Snow Crash pretty much agrees with my opinon. Diamond Age had very well developed characters and plot; Snow Crash was a bit cheezier. I'm still waiting my turn to get Cryptonomicon out of the local library, so I have no opinion on this yet.

    SF/Fantasy fans should check this list out; there are a few gems (like Cordwainer Smith) that are rarely heard of.

    JMC

  • Neal Stephenson's other book with his uncle, The Cobweb, is a mystery/thriller set during the Gulf War. The main characters are a CIA analyst with a theory about Saddam's real bio-weapons strategy and a small town deputy in the midwest who becomes involved in the plot.

    It's a decent novel, but just amazingly bitter about the functioning of the government buracracy. Where _Interface_ was funny and cynical about the political process, _Cobweb_ is simply viscious and pessimistic. He may be right and things in Washington may be as abyssmal as he says, but it does not make for enjoyable reading.

    It doesn't really have any of the techno-candy his other novels do. For a rating, I'd give it about 1/5 of a _Snow Crash_, maybe 1/2 an _Interface_.
  • I'm still working on Cryptonomicon, but until and unless I decide to prefer it, The Diamond Age is still far and away my favourite of Stephenson's books. That's assuming a serious book (which there's no doubt it is) can even be directly compared to a funny one (Snow Crash)--but whatever.

    I saw Stephenson at an appearance in support of TDA and (of course) got him to sign my copy, which is now one of my most cherished possessions. During the Q&A session someone asked him "What was the most difficult task you faced in writing the book?" After a moment's pause, he replied:

    "Creating a plausible nanotechnological future in which everyone wasn't dead."
  • I'm currently about 200 pages into "The Diamond Age" also. I grabbed both this and "Snow Crash" after I finished "Cryptonomicon". I didn't notice it in other two books, but it certainly seems like Stephenson gave his thesaurus a good workout when he was writing "The Diamond Age."

    I pretty well read, and I like to think I have a broader vocabulary than your average American, but I've been stumbling over words that I've never heard nor seen before in this book. It's a little frustrating, since it seems that many times the meaning of the word can't be deduced from the context. I hate having to keep my Webster's next to me when I'm reading! ;)

    But I've got to admit, it's a pretty good read so far.
  • One of the reviewer comments on the jacket of "Snow Crash" says something like, "It would be easier to write a new metaphysical novel centered on a whale hunt than to write another virtual reality novel." Personally, I think Snow Crash is the best science fiction novel ever. Although I agree that the ending is relatively shaky, and that Diamond Age suffers even more for that problem.

    Two more excellent Stephenson reads in Wired:

  • I've read all of his novels that he's published under his own name (I've read that he has a psuedonym, too) except for The Big U which I haven't managed to find.

    That's unfortunate, you should keep looking... it's a really funny book. Much different than his others, but just as good. I found a copy at my local library, perhaps you should look into the library loan system if your library doesn't have a copy. Good luck.
  • Stephenson has 2 other books out, written in collaboration with someone else (his uncle?) under the pseudonym Stephen Bury. There's The Cobweb, which I haven't read, and Interface, which I have, and which is a chunky (700 pages) and pretty good techno-thriller. Synopsis; Candidate in 2000 presidential election suffers stroke, has experimental brain implant, his backers use it to control his thoughts/actions. Plenty of ramblings on politics, neurosurgery, etc if you like that sort of thing.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...the fantasy sequences: Stephenson uses them metaphorically to convey some of the basic concepts of theoretical computer science. Very cool stuff. Stephenson is the only SF writer I know of who really understands what C.S. is all about.

Numeric stability is probably not all that important when you're guessing.

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