Top positive review
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Muddled, but imaginative, prescient and breathtaking in scope
on 20 February 2008
First and foremost, 'The Diamond Age' is a fantastic novel and a yardstick of Post-Cyberpunk fiction. The writing is superb, the characters are compelling, and the universe that Stephenson describes is a fascinating extrapolation of our own. It starts off promisingly with the cheeky demise of an archetypal Cyberpunk protagonist, setting the scene for the emotional and intellectual development of his child Nell via an interactive, nanotechnological book - the 'Primer'. The Primer acts as an electronic tutor, storyteller and protector that guides and oversees Nell's education and entry into adolescence.
The scope of the text is astounding, painting a portrait of a world where the ubiquity of nanotechnology has irreversibly altered human society from entertainment to warfare to economic worth. Stephenson's future is a world where nation states have collapsed to be replaced by 'phyles', socio-economic groups that partition cities into the differing communities and which cooperate under a global economic law. Foremost among these are the Neo-Victorians, an atavistic and economically advantaged phyle with a rigid social structure by whom the Primer is developed. After the engineer who covertly created it loses a copy, warfare begins to brew while little Nell is caught in the middle with her illicit Primer.
If the novel suffers from anything it is an overabundance of ideas that leaves the overall image somewhat muddled and susceptible to Occam's razor. The different storylines, gripping as they are, never weave together in a satisfactory conclusion and some characters seem to vanish along the way. Of all the fascinating topics covered, from Confucian justice to the importance of human interaction in childrearing, Stephenson gets rather too sidetracked with a phyle called the 'Drummers', an addition that will leave many readers alternating between scratching their heads and shaking them.
Despite its flaws and disappointingly rushed finale 'The Diamond Age' is a well-paced and highly intelligent read. There is more imagination contained in a chapter than most authors can muster in a whole book. The writing is sophisticated but never florid, the dialogue flawlessly alternating between being thought-provoking and hilarious. Stephenson must be commended for a novel of ambitious scope and astounding creativity, though it may have worked better as a series than as a single volume.