This is probably my favorite Neal Stephenson book, I haven't finished the Baroque Cycle however (almost there). This book does suffer from Stephenson's one fatal flaw, he develops this great world with these great characters at a leisurely pace then within one blink of the eye the book is coming to a conclusion and rolling down hill almost faster then you can see. This one is worth more then one read, there are so many small things in the peripheral of the book and things that exist in the world that he doesn't go into great deal about.
This is an absolutely wonderful audiobook. Stephenson's novel is set in an imaginative but highly convincing future world in which humanity has begun to abandon the nation state in favour of 'claves' based around shared cultures, and in which nanotechnology has opened incredible new opportunities for technological development. Stephenson revels in exploring the differences between these 'claves' and the interactions between them, and most of the tale takes place in a stunningly vivid and fragmented Shanghai, in which an influx of new people and ideas has shattered China into a civil war.
The narrator, Jennifer Wiltsie, does a superb job. Her girlish voice fits the central story arc, which is about the education of a young girl from the ghetto who acquires by chance a sophisticated device designed to educate young girls of the Victorian clave. But where Wiltsie really excels is in bringing the vast array of characters to life; she is incredibly talented at switching between multiple accents, so that each character is easily distinguishable, and she pulls off all the obscure accents than Stephenson demands, such as 'Cantonese but raised in New York' and 'Indian with a trace of Jamaica'. Curiously enough, one of the central characters in the novel is in fact a highly skilled voice artist, so things get weirdly meta.
I found this audiobook extremely engrossing and it kept me entertained a long time. Like all Stephenson novels, it's complex and requires your full attention (don't listen to it while driving around central London). And although it's long and often digressive, it lacks the self-indulgent rambling of his later work.
I had to listen to the beginning of this book several times, but the way he ties everything together in the end is amazing. The story is beautiful and haunting.
The first 3/4 of The Diamond Age is brilliant, but Stephenson couldn't sustain the story, and the story crashes to a dissatisfying end. Jennifer Wiltsie's narration is excellent, especially given the number of voices she has to sustain.
I had read this title, loved it, and looked forward to the listen. The narration is fantastic, the musical chapter breaks add a nice flavor and the story (and the ideas it contains) were as wonderful as I remembered.
The only marring of the experience was several dropouts in the audio, one near the end of part one and a cluster of 7 or 8 after the middle of part 2. The audio would suddenly turn staticy and unintelligible for several seconds.
This was really very annoying in what was otherwise a stellar read.
Interesting, complex story line. Call me a prude but I still wonder about the effectiveness of the orgies -- which were a unique idea, but like I said, perhaps I'm a prude. Don't worry tho: no graphic descriptions of them.
As other reviewers said, author does a thorough job creating the world (but I could have done with less description. I know others will find it adds to the book. For me it detracted.) I would recommend this book as a true science fiction novel.
The more audiobooks I've listened to, the more I've come to appreciate good production quality in the sound and narration. (Books done by Audio Renaissance I've found are quite good.)
I'm still in the middle of this book, and am quite enjoying it so far, but I needed to stop just now to say how impressed I am with the different voices and accents that the narrator, Jennifer Wiltsie, pulls off. I just took for granted that she was doing the accent of the character Judge Fang as a Chinese man from New York, but it wasn't until the book pointed out that aspect to the character that I realized what an impossible task it is for Ms. Wiltsie to pull off such a weird combination of an accent while still having it sound not only natural and undistracting, but even sounding like you might imagine it would.
The story skips around without a lot and it is hard to follow how all the parts work together until the end. The author obviously thinks a lot about the future and possibilities of nanotechnology and incorporates these ideas into the story, which lends interesting elements to the plot, such as the primer itself. However, the descriptions of the technology go on and on and on to the point where it is difficult to pay attention. Not a good book for the gym, it is not engaging enough.
OK, I'll go along w/ the brilliant writing of what could have been a wonderful story. But about 3/4 of the way through I went what??? Did I miss something? Is the author doing acid? The whole chain/lever counting thing is where I lost it. The story virtually evaporated into psychedelic ramblings from one set of characters to another, w/ confusing connections. Or vignettes of wonderful imaginations, which if I had the patience to go back and dissect I'm sure would reveal themselves to me, but quite frankly I just don't care at this point.