©1995 Neal Stephenson; (P)2001 Audible, Inc.
"The Quentin Tarantino of postcyberpunk science fiction." (The Village Voice)
"[He] is the hottest science fiction writer in America." (Details)
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
The Diamond Age is both amazing and frustrating. The first half of the book is truly brilliant; both science fiction and fantasy woven together with beautiful Victorian-toned prose. The second half of the book is rather irritating with dangling plot points, gratuitous sex (not needed and worse yet, not erotic) and torture scenes, and ultimately a rushed ending.
There are so many interesting sociological themes woven into this book that an English teacher could have a real field day with it. Characters are likable, settings are wonderfully vivid, but the plot gets far more convoluted than necessary. In spite of some flaws, overall, I found the book immensely entertaining, terribly imaginative, and far more literary than many sci-fi novels.
The narrator is superb - lovely voice with excellent character voices. One of the few narrators I have heard that could do a child's voice without making me gag. I wish Audible provided a separate rating category for "audio production" because I have to rate down the performance because the audio has flaws that just shouldn't be there. Jennifer Wiltsie is most definitely a FIVE STAR narrator, but there are several places in the recordings where the sound blurs and the cut at the end of part 1 is terrible. Hence my 4 stars on the performance.
I would recommend The Diamond Age with some caveats - this is definitely an adult novel and you have to be a reader willing to push on through some confusion to enjoy this.
Neal Stephenson's 'The Diamond Age' is a fantastic SciFi novel which looks into a future filled with next generation Internet-like constructs and nano-technological innovation and their effect on the socio-economic disparities in our world today. Synthetic rice puts 30 million Asian peasants out of work, every material needed can be "compiled" from a "matter-feed" at home, national borders are rendered obsolete, though nations still exist and apply their laws in a trade-agreement sort of fashion. The ideas are amazing, and yet that was just background for a very touching story about a little girl from an impoverished an abusive home, named "Nell" who through happenstance acquires "The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer", an interactive book, originally meant for the daughter of a wealthy upper-class "equity-lord". The novel follows Nell through her self-education with the Primer from the ages of 4 to 20, during which she runs away from her abusive stepfather, finds solace with another group, and ultimately becomes a revolutionary (the true purpose of the Primer). I very much enjoyed the tale, and Stephenson has some very up-to-date ideas on India and China, and where the world will probably end up in a 100 years.
Like a lot of good authors, Stephenson has books that aren't as well known but may end up being better or as good as his best-known works. This is one of those.
It is a different breed than Snow Crash, but I want to talk about this book in its own right. Diamond Age is almost a children's story, with the main character being a child who grows into an adult by the end of the book.
Here's something you have to keep in mind: Neal's books take about an hour to 2 hours to understand the world they are taking place in. He usually talks a lot and goes into a lot of detail early on, using phrases and names of things that you have no idea. However, by about 2 hours in, you understand where everything is taking place and the world makes sense.
Since this is naturally important for any book, I didn't take off a star because of it. I really enjoy his introductions to the world that he creates, because I find myself wondering and asking questions about it.
Here's another thing to keep in mind, this book isn't for everyone... people who like technology and computing might find it more enjoyable than someone who doesn't, but I think that it can appeal to many people since it is grounded in a story about a girl growing up.
With all that said, Diamond Age is a really, really good book. You get really drawn into the characters and a lot of that has to do with the narrator and how she reads the fairy tales from the Primer, as well as the different voices she uses for other characters. Unlike some other books in Neal's stash, Diamond Age doesn't go off on long tangents about ancient Gods or religions. Some of it is there, but it has a lot more to do with destiny and abuse of technology, or "Unforeseen Consequences."
If you really liked Snow Crash, just be prepared for something a little more light-hearted and less "kick-ass action" oriented, but still highly enjoyable. 4/5 stars.
Aside from the horrible pronunciation of the foreign (Chinese) words, the story is smart and the narrator does a great job bringing the story to life. The first hour or so seem a little confusing, but stick it through and you will get to know the main characters. The author's illustration of Shanghai and China is a remarkably accurate representation of the sights and senses of China today, of Chinese culture past and the brilliance of technology of the future.
This book is a brilliant imagining of the potential wonders and dangers of nanotech, but like all good science fiction it is more about the effects of technology on society than the technology itself. In a world of superabundant materials, where anything one can design through software can be built almost costlessly, what matters is how societies choose to define themselves and the meaning of a well-lived life. Hence we have futuristic technology employed by neo-Victorians and Confucians to inculcate (and subvert...) ancient values. Fascinating, with compelling characters. Certainly a more mature and subtle work than Snow Crash, much though I enjoyed the latter. And the female reader does a superb job, rendering the various accents from the neo-Victorians to the Bronx confucianism of Judge Fang so delightfully that I think listening to this is probably even better than reading it. I had difficulty getting out of my car at the end of my commute.
I've read this book several times, but after hearing Jennifer Wiltsie's fantastic reading of it, I'm now addicted to the audiobook. Her clear, warm voice, her dramatic timing, her ability to slip flawlessly through a female texan accent, a male new york accent, a chinese accent, and others in a single conversation... I can't wait to find other audio books she's narrated, just to hear her read them.
The book is great, and you will never hear a Neal Stephenson book read better than by Jennifer Wiltsie.
This is one of the first few audio books I have listened to, and this one I have actually read before. All the wonderful baroque fanciness and joy of tech that was evident in Snow Crash is present here, yet Stephenson's writing style and characterisation improves markedly.
Stephenson's endings are often critisized (correctly in some cases) for being too open ended. I didn't find that a problem in tDA. This is not a 'travel a long way, destroy the ring and sauron, all go home' style of book, so it doesn't have that sort of ending.
The narration is simply excellent, with appropriate accents and timbre, but not overdone or excessively stereotypical. I personally felt that one or two voices were awkward (Nell and Harv) but given that all the characters were voiced by the same speaker I could forgive that. Despite having read the book already I listened to all 16 hours, it was just that good.
I bought The Diamond Age back in 2001 and have listened to it three times since then -- it is just that much fun!
This is an engaging tale of cyberpunk, nanotechnology and near-future social development, and in particular how these impact the life of Nell, our young heroine, as she grows up into a unique young woman. I loved to watch the evolution of Nell through her activity with the neo-Victorian Primer, but that is only one of a number of plot lines that intersect, and occasionally come together -- all of which are absorbing. However, if you prefer a nice linear presentation to your novels, you might find Stephenson's approach distracting. If you enjoy William Gibson, you will likely enjoy this book and its ideas (although Stephenson's earlier book, SnowCrash, is a little more Gibson-esque.)
Kudos to the narrator who did an amazing job of the various characters and lines of the story. I found the narration some of the best of all the audible books I have listened to.
My only gripe about the book is the ending, it all seemed to stop a little too abruptly -- but even that cannot dim my appreciation of the story overall, and on subsequent reading I have actually appreciated the ending for its open-endedness.
I am very disappointed to see the push of the abridged versions of both this book and SnowCrash (particularly SnowCrash where the unabridged version is no longer available, a big shame since that is an even better book!). These books create a detailed view of future-society, abridgment will just fade the colour of that presentation. My recommendation is to buy the full-length versions (well, not possible for SnowCrash, but still online for DiamondAge!) and enjoy being absorbed.
Based on the reviews, it looks like people either love this book, or hate it. It is long, but I would not recommend trying the abridged version. Take the time to listen to the unabridged version. It's worth it. The author's imagined ideas about the possible structures and capabilities of nano-tech are incredible. His vision of the future makes me wish I was born later, but at the same time makes me happy I don't live in that place/time.
I'd also like to say Jennifer Wiltsie does one of the best narrator job as I have heard after listening to 30 books. She is a true professional.
Spectacular book. Enjoyable listen. A must have.
Let me be clear at the outset: this is a good book, from a really good author.
Some of the reviews of this book make the mistake of viewing it as a children's book mixed with an adult's.
It is in fact another attempt to address the common Science Fiction theme of how to educate future generations as touched on in other classic works such as Ender's Game or Dune.
The essential question is:
"Adversity made our generation great.
How do we make our children's generation great without having to suffer similar adversity?"
In order to cover the author's idea of the answer to this question there is a lot of coverage of the education of one child in particular. This is essential to the plot and is interesting in how it shapes the adult the child becomes.
This is not hard Science Fiction, although there is very advanced technologly. It is soft Science Fiction as it is much more concerned with how a technology perilously close to magic in its application could affect humanity.
In the main the narrator does a superb job, her voice is pleasant to listen to and she does a convincing, if limited, range of accents.
My only niggle is that she pronounces the word 'primer' to rhyme with 'trimmer' rather than with 'timer'. It sounds ridiculous, but I found it so distracting that I almost gave the work 4 stars instead of 5.
However I did not as that would have been petty pedantry as the rest of the production is very well done.
"It's good, but"
There are lots of things to like about this book, and lots of things to like about the author. He's really imaginative; the worlds he creates are exotic but believable - and Diamond Age is no exception. And the story in many places is really good - at times gripping. There's a but coming though . . . three things. Firstly, the storylines can get so cokmplicated it's at times difficult to follow. Secondly, it is surely impossible to pronounce primer 'primmer'. Probably not he author's fault, granted, and possibly unreasonable but NO. Finally, it's a disappointing ending - the book builds up to a great ending . . . and then it just stops. But overall a good read, loads going on and just about worth the effort.
"I wish I could be a neo-Victorian nano-engineer"
2000 characters is inadequate to describe the number of mind blowing moments in this book where the concepts are revealled in a such a way that you can guess what's going on whilst also setting you up to be blown away at the exact moment that all of the pieces fall into place. Quite clever use of characters that fade into the background, only to turn out to be the main protagonists all along. Innumerable innovations, in particular the book of smart paper sheets connected by a data backbone in the spine; nanomaterial matter compilers that take signed matter feeds, and then underground unregistered feeds reserved for nefarious purposes; and the drummer network, the most ingenious and mind blowing concept. This is all held together by the use of the story within the story of the Primer, and how it plays a part in the conspiracy and revolution. The only problem I have is wanting to be in this world already. Well I guess it isn't that far away.
"I love the story but..."
.. was wildly irritated every time the othewise excellent narrator said "primmer" for "primer". Aaargh. I know it's a tiny thing but it was constantly distracting as it's a word that is said rather often.
That aside ("primmer" - bleugh) it's a cracking listen and full of wild flights of nano-tech fancy. Although I did get a bit bored in the company of the drummers. The New Victorian enclave was so much more fascinating.
"Very enjoyable - strange in places"
Neal Stephenson creates an wonderful universe - full of clever ideas and concepts which weave their way through what is a very enjoyable story. Jennifer Wiltsie has a beguiling voice - switching from character to character with ease and good distinction between them. Like most other English people I did find the pronunciation of primer (said here "primmer") irritating - but it doesn't take a lot to get used to it and presumably that's how American's pronounce it.
I did find some parts a little too weird - at times I found that the story world was being stretched a little too far. However - it was a good read/listen and I'd recommend it to anyone who is a fan of science fiction/fantasy.
"the book's good"
But the narration suffers a serious flaw: "primer" is pronounced as "primmer" throughout.
I love the book, own it on paper as well, and the narrator has a lovely voice.
"Diamond Age - rough diamond of an audio"
long - 18 hrs - enthralling and enchanting, as captivating as the book originally was. The only problem has been that there are occasional distortions in the sound, enough to notice and remember, but not enough to spoil the enjoyment of the tale.
"Well Plotted with Creative Ideas"
I must admit that I enjoyed Reamde better. Some of the story-telling in The Diamond age was a bit too baroque.
I enjoyed this on several levels. However, I found the character of the architect hard to engage with.
"Worth the time - if you can deal with the quality"
This is, for the most part, a wholly enjoyable audiobook.
Neal Stephenson writes gripping, often very long and complex stories and this is no exception. I don't believe it to be his best - I thought that (subjectively speaking) Reamde was a better story overall - and it is a bit slow getting started but the level of invention and imagination on display is fabulous. Once the world the characters inhabit is described and the characters themselves are introduced it develops an express-train like momentum leading to the perhaps slightly underwhelming conclusion.
The narration from Jennifer Wiltsie is top notch: well characterised and performed. I'm maintaining my performance stars despite common complaints on here about the word "primer" being pronounced "primmer". It may be jarring to the British Ear but that is quite normal in American English.
So why only 3 stars overall? Frankly, despite downloading the best quality version I could, it sounds like the story was recorded over the telephone with even some "old-skool" interference on the line at times to maintain the feel. It may be an old recording and cheap but this is far below the standard I'd expect from Audible.
"A fascinating view of a future"
Another well written and wonderfully case Audible buy. Not serious, quite a light 'read', very engaging, although sometimes very odd indeed; 90% would be truly interesting to my 10 yr old if I read it to him, but just a few pieces are (unnecessarily?) 'adult' so it's off limits. Neal Stephnson's imagination is boundless and he brings it to life in the fullest way. The 'revelation' towards the end felt a touch inevitable, and perhaps a bit naive, but that's OK. The actual ending was, frankly, a bit lame after such a racing storyline; as sometimes happens, it felt like the author had had enough (or perhaps had a deadline?). But overall, very entertaining and I'd recommend it to anyone.
"In two minds..."
I chose this recording because I had enjoyed 'Cryptonomicon' by the same author and Neal Stephenson is certainly very inventive and imaginative, creating an entire alternative future world. Some parts of the story jogged along quickly and we made good progress together but at other times the pace slowed to a tedious crawl. Although I laughed out loud once or twice at this book I also found myself looking forward to the end - not so I could find out what happens, just so I could stop listening!
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