Clouds's Reviews > The Diamond Age

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: science-fiction-stand-alone, locus-sci-fi, hugo, science-fiction, 5-star, reviewed, pub-1990s


Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).


Not long after starting my Locus Quest, I crossed paths with a fascinating purple brick of a book, by the name of Anathem . We hit it off – spent many happy hours together – and I sealed our love affair by naming a kitten after Anathem ’s protagonist, Erasmas.

Then along came Cryptonomicon – a different kind of beast. Initially, I was less convinced; where is the sci-fi element? But that fat historical war novel grew on me slowly (and as it was so long it had plenty of time to work its magic) so I found myself a fan by the end.

Third (but by no means final) Stephenson to step up to the plate is the steampunk-nanotech extraordinaire, The Diamond Age . Weighing in at a dinky 500 pages compared to its heavyweight kin, The Diamond Age hits the ground running and had me grinning from the get-go.

There’s no point bushing-around-the-beat, it’s time to put-my-table-on-the-cards and wear-my-sleeve-on-my-heart: I loved this book! As with Anathem , this book deserves a sixth star from me. It makes me want to downgrade other books to 4-star just to make it stand out further.

Anathem is a book with substance – the kind of girl your grandmother calls a ‘keeper’.
The Diamond Age is a book with flair – the kind of girl your grandmother calls a ‘bad influence’.
What your Grandmother isn’t telling you, is that sometimes ‘bad influences’ grow up to be ‘keepers’. The same soul runs through these books, but Anathem is just a little older and wiser – The Diamond Age more naive and impulsive.

You can easily find a list of major characters in this book – Nell, the Hackworths, the Finkle-McGraws, Judge Fang, Miranda – but odds-on they wont mention the star of the show: The Primer. Oh, the Primer! Oh, sweet bejesus, the Primer! I wish I had a Primer as a child. I wish I had a Primer now, to give to my son. The Primer is perfect. It’s like a fully formed idea you were already aware of, that hadn’t been articulated yet. It was on the tip of my tongue – now I know what it’s called: the Primer! The Primer is perfect. It is what everyone who’s banged their head on the desk through educational software wishes it was, and then some.

I could read a whole encyclopaedia about Nell’s lessons with the Primer – then go back in time, finish my AI design degree and devote my life to making the Primer a reality. Everything else in this book is window dressing (fascinating, imaginative, playful, funny, adventurous and evocative window dressing, for sure).

A lot of people get frustrated by the second half of the book and the ending. I am apparently in the minority. When Nell’s (view spoiler) her I wanted to jump up and down on the bed. I told my wife about it in rushed, excited, babbling sentences which made her stare at me funny and pat me on the head.

And the drummers? Yes – the drummers are silly. But so was Bud’s skull gun back at the start. Remember how I said this book was playful and funny in places? Yeah – the drummers are part of that. Drummer orgy?! It’s a nice counterpoint to the Vicky ethos.

Buzzzz. Buzzzz. Buuzzzzzzzz!
What’s that noise?
The Diamond Age pushing my buttons.

Locus Sci-Fi and Hugo joint winner from ’96.
BUZZZZZZZ!
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 8, 2012 – Shelved
May 9, 2012 – Shelved as: science-fiction-stand-alone
May 14, 2012 – Shelved as: locus-sci-fi
June 17, 2012 – Shelved as: hugo
June 23, 2012 – Shelved as: science-fiction
August 26, 2012 – Shelved as: 5-star
October 25, 2012 – Shelved as: reviewed
February 8, 2014 – Shelved as: pub-1990s

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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Andrea It was totally magical.
And what a brilliant concept, the New Victorians. Sorta post-steampunk crossed with post-cyberpunk. Unique.


Andrey I've seen your reviews here and there, all with the locus books challenge. I was just interested, how is that going for you, and do you recommend the same challenge for a sci fi lover?


Clouds Very well, and yes. :-)
*reply in more detail in PM*


message 4: by Erix (new)

Erix Dominguez I'm fairly sure Bud's skull gun and "well how he ended up" was the author clearly stating that the time, where a pure cyberpunk story could exist, is over. He is meant to be ridiculous.


Suna One of my favourite books of all time and every re-read is a layer deeper in. You make me want to drop what I'm reading and pick this one up again!


message 6: by Rob (new)

Rob Park Clouds - thank you for your inspiration. I posted the Locus Sci-fi and Fantasy awards on my fridge and have been picking away at it ever since. I have yet to be dissapointed.


Bradley You share my enthusiasm, my friend. Great review! I was bowled over by all of these the same way as you. :)


message 8: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom I feel exactly the same way about the Primer. Years after reading this book, I still crave the primer, both for my son and for the world in general. I keep wondering why I can't get my hands on anything even remotely approaching it, and I keep telling myself it won't be long now.


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