Monday, June 28, 2010

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (BOOK REVIEW)

Neal Stephenson’s writing is sometimes enthralling, sometimes incredibly frustrating, but always an undoubtedly creative endeavour.

It’s just the boring part that’s a bother.

His first cyberpunk novel SNOW CRASH is a smashing success. It gleefully balances pulse pounding action and innovative ideas without ever missing a beat. His later novel Cryptonomicon does the same, and expands the world view to include three separate time lines and hundreds of characters.

At the other end of the spectrum, his newest nvel ANATHEM is a slog. Heavy with ideas, but lacking in characterization and any reason for attachment, the novel suffers from someone trying much too hard to appear smarter than everyone else in the room. He has a knack at world building, but forgets to make any of it interesting. He tends to fall into the habit of beginning every chapter with page after page of architectural descriptions that have no impact on the narrative. It’s obvious that he finds it incredibly enjoyable, but for the rest of the audience wanting to have something engaging, not so much.

Don’t get me started on his tendency of making up words.

DIAMOND AGE is stuck right in the middle of both of Stephenson’s stylistic extremes. Obstinately taking place in the future of SNOW CRASH, it’s the story of an interactive book YOUNG LADIES PRIMER, the girl who takes care of it, and the people that surround her.

This is a novel of ideas. It doesn’t have much of a forward driving plot. There are some really neat concepts at play here, but Stephenson either dumps them on uninteresting characters (which make up about half of the people in the novel) or drops in analogy after analogy that grinds everything to a halt. The idea of Victorian rules coming back and nanotechnologies implementations in an ever evolving world could make for a cracking read, but instead it comes off as a lot of interesting disconnected concepts forced together to make a whole.

There are still a few glimmers of base excitement in THE DIAMOND AGE, but they come off as teases to something that never develops. The action packed climax of the novel feels like it was inserted at an editor’s behest. It feels disconnected. The ending is incredibly abrupt, comes out of nowhere, and leaves a ton of plot threads dangling.

DIAMOND AGE would have been more interesting if stuff...happened. Instead of people just sit around and talk. There’s not much drama or suspense (there’s a little) but just continuous metaphoring. I could be suffering from a case of wrongful expectation. Stephenson has proven himself over a time as a writer that has intellectual concerns as his main interest, and narrative lays somewhere behind that. If you go in with that in mind, maybe you’re experience will be better than mine.

I’d suggest DIAMOND AGE with trepidation to the casual reader. If you’re craving something new, with ideas to spare, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a page turning adventure tale with more than a few brilliant ideas in its head, this is NOT for you. It isn’t light reading. Go read SNOW CRASH instead.

1 comment:

  1. Snow Crash was definitely awesome and I completely agree about the ending of Diamond Age. Check out my review: