Review of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Filed under: Reviews
The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer
By Neal Stephenson; read by Jennifer Wiltsie
16 compact discs; Approx. 19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Nanotechnology / Computer Programming / Victorian Culture / Cyberpunk /
Editor’s Note: This edition is the same recording that was released in 2001, but it has been repackaged and re-released. Back in 2003, Scott reviewed The Diamond Age after listening to it on cassette tape.
Publisher Summary: Set in twenty-first-century Shanghai, The Diamond Age is the story of what happens when a state-of-the-art interactive device falls into the hands of a street urchin named Nell. Her life — and the entire future of humanity — is about to be decoded and reprogrammed.…
Review: This was my second listen of the audio version narrated by Jennifer Wiltsie, which I enjoyed more thoroughly than the first time. Perhaps the main reason for this was that I happened to listen to Oliver Twist in between and discovered that Neal Stephenson had written a wonderful homage to Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, unbeknownst to me. That is not to say that reading Oliver Twist is a requirement for liking this book, but that it is a great way to fully appreciate the author’s style in this story, which was somewhat foreign to me at first. The Diamond Age is the sort of book that has the amusing ability to make me feel both more and less intelligent than I really am. Stephenson has a style of genre bending all his own that I like to think of as Neal-punk. At times he’ll mix it with some Dickensian dialogue that makes perfect sense to me. Other times his writing flies right over my head and convinces me that I’d need a significant amount of time and effort doing research in order to get his meaning, which is okay with me. It all lends itself to the sort of layered writing that bears up well to multiple readings, getting more and more understanding and appreciation each time. That is not so say that it requires a re-read in order to enjoy, it just helped me out quite a bit. I also happen to be an avid re-reader.
The characters in this book are diverse, interesting, often funny, and easy to sympathize with, especially Nell. I would mostly recommend this to people who enjoy an esoteric story that gives you a lot of food for thought. Neal Stephenson has a bit of a reputation for writing not-so-great endings. I don’t think The Diamond Age has a cut and dried conclusion, leaving room for the listener’s own imagination to wonder about and fill in some details. I can see how this may be dissatisfying to some, but I rather like a story that leaves me thinking about it afterwards. Jennifer Wiltsie did an excellent job with the narration, smoothly going from one character’s voice to another and delivering some lovely Victorian dialogue flawlessly to my American ears. All in all, I found it to be unique, imaginative, and quite fun.
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