The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is the novel that, along with Snow Crash, put Neal Stephenson on the map in the mid 90's. Stephenson has since written a string of imaginative, thought provoking books that all touch on some aspect of the nature of information and it's movement. While it's never stated, Diamond Age seems to be set about 50 - 75 years after Snow Crash.The first part of the title is a reference to the names that anthropologists and historians use to describe the technological ages of humans: Stone Age, Bronze Age, etc. Some believe that we will one day have the ability to create objects and devices at the atomic level. One result of this might be the ability to synthesize carbon based objects which use the crystalline structure of diamonds. This may yield materials that might be, among other properties, extremely light and rigid. Hence, the Diamond Age.Like the other his works, Stephenson touches on a wide variety of subjects. The future according to Stephenson includes the perfection of nanotechnology, obsolescence of nation-states, distributed consciousness, and an emphasis of culture over ethnicity.Set in this world is the story of John Hackworth, a leading nanotech engineer, and Nell, a young girl of humble birth. Hackworth is commissioned to create the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, a futuristic book which is capable of tailoring its content to the reader's interests and abilities. Nell's life is changed dramatically when her brother gives her the primer after mugging Hackworth and stealing a copy of the Primer.Diamond Age was not an easy book to get into initially. I read the book over the course of two months, with other reading interspersed. I never really lost interest, but it took awhile before the book really grabbed me. Stephenson writes with a focus on narrative. There is relatively little dialog, and the characters are not as fully developed as some might like. In spite of these things, the book is well worth the effort. The stories of Hackworth and Nell are compelling, and the vision of the future put forth is like nothing I've ever read. Unlike most science fiction, Diamond Age and Snow Crash contain a future world that could believably exist in our lifetime.Ben Babcock
I love fiction set in the Victorian era. Sexually-repressive mores and cool, arrogant superiority aside, the Victorians embody a sense of order and etiquette that often escapes us these days. They had protocols for social interaction—protocols embedded in unfortunate distinctions between classes, and laden with the constant threat of small talk about the weather, but protocols nonetheless. The Victorian cadence and diction are so courteous, delightful without being overly flowery. While I would never want to live in the Victorian era, I do admire them for this polished and civil approach to discourse.So I was pleased to see Neal Stephenson invoke the Victorian zeitgeist in The Diamond Age, where the New Atlantans represent a vision of social order based on principle rather than authoritarian enforcement. Unlike the British Empire of old, the New Atlantans are but one phyle—albeit, one of the most influential—among many; those born into it are free to leave, and those not may, if accepted, take an Oath to Her Majesty Queen Victoria II and join. With such flexible notions of statehood and allegiance, Stephenson has created a middle ground between the localized countries of today and the decentralized megacorporation-states envisioned in some cyberpunk.Through a neo-Victorian and Confucian lens, Stephenson depicts a variegated world where nanotechnology, coupled with nearly-unlimited energy, means an effective post-scarcity world—but there is still poverty, unrest, and injustice. On one level, this world seems utterly different from ours, with its own jargon, social strata, technology (of course), and conflicts. On another level, it seems remarkably similar to our world, the only difference being that post-scarcity has enabled every ideology to experiment with its own lifestyle (embodied by the phyles) without much fear of catastrophe.Of course, this is just background. After a certain amount of fussing around with minor characters and establishing some expository details, Stephenson starts telling us a story about people whom we can care about, even when their individual needs conflict. Thus, while it is a tragedy that John Hackworth's illicit second copy of the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer gets stolen before he can give it to his daughter, it is a miracle for its new owner, Nell. As much as we want John to succeed in his goal of raising Fiona to achieve greatness, we also want Nell to grow up into a strong, capable girl who can escape her abusive domestic situation.Through delightful stories-within-the-story and liberal use of jumps across the space of several years, Stephenson shows us Nell maturing, thanks to a loving older brother and the guiding hand of the Primer. One notable aspect of The Diamond Age was its ability to surprise me: Harv was one of many characters I didn't think I would like but did. He truly cared for Nell, to the point that when he helped her into a better situation but recognized he could not join her there, he essentially threw himself back into the slums so she could stay. Despite lacking any Primer to raise him, Harv turns out a good person, even if his ultimate fate is regrettable.The character that surprised me most, however, was Miranda. She began as a ractor with a dream of stardom and ended up acting as a surrogate mother, through the Primer, for Nell. Her attachment to Nell, like that of Harv's is endearing in its genuineness. While Nell has a good many people interested in her wellbeing—indeed, a superfluity considering how impersonal and dangerous a world Stephenson makes this seem—Miranda, Harv, and Constable Moore stand out because they care about her as a person rather than a means to an end. To Lord Finkle-McGraw, John Hackworth, Judge Fang, etc., she is just an interesting experiment. To Miranda, she is a little girl (who grows up into a young woman) who needs a mother. Amid so much technology, the characters with personal stakes are the ones who matter most.Unlike Miranda and Nell, not every character is so well-conceived. Some, like Judge Fang, start off important and then just vanish prior to the end of the book. Others, like Carl Hollywood, begin as minor characters only to vault to centre stage during the climax. Carl vexed me: at first he is just a paternal figure for Miranda, someone who gave her advice about her role as Nell's surrogate mother. Then, suddenly, he is a super-hacker who has a role in orchestrating the resolution behind the scenes. The plot similarly starts spectacularly and degenerates into a somewhat random collection of related conflicts, none of which receive a satisfactory resolution by the time the book abruptly ends. Much as he does in Snow Crash , Stephenson elects to provide no epilogue for his characters' lives, leaving us to wonder who flourishes and who perishes. Although I don't demand that a book tie up every loose end, I feel cheated when I invest myself in a character only for his or her story to stop when it feels like the conflict is barely concluded.The Diamond Age exemplifies both the positive and negative hallmarks of Stephenson's style. His enthusiasm for technology is evident. His descriptions of that technology, as well as cities and characters, are both full of wonder and witticism. Stephenson enjoys drawing attention to contradictions, contrasting characters' overt reactions with what they really think about a situation, and the result is usually entertaining. And while The Diamond Age, like Snow Crash, depicts humanity as an organism at the society level, it does not entirely feel like a Stephenson book until much later in the story, when Hackworth introduces the concept of the Seed.Ah, there's Stephenson's theme of information as a viral construct that is capable of reprogramming human society. A precursor appears in Nell's Primer, when she arrives in the domain of King Coyote and begins learning about Turing machines that function on a macroscopic level. To Hackworth, the Seed is a new technology, threatening because of the capabilities it grants to its possessor. To Dr. X, the Seed is a paradigm for social order, a blueprint. To both, it means the end of interdependence of the phyles: splinters will no longer rely on the main Feeds or their Sources controlled by the neo-Victorians. In this respect, while I don't think it quite compensates for the disappointing climax, the thematic aspects of The Diamond Age become most interesting just as one's interest in the plot diminishes.There is a CBC radio show, Spark, that discusses the impact of new technology on our daily lives (I listen to it as a podcast, of course!). Rather than a discussion about technology, Spark is aimed at a general audience and focuses on the social implications of technology. The Diamond Age reminds me of Spark, because it too is a long look at how technology (like nanotechnology) affects society. It is a serious meditation on what might happen to society as the Internet continues to evolve, as our ability to manipulate nature extends to the atomic scale, and as our desire to find solutions to waste and environmental problems increases in urgency.Of all his recurring motifs, Stephenson's treatment of humanity as a single organism is the one that intrigues me the most. This is not a new concept within science fiction—Isaac Asimov's civilization-manipulating Foundation series or Herbert's Golden Path spring to mind—but with the rise of memes and memetics, Stephenson's ideas seem timely. Snow Crash explored the idea that information could be transmitted virally, actually compromising a society like a disease compromises an immune system. The Diamond Age focuses more on morality, asking what exactly makes one culture differ from another, and how ideologies are transmitted cross-culturally. Can one hack a society, even one that is not a Turing machine?Although it is tempting to simplify the conflict as one of Eastern-Western philosophies, it is possible to envision two different sides. Rather than East/West, we have two schools of thought about the propagation of culture to the next generation—a timeless problem. How do you ensure children see that your way of living is the best, even though it has obvious flaws? On one side, you have people like Judge Fang and Dr. X, who see it as the duty of the entire society to ensure that people are brought up to respect the social order and contribute in a useful manner. On the other side, there those like Lord Finkle-McGraw, who grasp that there is no reliable way to educate children and simultaneously ensure their loyalty: either you end up indoctrinating them, or they push away from you and rebel. Thus the desire for an alternative, Finkle-McGraw's elusive search for a systematic subversiveness.The Diamond Age frustrated me and fascinated me. While I don't entirely agree with Stephenson's ideas, they are intriguing. Yet often, especially because of the lack of a satisfactory conclusion, the story seems to be nothing but a thin vehicle for the transmission of those ideas—it is all substance, heavy on theme and light on the plot. Stephenson may have piqued my interest, but he has to work harder than this if he hopes to hack my mind.Vassilissa
I gulped down the 500 pages in four days, and it was not an easy read. I admit ruefully that Stephenson's vocabulary is better than mine. I feel like this book demands analysis, and I don't know enough to provide it. All I could do is count heads and make remarks about the colour and gender and fate of each major character. Which, OK, is worth doing, but it's 3:42am and I've been reading since about 8pm, so forgive me if I don't open it up again just now.I want a primer.I also want more about Dr X and Lord Finkle-McGraw. And I want to know more about what happened to Judge Fang and his assistants, although I'll admit that this (unlike Dr X and Lord Finkle-McGraw?) is outside the scope of the story. Unless I'm being stupid and this is something I'm meant to figure out for myself.There are things in here that you won't get unless you know stuff about science, about computer science (the entire Handbook subplot from Castle Turing to the end is a potted history of computing,) about linguistics, for that matter. This is not a book for someone who can't figure out that 'ractive' is etymologically derived from 'interactive'. And it's driving me a little crazy that I can't work out the root of 'thete'. I only got 'phyle' = phylum right this second.And I want a chevaline. Like, even more than I want a pony, though not as much as I want a primer.Dave
First half of the book gets 4 stars; the second half gets 2 stars. Average = 3 stars.I really liked the first half of the book. His description of technology is wonderful, and the relationship between Nell and the Primer are quite captivating. Much to my dismay, the book fell apart at the end. Characters are disposed quite expediently, conflict is introduced with little or no explanation, very illogical events occur, and then the book stops. If I could give different ratings to both half of the books, I would.The whole book is laced with tangents which I found to be rather dull. I cared very little for Hackworth's mission after he created the Primer. I cared very little for what Dr. X was attempting to do with the Primer. In the first half of the book, Nell captures most of the focus, which makes these other aspects simply minor annoyances.In the end, I found the book to be enjoyable. Although, if I knew then what I know now, I would have stopped reading as soon as the book started to go downhill. My opinion of Stephenson would have been much higher, and I would have saved myself some time and effort of finishing.Wilmar Luna
I hated this book, plain and simple. Diamond Age was my first jump into sci-fi books and wow did it disappoint in every aspect. The worst part is that there were some solid, interesting ideas in this book that really seemed awesome, but failed to be executed properly.1.) The book is hard to read and wordy for the sake of being wordy. If you don't know what any of the terminology is that the author has created, tough luck, you need to figure it out. I don't mind grabbing a dictionary here and there but some of his words were just unnecessarily obtuse. It was the equivalent of someone who just loves to hear himself talk.2.) It's boring, I found myself falling asleep while reading passages of his book because I wasn't interested. I wasn't vested in the characters and there was nothing of substance to keep me wanting to read more.(However, I will say there was a very touching scene between Nell and her brother Harv that made me sad. So there was at least one good thing in this book.)3.) Supposedly the setting is some kind of neo victorian future, yet there's references to Cleveland, McDonald's and older tech. If it's the future of our world, why in the heck would we go back to doing things a victorian way? Like in Star Wars, it feels like we took a step backwards in technology rather than forward. I did not enjoy any of the real world references in this book, because the setting made it seem like it wasn't our real world at all. If anything the references took me out of the moment.4.) Probably my most important pet peeve, WHERE IS THE PLOT? There was no plot to speak of! It follows a little girl named Nell through her experiences with the primer, which is fine but... there's no plot! There's character development of the little girl Nell but again, why should I care? This book failed to give me any reason to get invested in any of the characters. Other characters who seemed much more interesting were forgotten and cast aside.What's even more frustrating is that minor characters suddenly become main characters at the end of the book and they are awfully one dimensional. Carl Hollywood, I just don't get why the author made this guy seem so much more important at the end of the book. However, he still had more personality than the 2nd main character Hackworth who is the literary equivalent of watching paint dry.Which brings me to...5.) As another review stated earlier, it's like the author suddenly remembered he had no plot and decided to turn the last hundred pages into a huge action sequence. Suddenly, that little girl Nell becomes this action hero that's jumping across elevators and there's this war going on. When the hell did the war start?I could understand why people liked the book, it certainly had a rich world of cool technological ideas. Yet, when it comes to characters and plot, this book falls flat on its face.I am giving the author another shot with his book Snow Crash and so far it's looking much better.If you don't care about plot or interesting characters, Diamond Age is the perfect book to read for world building.Maitrey
This is my 6th Stephenson book, although this one was written much earlier than the ones I've read. I think everybody should read a Stephenson novel once in their livesSurprise surprise, this is a short book by his standards. And it hits the ground running rather unlike its heftier cousins. And boy does it run. The writing is as measured and witty as ever, and there are enough amusing asides, short stories and other paraphernalia to keep everyone happy. I loved Stephenson's take on nanotechnology, that it might not be a complete utopia everybody imagines it to be. Of course nanotech can be weaponized and it does make some things easier to do, but it's not a complete cure-all. And Stephenson handles all the matter compilers, feed-systems in a nice way, you can almost come to believe you live in that world (and be disappointed when you realize you don't).The splitting up of the world into various tribes or phyles if you will is also done well. Stephenson has brilliantly imagined a world with no nation-states, and how people might live when the tribal affiliations take hold.But the star of the book has to be the primer. I'm sure everybody who finishes reading this book will sigh wistfully for one. The other characters aren't too bad, especially Nell.And I loved it that Diamond Age cuts AI down to size. Thank god for that, I think we've had enough of big bad AIs for a while now. And has it evaded the horrible endings Stephenson ends up writing. I'm still on the fence on this one. Just the fact that it wasn't as bad as I thought it might have helped a lot.If you are looking for a Stephenson book and are daunted by the size of the other behemoths out there, this is the right book for you.Chandler
Interesting at first, the book effectively explores how societies might react to the proliferation of nano-technology and ubiquitous access to molecular assemblers.Yikes.Ok, so The Diamond Age is ~500 pages of fragmented stories. Although the book begins at a comfortable pace, taking time with each individual narrative and fleshing out the events leading to Nell's story, with each turned page the narrative cohesion drops and the motivations of the characters/events become less and less clear. By the end of the book there are several dropped threads, too many one-off characters, and too many words devoted to event-driven minutiae (while, at the same time, Stephenson minimizes his descriptions of _why_ such events are unfolding).Put another way, I suppose my biggest complaint is that more and more (as the book goes on), the interesting plot-points are hastily described parentheticals, while the actual plot-points involve characters walking down the street (or looking at a billboard, or whatever).Lit Bug
Lemmed it. Not that it was so bad, but I couldn't go further.The plot is excruciatingly slow, the characters flat. The world-building is adequate, even really good sometimes. But pages and pages of inconsequential descriptions of surroundings and routine gestures and detailed accounts of characters who die soon and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot so far. Maybe I'll pick it up when I'm in a more lenient mood, more tolerant.Scott D.
Earlier, I reviewed Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. It was one of the finest audiobooks I'd ever heard, and I feel that this one may be even better. Snow Crash was irreverent and whimsical, and The Diamond Age is that and more, with a plot that is both epic and personal.Nell is a little girl, 4 years old when we first meet her. Her brother, Harv, gives her a stolen copy of the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, an interactive ("ractive") book that was designed by an engineer who wanted his own daughter to experience a bit more than the traditional education. Nell's mother flits from abusive relationship to abusive relationship, with Nell and Harv protecting themselves as they can. Nell spends more and more time with the Primer, which teaches Nell through stories told by real interactive actors ("ractors") via the Net.The story is complex and mature. The main plot follows Nell's life, and along the way we see an amazing world. The world has become nearly tribal again with people gathering in Claves, each with their own rules and culture. Much time is spent in a neo-Victorian Clave, a place where Victorian culture is adopted because it is felt that one has to go back to the 19th century to find a viable model for society.Stephenson explores two technologies in the novel as well, and they are both of equal influence on the story. The first is the Net and the entire idea of interactive entertainment, which makes the Primer possible. The second is nanotechnology, which is used in everything from planet building to the creation of stuffed animals in a Matter Compiler. There are also nano-mites which float in your bloodstream and can do anything from carry information to kill you with thousands of tiny explosions. The drawback to this novel is its ending, which, though inadequate, would not keep me from recommending it. The rest of the book is so astonishingly strong, that to miss it would be missing one of the major works of modern science fiction.The Diamond Age could not have been an easy novel to perform, but Jennifer Wiltsie did so admirably. This is the first I've heard her, and I hope to hear her voice often. She had just the right tone for this, and I had no trouble at all discerning the characters in this complex novel. An excellent job.(Originally posted at SFFaudio.com in September 2003.)Kerry
I originally read this book in May 2008. Here is my review from then: I liked the first half of this book better, when it was still just "here are a lot of new ideas!" and wasn't concerned with tying up the plot. But it was still really great.I really, really heart Neal Stephenson. He writes the most likable characters I have ever read. Hackworth is a Waterhouse, of course, and he can't ever seem to come up with more than one kickass female per book (I barely count Miranda, since she was in the book so rarely), but still, everybody is COOL, even the bad guys. Once again he described a lot of geography (China) that I wasn't able to picture in my head (just like London in the Baroque Cycle and Manila in Cryptonomicon, but it doesn't really matter much.So, if you haven't read this book, you should.I re-read it in April 2013, because I have read a bunch of mediocre books lately and wanted to read something I knew I would enjoy. This fit the bill nicely. Partly I was thinking of Stephenson because Sean is reading Anathem, and partly maybe because the They Might Be Giants album Nanobots just came out.I agree with my review of five (!) years ago.Ken-ichi
Welcome to Stephensonland! Wait, sir? Sir? Yes you. I'm afraid you'll have to check your need for believable characters with me. Here's a numerical token you can use to reclaim it at the end of the day. Oh, and hold on. Is that an expectation of coherent plotting in your back pocket? I'm afraid those are also disallowed in Stephensonland. It'll be perfectly safe here behind the counter. Now, here's your complementary CS patch. That's right, it's very similar, except instead of nicotine, this will imbue you with knowledge equivalent to a bachelor's degree in computer science. Certain parts of your experience will be much funnier if you wear it, while others will be unspeakably boring if you don't. Ok, you're all set. You're going to have a great time.Sometimes I feel like part of the joy of reading Neal Stephenson is the point at which you realize all the characters are a bit robotic and the absurd number of plot lines will never be resolved and the book occasionally reads like a particularly entertaining text book and that none of these things are stopping you from loving every word. This book ties together a pretty conventional cyberpunk-ish near-future street world with a Victorian world of manners and concomitant awkwardness with Confuscianism with fairy tales with crazy underwater tube-dwelling hypnotized sex fiends in ways that seem almost plausible! Also, mechanical horses and Stetson hats! Yes!It amuses me that in addition to being a CS nerd Stephenson likes a bit of a mysticism. Human brains can magically find patterns in data that computers cannot? Really, Neal? I seem to recall Anathem was a bit like this as well, and that book was even dorkierLouise
Is it possible to feel nostalgia for a place in the future? The crowded, multi-factioned, multi-leveled city of Shanghai and nearby Pudong made me miss my hometown terribly. Stephenson's descriptions of brightly lit Nanjing Road and small, dim, alleys of hawkers was so spot on. The mix of high technology, the sophisticated neo-Victorians, and the Confuscians made a confusing but ultimately satisfying story.I came to The Diamond Age with a vague idea of what the book was about. Like previous steampunk books I read, there was a combination of neo-Victorian sensibilities, technologies different than what we're used to, and a huge disparity between classes. While that may be what gets the book labeled as 'steampunk' by some people ,it surpasses that label and has so much more.It has cyber-punk technologies. It has dystopian characteristics. It's part adventure story, part riddle, part allegory, part detective story, and best of all, it feels epic without losing its main characters in too wide of a scope.Reading Stephenson is always hard for me but I always enjoy it. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that his books are not easy to skim through. Go too quickly in The Diamond Age and you end up in an underwater rave wondering what the heck just happened.The book was definitely worth reading for any fan of the author. It certainly is my favorite book of his so far. My only complaint was that Nell was too perfect. While it could be said that it the Primer had something to do with that, if I take a step back and look at the character, her lack of faults is unbelievable.Other than that one little complaint, I loved every part of the book from the heart-wrenching stories in the Primer to the action-packed lead up to the Mouse Army. I also liked all the mentions of tea.Protip: Fountain pens were mentioned at least nine times in this book!Thermalsatsuma
If 'Snow Crash' was the definitive cyberpunk book, then 'The Diamond Age or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer' is the last word on that particular genre. It's nominally set in the same world as the earlier book and shares some of the geo-political background. Nation states are an outdated concept, and now people are grouped into phyles by a common culture or other affiliation. Three major world views are uneasy neighbours - the neo Victorians of New Atlantis with their mannered stoicism and carefully managed hypocrisy sit alongside the Confucianism of the Han Chinese and the Nipponese.The plot centres around a peculiar book commissioned by Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle McGraw as a present for his grand-daughter, designed and built by the nano engineer John Percival Hackworth who steals a copy of book for his own daughter, which as a result of a street robbery then falls into the hands of Nell, a young girl living in wretched circumstances in the leased territory of a future Shanghai. The book has been designed as a fully interactive education for a young lady from the age of five or six through to adolescence as a subversive alternative to the stifling conformity of the Neo Victorian system. Nell's education over the course of many years, including insights into subjects starting with self defence, history, nano engineering and finally the limits of artificial intelligence (or pseudo intelligence as Hackworth defines it) of Turing machines, has far reaching and startling consequences.I particularly enjoyed the segments of the book told from the viewpoint of the protagonist of the Primer - Princess Nell and her companions Dinosaur, Duck, Peter Rabbit and Purple who are based on the few toys owned by the Nell of the real world. The self defence taught by Dojo the mouse and Princess Nell's slow unravelling of the relentless logic of Castle Turing are the high points.If the book has any failings, it is the rather abrupt and rushed ending which leaves many things open and unresolved, although in retrospect the consequences of a world profoundly changed are thought provoking indeed.Philip
I really wish I had listened to Oliver Twist before listening to this audiobook. The style of writing is a wonderful homage to Dickens that seemed very foreign and strange to me, but makes much sense after listening to Oliver Twist.Review of re-read: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.Mohammad Ali Abedi
The most annoying part of a science-fiction book is when the author is so in love with a new technology in his time that he thinks that the future is basically that technology multiplied by a thousand. It would be like when pants were invented, a science fiction author being thrilled so much by it that he would think that in the future everyone would wear pants at all times and put pants on their hand and have houses that were pant shaped and drive pant shaped cars.Author Neal Stephenson is so excited by nanotechnology that he inserts it every single part of his story. The plot keeps get sidetracked by Stephenson telling us another nifty use for nanotechnology whether it is to make food, books, or used as a weapon. I bet I could write a science-fiction story where everyone uses facebook for all purposes, like how Osama Bin Laden has a facebook account and the posts angry messages on George Bush’s wall, but it wouldn’t make me smart.The best science-fiction stories are the ones that use the science of it to place humans in a different setting to see how they will react in a different circumstances, but still be a human story, rather than have the author masturbate about cool new things he can think of using the current new technology that stops being exciting after something new comes along in a couple of years, or more likely, in a few days.The only cool thing in the book is that the future has divided people into groups, such as a group of people have decided to be like the old Victorians. But unfortunately that concept is lost in a stupid story with characters that could have been developed, if the author did not instead tell us how nanotechnology can be used to make realistic paper or some stupid shit like that.