I wrote about the failings of The Diamond Age in a message to my brother a week ago. Now that I have actually finished the book, I can say that my problems with it are still valid. First, the good: I don’t think there’s anyone better than Neal Stephenson when it comes to creating a believable universe around a technologically advanced future. In both this and Snow Crash, his world is fully realized and–more importantly–socially complex.

But The Diamond Age clearly is affected by Stephenson’s ongoing scatterbraineditis in a way that Snow Crash was able to avoid. It’s actually a pretty clear progression from the great plot of Zodiac through to the spaghetti nonsense of Cryponomicon. He creates this nanotech-infused world, introduces us to a few characters and gets us to love them and root for them. Hackworth vanishes from the storyline, then Miranda, then Nell seems to be the central character. Then she disappears when Hackworth reappears and now we’re supposed to care about Fiona for a chapter or two. Then Carl Hollywood becomes a central character. And what ever happened to Dr. X? What’s up with the Fists? Oh, here comes the Mouse Army seemingly from nowhere (or more accurately 200 pages ago). The conflict that supposedly gets resolved doesn’t even begin to appear until three-quarters of the way through the book. And now that I think about it, I’m not sure what the conflict was or even if it was resolved.

I really wanted to love this one, especially since I liked the world so much more than the virtual reality world of Snow Crash. But at least in that book, there was more or less a single conflict, clear protagonists (one was even helpfully named Protagonist). When Stephenson writes sprawling epics, he forgets to put in a direction for the story to go.