The Diamond Age

ISBN: 0553380966
ISBN 13: 9780553380965
By: Neal Stephenson

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About this book

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. It is to some extent a science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life. The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial intelligence.

Reader's Thoughts

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.

Miss Michael

Stephenson is undoubtedly a good writer. I feel as though that's a trite thing to say, but I'm not talking about the overall story, I'm talking about the way each sentence is crafted. Also, I felt the need to read the book with a dictionary next to me, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I suppose. As far as the overall story, there's a lot to like, plenty of varied characters, several story lines that are more closely woven than one might originally think, and plenty of action. There's a kind of girl power aspect to it all that's especially nice.While it is set in what Stephenson imagines to be the not-too-distant future, it also has fairy tale elements that mostly stem from the Primer itself, although also from the very concept of a young girl embarking on adventures alone. There were also times (mostly near the end) when I was also reminded of The Wizard of Oz--without the cheesy "moral" we get in the film--and even Buffy--without the super powers. The Diamond Age very much seems to fit in with a long history of children's fantasy literature. Except this is for adults (think Guillermo Del Torro).

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.

J.

Up to about halfway through, I was in love with this book, but then Hackworth goes to the Drummers and we skip 10 years, and my thoughts are like this: if you as a writer didn't care about those 10 years enough to write about them, why do I care enough to read them? Worse, science fiction is already more concerned with the ideas than the characters, but when the writer is consciously trying to mimic the further-removed-from-reality discourses of Victorian-era writing, we wind up so distanced from character that honestly? I powered through the last 100 pages more out of feeling of obligation than honest interest in the novel. Then there's the ending. The last 50 pages or so make zero sense given the rest of the novel, and the ending itself seems more like just a stop rather than an ending. So, if you're considering this novel because you loved "Snow Crash" (which was mindblowingly good), skip it, instead. The last 250 pages don't deliver on the fantastic promise that the first 250 showed.

Clouds

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)[Mouse Army come to rescue (hide 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!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

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 dorkier

Nicholas Karpuk

It's not often that I get to read science fiction where characters wear top hats. That's the sort of class that Neal Stephenson brings to the table.I entered into "The Diamond Age" with very few preconceptions. The story had been described on Boing Boing, and it intrigued me enough to pick it up. The idea of a girl being raised by a high tech book was a pretty nifty pitch, especially for someone raised on Inspector Gadget cartoons and a love of computers.The thing that hit me almost immediately is how effortlessly Stephenson is able to render some really sophisticated ideas. His stylish prose dances around complicated visions of a radically different future society built around commerce tribes and nano technology without the explanation ever feeling labored. It makes for a deeply engrossing read, because I never felt like there was a strain to wrap my head around the descriptions. In style I found the odd reversal of steampunk to be a nice added bonus. One of the most powerful groups in the book was a group of Neo-Victorians who all follow a code of impeccable manners and stylish retro attire. It's good to see more authors who realize that your future setting comes off as less dated when you ground it in a particular motif.My only real complaints are the few moments when he delves a little too deep into topics that seemed a bit obvious. The long explanation of the internet and how society functioned in a network environment seemed a bit much until I realized that the book was released in 1995, back when the internet was only starting to emerge as a real force. Those small sections are only going to seem more condescending and basic as the years go by.Otherwise, this was a book I was sad to see end. He created characters you wanted to follow for as long as possible. The plot dodged left every time I expected it to go right, never following conventional expectations. I will most definitely be checking out Stephenson's other titles.

Sean

I read this the first time when I was a young, impressionable, repressed, closeted Mormon boy. (Oh, god, so many of my reviews seem to start this way.) Stephenson's vision of a future shocked and titillated me, and years later I still found it returning to haunt me. Yet I don't think I ever truly understood the story, and certainly not the ending.Now I think I do. In a future where synthetically assembled diamond is as ubiquitous as glass, where almost anything can be designed and created atom by atom, where the poor are wretchedly poor and the rich are bored and stodgy, and where cultures have come massively adrift from their geographical moorings but have grown ever more rigid and and closed off from each other, one young girl from the ghetto is handed a dangerous, subversive, life-changing book called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. This book is that book. It is also the story of that girl's journey from childhood to maturity, of an audacious theft and a bungled robbery--both with world-changing consequences--and of a young interactive actress's growing relationship with a child she had never seen.This is a more mature work than Stephenson's earlier Snow Crash . I can't wait to continue on and read the books that made him really famous.

Mike Reiring

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.

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.

Apatt

This is the second Neal Stephenson book I have read, the previous one being the marvelously entertaining Snow Crash. Unlike Snow Crash this not an easy read, being the impatient sort I almost gave up on it around page 70, fortunately some wiser heads than mine pulled me back (thank you Goodread friends!). The problem for me is the initial inundation of unfamiliar words, some are of the author's invention, the others are just English words not in my vocabulary!The book focuses on the trials and tribulations of several protagonists and one central character, a little girl from a poor family called Nell. If the book had been focused on Nell alone it would have been a breeze to read as I like the character and her adventures with her brother in the early parts of the book are relatively straight forward. While I love the setting of this strange future world where nanotechnology pervades every aspect of life, my initial difficulty with the book is that I found one of the protagonists (Hackworth, damn him!) less than endearing and his part of the story hard to follow as he is a genius nanotechnologist and a lot of the technical details Stephenson describes in these chapters go right over my head. Still, the author knows better than I do how his story should proceed and his canvas is too big for just a single protagonist narrative. Anyway, I put the book down for a couple of days to read something much easier (Bujold!) then I was persuaded to get back to The Diamond Age again. By a happy coincidence from the point of my reentry the book switches its focus from the irritating Hackworth to spend a lot of time on Nell and her development with the aid of the high nanotech primer book mentioned in the novel’s subtitle. Another high point for me is Stephenson’s peculiar sense of humor which is based more on cultural oddities rather than witticism or slapstick. For example the dialogue in the tea house scene between a judge and a mysterious Chinese character called Dr X is a subtly hilarious comedy of manners.However, this is clearly a more serious novel than Snow Crash, one of the theme that resonate very much with me is the right of the disenfranchised to education, enlightenment and a chance of good life. I also share the author's sense of outrage against child abuse, some teacher’s abuse of authority and general spiritual and intellectual deprivation some kids are subjected to. These serious issues are smoothly integrated into the story without ever becoming preachy. Being an extremely well read individual Stephenson has included bits of Confucius philosophy in the narrative, I can't claim to understand it all but the little that I do may have made me just a teensy weensy bit wiser, a definite bonus.So an entertaining, thought provoking and worthwhile book, it may even give the reader’s intelligence a wee boost. If that doesn’t work you can always eat more fish.

Duffy Pratt

Suppose you wanted to write a new Victorian bildungsroman about the Boxer Rebellion. It would only be natural that the central plot of the book should focus around the Turing test for artificial intelligence. Now set the book in a future Shanghai, in a world where nanotechnology makes material needs obsolete, at least in theory... And voila: The Diamond Age.Like Hackworth, the hacker supreme in The Diamond Age, Stephenson seems to be unable to resist anything that is supremely clever. I think that's the quality that sets him apart as a writer. And sometimes, like with this book, the cleverness pays off. I think this is as close to a perfect construction as he has written. Among the various levels of coolness in this book, perhaps the best is the way he starts to merge the book within the book with the book itself.The book also sports his typical weakness: hit characters rarely leap out and become more than the type he starts with. Here, the level of characterization goes beyond the Hiro Protagonist of Snow Crash. But not by all that much. In the end, instead of becoming a full blown person, Nell becomes Princess Nell of the Primer. And in some ways, Hackworth the hacker becomes the Coyote King. The process is really cool, and it's tons of fun as always. But I still am left with a certain empty feeling that I have at the end of his books. And even so, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Louise

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!

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.)

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.

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