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

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.


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.

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 in September 2003.)


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).

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.

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.

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.


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


Neal Stephenson currently enjoys a coveted spot on my top 3 fave authors list. A pattern, however is emerging as I bounce from one of his works to the next. Each one shares the same triumphant highs and sewer-dwelling lows. The Diamond Age is particularly emblematic of this phenomenon. Most notably, Stephenson seems to lose control of his plot by the final act and refuses entirely to provide any real plot resolution. Sometimes I wonder whether he has one more act in mind and wants readers to construct it from clues he has embedded in the text; it's possible but unlikely. I think he simply writes until he finds himself in a corner and then rockets the manuscript to the publisher posthaste.Second, while Stephenson's characters are more varied here than they were in Anathem, most of them never develop more than one or two layers.And while I'm still complaining, Stephenson's prose is more Mieville than Pynchon. That's not a compliment. He uses a lot of high falootin' vocab- especially in description of physical surroundings, but where Pynchon employs difficult vocab seamlessly into lovingly crafted sentences, Stephenson and Mieville appear to use these words only to show off their formidable internal lexicons. Moreover, they tend to repeat these words- causing one to wonder whether their depth is feigned.So why four stars? I'm moaning and groaning as usual, so what gives? The ideas, man, the ideas... There's a reason most of the characters lack depth. Stephenson loves to saddle each of them with a particular value or philosophy and then send them all into valorous combat with each other. In the meantime, he builds a world around them that dialogs with all of the ideas in play. The world of the Diamond Age lacks perhaps the shocking originality of Anathem's monastic scholars- Stephenson is indebted to Gibson for some of his vision- but the pseudo-science concepts he creates compliment Gibson's otherwise vacuous vision wholesale. This is the best cyberpunk novel Gibson never wrote.At the end of the day, The Diamond Age, like Anathem, feels incomplete but contains novel ideas and striking centerpiece scenes that I won't forget. This is science fiction doing what it's supposed to do: make people think.


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.


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.


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.


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"]>

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.

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.

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