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The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer Hardcover – January 1, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 611 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer on the rise when he steals a copy of "A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" for his daughter Fiona. The primer is actually a super computer built with nanotechnology that was designed to educate Lord Finkle-McGraw's daughter and to teach her how to think for herself in the stifling neo-Victorian society. But Hackworth loses the primer before he can give it to Fiona, and now the "book" has fallen into the hands of young Nell, an underprivileged girl whose life is about to change.

From Publishers Weekly

Stephenson's fourth solo novel, set primarily in a far-future Shanghai at a time when nations have been superseded by enclaves of common cultures ("claves"), abundantly justifies the hype that surrounded Snow Crash, his first foray into science fiction. Here, the author avoids the major structural problem of that book-a long lump of philosophical digression-by melding myriad perspectives and cogitations into his tale, which is simultaneously SF, fantasy and a masterful political thriller. Treating nanotechnology as he did virtual reality in Snow Crash-as a jumping-off point-Stephenson presents several engaging characters. John Percival Hackworth is an engineer living in a neo-Victorian clave, who is commissioned by one of the world's most powerful men to create a Primer that might enable the man's granddaughter to be educated in ways superior to the "straight and narrow." When Hackworth is mugged, an illegal copy of the Primer falls into the hands of a working-class girl named Nell, and a most deadly game's afoot. Stephenson weaves several plot threads at once, as the paths of Nell, Hackworth and other significant characters-notably Nell's brother Harv, Hackworth's daughter Fiona and an actress named Miranda-converge and diverge across continents and complications, most brought about by Hackworth's actions and Nell's development. Building steadily to a wholly earned and intriguing climax, this long novel, which presents its sometimes difficult technical concepts in accessible ways, should appeal to readers other than habitual SF users. Author tour.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 455 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra (1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553096095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553096095
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (611 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson was one of the most insightful an original books I've read in a long time. After a brief absence from the world of science fiction, I picked this book up, almost entirely because of my love for his earlier novel, Snow Crash. In Snow Crash, Stephenson gave us a view of a future not all that far away. The technology of the Diamond Age takes us into the very distant future.
On the Earth of the Diamond Age, mankind has developed and perfected the concept of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is based around the concept of using microscopic computers to allow people to literally make anything possible. Often times, the tricky part of designing an object is making it heavier than air so it won't float away. Matter compilers can create any object with the proper program, and a pair of wooden chopsticks has flashing advertisements running up and down their sides. As backlash to this technological heaven, the elite members of society borrow their culture from the British during the Victorian era. These Victorians -or Vicky's, as some derogatorily refer to them- place value in items that are hand made, and pay exorbitant amounts of money for such items.
This novel varies from many typical science fiction novels, in that its focus is not on the technology or the rich, but rather on a single girl from a dysfunctional family in one of the poorest parts of the world. Nell, comes across one of three copies of the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, a book of sorts intended to educate a young girl. This book, while itself not a technological marvel, displays a true ingenuity in its content, as any good book.
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Format: Paperback
For months now I have been slogging through volumes of mediocre science fiction/fantasy, watching and waiting for that one, elusive, world class work. This is it. While the plot revealed itself slowly through the first half of this book, it remained engaging, and by the time I roared to the finish I was actively grieving the completion of the "read". "More! More!", I was screaming. This incredibly entertaining, future view of the world with competing phyles and nanotech warriors so abundent that they swirl through the air like pollen has placed this book near the very top of my all-time best books list. And for all the techno-babble and cyber-backdrop, what most carried the book forward was that Stephenson brilliantly developed the main characters. I really cared what happened to Nell, Miranda, Hackworth, etc. Their victories were my victories, their failures saddened me. Take "Snow Crash" and give it more depth, refinement, meaning, and maturity. Then you'll have this satisfying book in your hands. Tim Powers, move over, Neal Stephenson has just become my favorite author!
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Format: Paperback
I've just finished reading the previous 178 reviews, and have to agree with the main themes:
1) The ending is abrupt and leaves major storylines unresolved.
2) The book is not light reading. It reminds me of the old Far Side cartoons which were hilarious to some but incomprehensible to others.
3) The peek at a possible future is excellent, especially the use of nanotechnology.
Most of the reviews speak of the "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" as a book that teaches a girl how to survive on the streets and to be an independent thinker. What they don't mention, and what I think is vital, is that one of the main themes in the design of the book was "subversion". The book was meant to guide a young girl on her path to becoming a free-thinking and subversive woman. Such a person would inevitably become a force, either positive or negative, in the book's rigid society.
Having read 3 of Mr. Stephenson's books (Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, and Diamond Age), I must agree that each one has a somewhat abrupt ending -- although Diamond Age seems to be the worst. In general, Mr. Stephenson tends to leave storylines open and let the reader's imagination take over. While this is a valid literary style, it quickly gets annoying.
While Diamond Age may not have been a straight cyberpunk novel, the environment is certainly similar to what you see in William Gibson's Neuromancer. In essence, future society has broken down into "tribes" with a significant barrier dividing the upper and lower classes. The story contains quite a bit of the Oriental class (caste?) system that you see in cyberpunk, and it also adds a Victorian class system that isn't much different.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up "The Diamond Age" with a glee so intense that it borders on embarassing. Like most of the other reviewers, I loved "Snow Crash." I assumed... no, I HOPED that I'd love "The Diamond Age" as much, but unfortunately that didn't happen. It started off promising, with an interesting concept, likable characters, and that unparalleled Stephenson sense of style. But those qualities didn't gel into a cohesive story for me, and I have to admit that it was disappointing.
The story itself is intriguing. The main focus is on Nell, a little girl in possession of an interactive Primer that not only teaches her but also nurtures her in the absence of parents or loved ones. But really, it's an ensemble tale (it's no accident that a reviewer compares Stephenson to Quentin Tarantino, who creates incredibly complex ensemble films). It's also about Miranda, who provides the nurturing quality in the Primer. It's about Elizabeth, who has a Primer of her own. It's about Harv, Nell's brother. It's about the society they live in. Ultimately, this is where the book falls short of the high standards set in "Snow Crash."
After all, "Snow Crash" has a similar format, a number of subplots all converging in the end to reach a final, stunning (perhaps too stunning) conclusion. What's the difference between them? I cared about all of the subplots in "Snow Crash" and all of the characters in them. I was as wrapped up in them as I was in Hiro Protagonist, the focal point of the book. I didn't feel the same way with "Diamond Age." I cared about Nell, yes, but the other characters were secondary to her. I really didn't care about what happened to them. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time learning about them; they're central to the plot.
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