3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Diamond Age (Bantam Spectra Book) (Kindle Edition)
"In an era when everything can be surveiled [sic], all we have left is politeness."
The Diamond Age is widely regarded as "postcyberpunk" due to its non-dystopic setting, but I think it's worth coining the term "nanopunk" and giving it to this book. The tech completely (and often literally) shapes the world of the story, in which sundries are not manufactured, they are compiled from a box in the kitchen. The amount of thought that went into world-building is a little mind-blowing. I spent days puzzling over the idea of airships that were filled with a vacuum. Moreover, since nano-machines and 3D printing are technologies that are emerging right now, this book felt prescient in ways that other cyberpunk stories don't for me.
The primary protagonist is Nell, who is born in the opening chapters and is sixteen by the novel's conclusion. She inadvertently stumbles across a nanotech book called "The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" which sets her on a rags-to-riches story that feels almost... regency. In fact, a lot about this story feels like Jane Austen with nanobots. Other parts felt very much like Great Expectations. And still others felt like Ian Flemming--Stephenson prominently features a mafia don named "Dr. X". Throwaway gags like that make me wonder how much the author is winking at his audience, but on the whole the humor supported the story and informed character. There were some easter-eggs for nerds like myself, one of the less-subtle being a subversive named Mr. PhyrePhox. A series of castle puzzles late in the book reminded me first of the OSI stack and then later of the progression of pre- and post-industrial technologies. But at the end of the day, Stephenson is using technology to demonstrate the power of our humanity, which is a very pleasant take on the genre.
I will say that I found the ending unsatisfying. Without spoiling, an army arrives at the end, summoned by a signal that didn't have a very good reason to be there. And when it stops, it felt so abrupt that it might as well have been mid-sentence. I also had issues with the way the passage of time was conveyed, as well as a few traumatic incidents that were told so succinctly that I wasn't sure what I'd just read.
But in the end the humor, the themes, and the world-building (I really can't overemphasize how thoughtfully constructed the world of the book is) won me over.