7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, best SF book of the 1990s,
This review is from: The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra Book) (Paperback)
I just finished re-reading this book and while I thought highly of it the first two times, this time its even better than before. Some of the things this book is about: how culture will superceed nations; the roles that culture plays in forming people and their relation to the world around them; how nanotechnology can make everything we know about the world of physical objects nearly irrelevant; and finally: how to program computers.
There is so much wonderful thought experimententation in this book that for the first 30 pages I was saying "now THAT is an interesting idea" on nearly every page. Once the ground work of the new world has been laid down, the "wow" factor goes down but the characters become more important. At its core, this is a story about intellectual development, starting with a very young girl (Nell), and ending with a young woman who is able to create complex programs.
Speaking as an software engineer, the descriptions in the book of programming embodied in physical systems was exceptionally well realized. I'm not sure how much of this later section of the book is understandable to non-Computer Science majors. I can't judge that. I suppose that might be a real weakness in the book, the fact that so much of the final chapters are meditations on everything from Turing machines to packet switched networks, all concealed in a fantasy setting with Black Knights (who add bugs to programs), busy market places (where all messages are encoded and decoded and information is worth gold), and high priests who feed programs into the master wizard computer. I don't think I can convey how much fun it is to read this book and understand how Stephenson has transformed the dross of bits and bytes into magic.
I suppose all three of Stephenson's books are meditations on programming in one way or another (Snowcrash: how software could program people's minds; Cryptonomicon: how coded information rules the world; Diamond Age: how learning to program is the logical peak of young person's education). Snowcrash is the funnier book, Diamond Age is a wiser book. -- Colin Glassey