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The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer Paperback – May 2 2000


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Amazon.ca First Novel Award - 6 Canadian Novels Make the Shortlist


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra; Reprint edition (May 2 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553380966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553380965
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.7 x 20.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (280 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #39,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Stephenson's fourth solo novel, set primarily in a far-future Shanghai at a time when nations have been superseded by enclaves of common cultures ("claves"), abundantly justifies the hype that surrounded Snow Crash, his first foray into science fiction.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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Timothy H. Mansfield on July 11 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is pleasantly dense with interesting ideas about what the future holds. The title refers to the progression of material-driven stages of human progress -- the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, etc. In "the Diamond Age", matter compilers can easily create diamonds out of raw carbon. Basic foodstuffs and many other material wants can be satisfied by these matter compilers. This has created a world in which no one need starve. However there are still tremendous disparities between rich and poor, because many human comforts such as entertainment and fine food still require the services of other people, which must be bought in hard currency. Networked nano-technology is all-pervasive, with microscopic robots putting these poorer citizens under constant surveillance. Faced with this hyperactive stew of technologies, ancient instincts and traditions run strong. Crime, poverty, and tribal conflict are still rampant in this world. People cling to old ways of thought (a strong Confucian motif runs through the book) to help make human sense of the rapidly changing world.
Against this backdrop, a fantastically advanced piece of technology (a sentient child's primer) is stolen, and winds up in the hands of a destitute young waif named Nell. Her resulting world-class education, and what she does with that education, is the binding for the various threads of the story.
The book's characters are well-realized for the most part, the writing style is honed and mature, the plot is intricate and engaging. The ending is controversial in its ambiguity, but that does not diminish the power of the book as a whole. In all, a very thought-provoking read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christian Hunter on April 20 2004
Format: Paperback
...few books do that. Admittedly at the time of read I would have given the book 3.5 to 4 stars. Lacking in my opinion was a coherent storyline; the book was convoluted, you never knew what the point really was.
However, this novel has left a lasting impression on me. Of the numerous "takeaways", the most enduring are these:
1. Nanotechnology will change everything (not so apparent to the public now, much less back in 97).
2. Technology of this magnitude could offer the key to "leveling the playing field" with respect to economic inequity.
3. I devised a business term as a consequence of reading this book that has helped me immeasurably in my career: "attention units". In the future Stephenson posits that marketing will be so efficient that virtually every piece of visual real estate will be covered with what he calls "mediaglyphs"; billboards with audio and video (even on chopsticks). Not saying that I think that's a future I'd like to help build, but it does give you greater appreciation for any venue that could garner consumer attention.
And finally, my greatest lesson of all was what the Primer (the supercomputer/teacher designed by the futures equivelant to a Bill Gates for his grandaughter in an effort to stave off the near inevitable corruption of his heirs owing to great fortune); the Primer's number one lesson in all of it's teaching was appreciation and capability in one principal skill; subversion. It taught her how to go "around, under, over" any obstacle with unorthodox, even risky thinking.
Cool stuff.
Anyway, didn't give anything away of great substance there, but did want to give you a few more reasons from my perspective to read this very special book.
Hope this was helpful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on April 5 2008
Format: Paperback
This gargantuan novel, like a lot of Stephenson's works, contains two interconnecting stories based on the life of Nell, a tribeless, orphaned, and John Hackworth, an ostracized engineer, both trying to establish themselves in a post-modern society governed by nanotechnology. This scientific concept entails society allowing the individual the capacity to produce anything he or she needs by re-arranging the molecular structure of any substance. The primer (interactive training manual) is full of all kinds of technological wonders, such as matter compilers, smart paper, chevalines, artificial intelligence and aerostatic micromachines, all of which Nell learns to master in her efforts to form an independent society. Her teacher is the ractive (interactive actor in the primer) who teaches who the virtue of learning how the technology works to her advantage. Hackworth is one of those shadowy characters who operates under a number of covers in order to create a more enlightening form of nanotechnology that will be shared among the cultures of the world in the interests of peace and justice. As a fugitive from a Confucian society that has rejected him for his decision to make his own copy of the primer, Hackworth assumes a double identity that will allow him to start transforming nanotechnology into some new and better. Throughout this very complex and multi-layered novel, Stephenson shows the reader that technology in itself is pointless unless i
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 13 2003
Format: Paperback
Remember Mary Shelley's signature work about a man whose ultimate knowledge of technology seemingly gives him control over even life and death only to realize that his creation is not only out of control but to be his own undoing?
Think of The Diamond Age as a neo-Frankenstein story reflecting the same themes: the Victorian idea of total control through technology (here, nanomachines that can build or modify nearly any structure) verses the ultimate trimuph of chaos and Nature over that control (again, the nanomachines as a vector unseen of ultimate loss of control).
In Diamond Age, Stephenson presents a more mature work than his very entertaining "pizza mafia" book, Snow Crash, with complex themes of man verses nature and a reflection of the Victorian-era ideas of Frankenstein. One example is a local toughguy who uses technology to build up his muscles even while he sleeps but is done in by "cookie cutters," nanoexplosives that basically shred his body into pieces without his even knowing they were there.
The story mainly centers on two characters, one a brilliant nanoengineer stifled by the neo-Victorian society within which he lives who finds himself put in contact with the kind of dirty life that is anethema to his culture; the other is a young, underprivilidged girl who comes by his creation, a powerful nanotechnological book to serve as a primer, through which she learns and grows and even raises her own army of sorts taught by the same book. At the same time, tensions in the Middle Kingdom (that's China, by the way) threaten an agrarian revolt and invasion akin to what happened in Cambodia, yet another facet of the nature/chaos vs. technology/order storyline.
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