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The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer [Paperback]

Neal Stephenson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (280 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 2 2000 Bantam Spectra Book
In Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson took science fiction to dazzling new levels. Now, in The Diamond Age, he delivers another stunning tale. Set in twenty-first century Shanghai, it is the story of what happens when a state-of-the-art interactive device falls in the hands of a street urchin named Nell. Her life—and the entire future of humanity—is about to be decoded and reprogrammed…

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The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer + Snow Crash + Neuromancer
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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Stephenson's fourth solo novel, set primarily in a far-future Shanghai at a time when nations have been superseded by enclaves of common cultures ("claves"), abundantly justifies the hype that surrounded Snow Crash, his first foray into science fiction.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

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating vision of nanotech-driven future July 11 2004
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
...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
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Challenging Vision of the Future April 5 2008
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Original May 9 2004
By jsdunk
The Diamond Age is the second of Stephenson's books that I've read. I enjoyed it far more that Snow Crash. While Snow Crash got off to a great start, I didn't enjoy the second half at all. I found myself reading it because it was a groundbreaking book, not because I enjoyed it. I read The Diamond Age because it was a fast-paced enjoyable read AND because it was unique and thought-provoking.
The Diamond Age is set is a very plausable near future where nanotech has eliminated basic problems, such as starvation, but its created its share of problems as well. Nasty nanotech devices that can track or kill people require sophisticated nanotech defenses.
Meanwhile, all nanotech products are provided be a central feed that both controls what can be delivered, what is free and what costs money, and frees peasents from substistence farming and the poor from working to survive. While this world is harldy a utopia -- as there are still massive economic disparities between the rich and poor and a tremendous amount of crime and pollution -- Westerners on the whole seem happy with this arangement.
But there are more than a few who are unhappy or restless. The Diamond Age is the story of what happens when a father who wants a better life for his daughter collides with an entire culture that wants change. Throw in an enormous computer made of human bodies, an interactive storybook that tells a story that takes over a decade to read, an army of teenage girls and a few other interesting characters and you have a compelling and fascinating view of the future.
When I first finished the book, I thought the ending was abrupt and disappointing. But, as I started to think about the end, I could see everything falling into place.
This is the best book I've read in a while and I highly recommend it.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Moldy books!
I rarely leave reviews for used books, because they're used, and I'm cool with that -- but this book, which had said it would be "gently used" by seller, arrived covered in... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kaitlyn Braybrooke
4.0 out of 5 stars Will give it to my daughter in future
Read it a long time ago and really liked it. I thought Neal Stephenson's view of the future were stimulation and I didn't at all mind that things got weird with the drummers. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Rob Mills
5.0 out of 5 stars Second Read
My second reading of the book and I learned more than I had before. The ending seemed different, but maybe time has changed my perception of what occurred. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Clay Bergen
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic vision of the near future
For a book that was written over a decade ago, the contents even now give a fantastic vision of the possible future of the world. Read more
Published on Dec 14 2010 by Mark Strange
5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite book of all time
very intriguing subject matter. little bit sci fi, fantasy, without being too out of this world.
Published on Nov. 6 2010 by radiantlf
5.0 out of 5 stars Stephenson's best.
I have to say that this is Neal Stephenson's best work among what I've read and undoubtedly one of my all-time favorite books. It was simply incredible. Read more
Published on June 16 2004 by C. GREEN
5.0 out of 5 stars must-read for SF fans
I've enjoyed other Stephenson books, but this is by far the most interesting. It still has some adolescent hack-and-slash elements reminiscent of Snow Crash, but the remarkably... Read more
Published on April 25 2004 by MB
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong characters meet great storyline!
That just about says it all for this, yet another fantastic sci-fi/high-tech by Stephenson, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite sci-fi/high-tech writers like Gibson and is... Read more
Published on April 15 2004 by George
5.0 out of 5 stars Neal Stephenson is akin to William Gibson in cyberpunk
As well as akin to some of the Old Masters of Science Fiction/High-Tech, like Asimov or Clarke. He already has an impressive body of works: "Cryptonomicon",... Read more
Published on Feb. 18 2004 by William
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