Review of 'The Diamond Age'

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

the_diamond_age.jpg In a future Shanghai, a young girl, little Nell, acquires the “Young Lady's Illustrated Primer” – A piece of high technology that not only teaches her how to read and write but also how protect herself and, most importantly, to think. The primer has been designed by John Percival Hackworth, a non-technology engineer, as a special commission for Lord Finkle-McGraw's daughter though with a surreptitious copy made for his own daughter, Fiona. This second copy finds it's way into little Nell and Hackworth is convinced to make of copies for thousands of unwanted girls now living in tankers secretly anchored at sea by Confucians and the mysterious Dr X. There are three intertwining parts to the story: Hackworth's creation of the primer and his eventual downfall, Little Nell's education and the story of her primer teacher, Miranda, a “ractor” – A human that speaks or acts out the scenes required for the modern technological marvels – who has become attached to her young charge. In this “Neo-Victorian” world dominated by nanotechnology where anything you might want is available from “matter compilers” attached to the “Feed” infrastructure supplied by the state and factions warring over societal differences the primer is not only illegal but highly dangerous as free-thinking quickly spreads to those that acquire copies. The world is about to be torn apart.

Another fascinating and imaginative adventure from SF master Neal Stephenson where high technology is combined with believable and characters you really care about. As might be expected, things start a bit slow as the young Nell beings her education but the action gradually builds to absurd portions in the finale that left me, frankly, puzzled and confused with factions and events only tenuously related to what come before. There are a lot of details to keep track of and it was the political stuff that particularly confused. It was, however, interesting to see how Stephenson viewed the development of the Shanghai area, my having visited there a number of years ago with the old Victorian buildings of the Bund still existing in his extrapolation as well as the old city and the bright lights of the modern parts of the city.

Though a bit long, “The Diamond Age” is a bit of a long burner with intriguing technology and compelling characters. This is cyberpunk with a capital “C”.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2021-11-21

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 1995

ISBN: 9780241953198

Other reviewed books by Neal Stephenson:

Other reviewed books by Neal Stephenson, and George J. Frederick: