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The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
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The Diamond Age (1995)

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,363155498 (4.11)254
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» See also 254 mentions

English (148)  French (2)  Finnish (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Hungarian (1)  Romanian (1)  All languages (155)
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
great story, nice humor, This novel was nominated for Nebula award for year 1995 and won Hugo award, among others.

The genre is post-cyberpunk in the sense that the cyberpunk is about hackers vs evil corporations/state. In post-cyberpunk hackers won and the state is no more: in case of this book instead of our states there are phyles (supposedly from Greek term for clan or tribe), which a person can freely choose – from extreme political left or right to ones, following some cultural/temporal ideal. There is no poverty in our sense – machine feeds can nano-compose food and everyday items for anyone. However, it is far from utopia, there is crime and poverty, just different from ours.

The book starts quite heavily, dumping a lot of world-building on the reader. It definitely adds to reader’s pleasure if one re-reads it later, so dense with ideas the start is. We begin with following two quite different lines, people living is so different circumstances that they can be on different planets: one is the lowly life of not very clever thug and his family; another is nano-engineer catering to the needs of new Victorians, a phyle, which assumes that the staightjacket of Victorian era was the reason for the Britain’s world dominance. The engineer produces a copy of A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer AI (pseudo-intelligence), which should tutor the princess based on old approaches to cautionary fairytales. This primer through the series of [un]fortunate events appears in the hands of the thug’s daughter.

Heavy world-building of the beginning is then replaced by a fine adventure, but like with many other Stephenson’s works it starts to fumble and drag in the later parts, not enough for a reader to lose interest but definitely down from the start.

Just a few quotes:

Dr. X's system was a sort of Polish democracy requiring full consent of all participants, elicited one subsystem at a time. Dr. X and his assistants would gather around whichever subsystem was believed to be farthest out of line and shout at each other in a mixture of Shanghainese, Mandarin, and technical English for a while. Therapies administered included but were not limited to: turning things off, then on again; picking them up a couple of inches and then dropping them; turning off nonessential appliances in this and other rooms; removing lids and wiggling circuit boards; extracting small contaminants, such as insects and their egg cases, with nonconducting chopsticks; cable-wiggling; incense-burning; putting folded-up pieces of paper beneath table legs; drinking tea and sulking; invoking unseen powers; sending runners to other rooms, buildings, or precincts with exquisitely calligraphed notes and waiting for them to come back carrying spare parts in dusty, yellowed cardboard boxes; and a similarly diverse suite of troubleshooting techniques in the realm of software. Much of this performance seemed to be genuine, the rest merely for Hackworth's consumption, presumably laying the groundwork for a renegotiation of the deal
------------
“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticise others—after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?”

“Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others' shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour—you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.
---------------
“There are only two industries. This has always been true,” … “There is the industry of things, and the industry of entertainment. The industry of things comes first. It keeps us alive. But making things is easy now that we have the Feed. This is not a very interesting business anymore.

“After people have the things they need to live, everything else is entertainment. Everything.
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
Picking this up for the first time, long after I ought to have read it, I was surprised to see that it was written as long ago as 1995. I have had varied experiences with science fiction from the late 1980s/early 1990s, as we were then on the cusp of widespread technological change that has impacted everything and the entire way we live now. Some novels survive this; some succeed despite it; and some crash and burn.

I'm pleased to say that 'The Diamond Age' is in the first category, a survivor.

In a world transformed by nanotechnology and smart materials, the story is a Bildungsroman concerning a young girl from the wrong side of the tracks who comes into possession of a highly advanced nanotechnologically-enhanced book that was designed for a very rich client to give his daughter the necessary life skills to survive in a Balkanised, rapidly-moving world. The story follows two protagonists: Nell, the girl; and the designer of the book, John Hackworth (a fine name for an engineer, echoing Timothy Hackworth, a contemporary of George Stephenson). This is appropriate on a range of levels; the political structure of the future world now reflects a level of self-organisation based on self-selected allegiances according to class, skill or philosophical/political/ religious alignment and nation-states, though not dead, play a much reduced role in world affairs.

Hackworth has made an illegal copy of the book for his own daughter; but he loses this as a result of street crime and that copy passes to Nell. A further copy falls into the hands of Dr.X, a crime lord who has his own ideas about ways to wield power and influence in the real world, and how that can coincide with other ideas about displaced children. The plot beyond the story of Nell mainly concerns the interplay between these three copies of the book, the "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" of the subtitle, and how they end up changing the world.

The world has also changed in other ways; China has in part turned back to Confucianism, allied with various forms of Chinese Communism, but always with an eye to a good business deal; whilst others have adopted neo-Victorian values, making this a book whose milieu is in a sort of Cyberpunk morphing into Steampunk.

It is a thick book, some 450 pages, but I found it fairly easy reading. My one observation is that the plot begins to race a bit in the last quarter, as the female protagonist reaches womanhood and her machine-led education comes to a climax just as the political situation undergoes a seismic change to a new reality. It was almost as if Stephenson was trying to tie the plot up - or at least bring it to a point where he could set it down and walk away from it without it looking too obviously abandoned - and I can quite see why his subsequent books are considerably longer. It's not the most blatant attempt to come in at a particular word-count, but I rather felt that that was what was happening. As it is, the main characters reach turning points in their lives and the life of the world, and there we leave them.

Still, this is one of the best science fiction novels I've read for a while. There are only a few signs of historical obsolescence; at one point, a company is referred to as a "zaibatsu" (a Japanese term for an interlocking business trust/oligarchy) which has rather fallen out of use in the 21st century (the word, that is, rather than the concept); and a particular manifestation of dust pollution is referrred to early on as "toner", implying that it is as fine and invasive as laser printer toner; the increasing roll-back of paper use in business will make this term seem quaint in just a few years' time, if it isn't already. And one of the groups mentioned a few times in the text calls itself 'Sendero', probably in reference to the 1980s Peruvian Maoist revolutionary movement 'Sendero Luminoso' ('Shining Path'). There were also a couple of suggestions, quite well buried, that the ambient morality of the world of the novel had perhaps turned backwards a little, and the implications of that for personal relationships might look distinctly 20th-century to us now.

But all in all, this is an impressive book. I now see where Stephenson gets his reputation from, and I shall look forward to tackling some of his other novels in due course. ( )
  RobertDay | Oct 26, 2018 |
One of my favorite books. ( )
  jeninmotion | Sep 24, 2018 |
snow crash is better ( )
  JohnLambrechts | Sep 24, 2018 |
Loved the first half, in which the plot was wild but comprehensible. Enjoyed the second half, but I was disappointed that Stephenson ditched many of the characters and most of the story for a dissertation on [b:artificial intelligence|27543|Artificial Intelligence A Modern Approach (2nd Edition)|Stuart J. Russell|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1167881696s/27543.jpg|1362], thought as virus, programming, and other musings. It was interesting, at least the part I could follow, but the story got lost. It had some HUGE plot holes at the end. Still, quite a ride. ( )
  JanetNoRules | Sep 17, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephenson, Nealprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jensen, BruceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wiltsie, JenniferNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
By nature, men are nearly alike;
by practice, they get to be wide apart.

- Confucius
Dedication
First words
The bells of St. Mark's were ringing changes up on the mountain when Bud skated over to the mod parlor to upgrade his skull gun.
Quotations
The difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people--and this is true whether or not they are well-educated--is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations--in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.
It is upon moral qualities that a society is ultimately founded. All the prosperity and technological sophistication in the world is of no use without that foundation.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The story of an engineer who creates a device to raise a girl capable of thinking for herself reveals what happens when a young girl of the poor underclass obtains the device.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 014027037X, 0241953197

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