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The Diamond Age by Neal. Stephenson
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The Diamond Age (original 1995; edition 1995)

by Neal. Stephenson

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8,642141351 (4.11)209
Member:Robert3167
Title:The Diamond Age
Authors:Neal. Stephenson
Info:BANTAM. (1995), Paperback, 455 pages
Collections:Your library, Sc-Fi
Rating:*****
Tags:Sci-Fi, Nanotechnology

Work details

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (1995)

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» See also 209 mentions

English (134)  French (2)  Finnish (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Hungarian (1)  Romanian (1)  All languages (141)
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
Great nanotech world. I loved Dr. X. I reviewed it at http://scififantasyfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_diamond_age_by_neal_step... ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
The protagonist in the story is Nell, a thete (or person without a tribe; equivalent to today's lowest working class) who illicitly receives a copy of an interactive book (with the quaint title Young Lady's Illustrated Primer; a Propædeutic Enchiridion in which is told the tale of Princess Nell and her various friends, kin, associates, &c.[4]) originally intended for an aristocrat's child in the Neo-Victorian phyle. The story follows Nell (and, to a lesser degree, two other girls named Elizabeth and Fiona, who receive similar books) as she uses the Primer. The Primer is intended to make sure its reader leads an interesting life as defined by Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw[5] and grows up to be an effective member of society. The Primer also reacts to its owners environment and teaches them what they need to know to survive and grow.

The Diamond Age is characterized by two intersecting, almost equally developed story lines: Nell's education through her independent work with the primer, and the social downfall of engineer and designer of the Primer, John Percival Hackworth. The text includes fully narrated educational tales from the primer that map Nell's individual experience (e.g. her four toy friends) onto archetypal folk tales stored in the primer's database. Although The Diamond Age explores the role of technology and personal relationships in child development, its deeper and darker themes also probe the relative values of cultures and shortcomings in communication between them.


[edit] Explanation of the novel's title
"Diamond Age" is an extension of labels for archeological time periods that take central technological materials to define an entire era of human history, such as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age or the Iron Age. Technological visionaries such as Eric Drexler and Ralph Merkle, both of whom receive an honorary mention in The Diamond Age, have argued that if nanotechnology develops the ability to manipulate individual atoms at will, it will become possible to simply assemble diamond structures from carbon atoms, materials also known as diamondoids .[6] Merkle argues enthusiastically: "In diamond, then, a dense network of strong bonds creates a strong, light, and stiff material. Indeed, just as we named the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Steel Age after the materials that humans could make, we might call the new technological epoch we are entering the Diamond Age".[7] In the novel, a near future vision of our world, nanotechnology has developed precisely to this point, which enables the cheap production of diamond structures.

The title can also be seen as a reference to the Gilded Age, a time of economic expansion roughly coinciding with the first Victorian era. Likewise it can be seen as consistent with Queen Victoria's regime, the apex of which is often seen as her Diamond Jubilee.


[edit] Setting

Cover of the 1996 Bantam Spectra paperback edition; cover art by Bruce Jensen.Like Greg Bear's Queen of Angels, The Diamond Age depicts a world completely changed by the full development of nanotechnology, much as Eric Drexler envisioned it in Engines of Creation (1986). Nanotechnology is omni-present, generally in the form of Matter Compilers and the products that come out of them. The book explicitly recognizes achievements of several existing nanotechnology researchers: Feynman, Drexler and Merkle are seen among characters of the fresco in Merkle-Hall, where new nanotechnological items are designed and constructed.

Exotic technology such as the chevaline (a mechanical horse that can fold up and is light enough to be carried one-handed) and forecasts of technologies that are in development today, such as smart paper that can show personalized news headlines, are personal-use products, while major cities have immune systems made up of aerostatic defensive micromachines, and public matter compilers provide basic food, blankets, and water for free to anyone who requests them.

Matter compilers receive raw materials from the Feed, a system analogous to the electrical grid of modern society. Rather than just electricity, it also carries streams of basic molecules, and matter compilers assemble those molecules into whatever goods the compiler's user wishes. The Source, where the Feed's stream of matter originates, is controlled by the Victorian phyle, though smaller, independent Feeds are possible. The hierarchic nature of the Feed and an alternative, anarchic developing technology known as the Seed mirror the cultural conflict between East and West that is depicted in the book. This conflict has an economic element as well, with the Feed representing a centrally-controlled distribution mechanism while the Seed represents a more open-ended emergent behavior method of creation and organization.


[edit] Phyles
The world is divided into many phyles, also known as tribes. There are three Great Phyles; the Han (consisting of Han Chinese), the Neo-Victorians (consisting largely of Anglo-Saxons, but also accepting Indians, Africans, and others who identify with the culture), and Nippon (consisting of Japanese). The novel deliberately makes it ambiguous whether Hindustan (consisting of Hindu Indians) is a fourth Great Phyle or an association of microphyles. In addition to these larger phyles, there are countless smaller phyles. Membership in some phyles, such as the Han and Nipponese, has an ethnic requirement, but the Neo-Victorian phyle and many lesser phyles accept anyone who aspires to live according to the phyle's mores.


[edit] Characters

Cover of the 1998 Penguin edition.Nell (Nellodee) - The story's protagonist, if you read the novel as a coming-of-age story. She is born to Tequila, a lower-class single mother, and, with the help of the nanotech Primer, grows up to become an independent woman and leader of a new phyle.

Harv (Harvard) - Her older brother, who plays an important role in the beginning as her protector.

Bud — a petty criminal and “thete,” a tribeless individual, Tequila's boyfriend and Nell and Harv's father; he is obsessed with his muscular body, flaunts his masculinity and near the beginning of the novel is executed for mugging a member of the Ashanti phyle.

Tequila, Nell and Harv's mother; after Bud's death, she has a series of boyfriends who abuse the children.

John Percival Hackworth — the second major character. He is an upper-level engineer at Bespoke and develops the code for the Primer. He makes an illicit copy of the primer for his daughter, who is Nell's age. When his crime is detected, he is forced to become a double agent in a covert power struggle between the Neo-Victorians and the Celestial Kingdom. Hackworth is forced to spend ten years with a colony of "Drummers," to use their distributed intelligence (similar but not identical to distributed artificial intelligence) for the development of a new technology, the Seed.

Fiona Hackworth — Hackworth's daughter, and his motivation for stealing a second copy of the Primer. During Hackworth's decade-long exile with the Drummers he is able to maintain a connection with his daughter through the Primer, and when he returns she joins him, eventually choosing to stay with a surrealistic acting troupe in London.

Gwendolyn Hackworth — Hackworth's wife.

Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw — an "Equity Lord" with the Apthorp conglomerate who commissions the development of the Primer for his granddaughter.

Elizabeth Finkle-McGraw — Lord Finkle-McGraw's granddaughter. It was for her that the project to develop the Illustrated Primer was begun. However, she never became as engrossed in the stories created by the Primer as Nell, and later rebelled against her Neo-Victorian upbringing by joining the secretive CryptNet phyle.

Judge Fang — the Confucian judge who sentences Bud to death in the beginning of the book. He also investigates Hackworth's mugging after he had illicitly had a second edition of the Primer created. This investigation leads him to question his allegiances to the Coastal Republic (in and around Shanghai), and transfer to the Celestial Kingdom. (Also see Judge Dee mysteries below).

Chang and Miss Pao — Judge Fang's assistants.

Dr. X. — a mysterious character who evolves from being an illicit technology specialist and hacker to being a powerful Confucian leader and nefarious force. His name comes from the fact that most westerners can't pronounce his Mandarin name which is why he encourages people to call him by the first letter of his name, 'X'.

Miranda — "ractor" (actor in interactive movies) who, by performing in the stories of Nell's Primer, effectively becomes a mother figure for Nell.

Carl Hollywood — "ractor" and performance artist, Miranda's friend and adviser. This character also becomes more important towards the end of the novel.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Revolution through education! ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Stephenson's dark brand of dark humor and detailed vision of the future is enthralling, but lacked any sense of real closure for me. Not as engaging or focused as _Snow Crash_ or _Cryptonomicon_. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
This is the second Neal Stephenson book I have read, the previous one being the marvelously entertaining Snow Crash. Unlike Snow Crash this not an easy read, being the impatient sort I almost gave up on it around page 70, fortunately some wiser heads than mine pulled me back (thank you Goodread friends!). The problem for me is the initial inundation of unfamiliar words, some are of the author's invention, the others are just English words not in my vocabulary!

The book focuses on the trials and tribulations of several protagonists and one central character, a little girl from a poor family called Nell. If the book had been focused on Nell alone it would have been a breeze to read as I like the character and her adventures with her brother in the early parts of the book are relatively straight forward. While I love the setting of this strange future world where nanotechnology pervades every aspect of life, my initial difficulty with the book is that I found one of the protagonists (Hackworth, damn him!) less than endearing and his part of the story hard to follow as he is a genius nanotechnologist and a lot of the technical details Stephenson describes in these chapters go right over my head. Still, the author knows better than I do how his story should proceed and his canvas is too big for just a single protagonist narrative. Anyway, I put the book down for a couple of days to read something much easier (Bujold!) then I was persuaded to get back to The Diamond Age again. By a happy coincidence from the point of my reentry the book switches its focus from the irritating Hackworth to spend a lot of time on Nell and her development with the aid of the high nanotech primer book mentioned in the novel’s subtitle. Another high point for me is Stephenson’s peculiar sense of humor which is based more on cultural oddities rather than witticism or slapstick. For example the dialogue in the tea house scene between a judge and a mysterious Chinese character called Dr X is a subtly hilarious comedy of manners.

However, this is clearly a more serious novel than Snow Crash, one of the theme that resonate very much with me is the right of the disenfranchised to education, enlightenment and a chance of good life. I also share the author's sense of outrage against child abuse, some teacher’s abuse of authority and general spiritual and intellectual deprivation some kids are subjected to. These serious issues are smoothly integrated into the story without ever becoming preachy. Being an extremely well read individual Stephenson has included bits of Confucius philosophy in the narrative, I can't claim to understand it all but the little that I do may have made me just a teensy weensy bit wiser, a definite bonus.

So an entertaining, thought provoking and worthwhile book, it may even give the reader’s intelligence a wee boost. If that doesn’t work you can always eat more fish. ( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (12 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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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 014027037X, 0241953197

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