The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

( 159 )


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…

Stephenson looks at a future ruled by Neo-Victorian thought, and the brilliant ...

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The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

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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…

Stephenson looks at a future ruled by Neo-Victorian thought, and the brilliant technologist who publishes an illegal primer designed to encourage girls to think for themselves. Stephenson's 1992 bestselling novel Snow Crash has been optioned for film.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Stephenson] has gotten even better. The Diamond Age Envisions the next century as brilliantly as snow crash did the day after tomorrow."—Newsweek

"[Stephenson is] the hottest science fiction writer in America...Snow Crash is without question the biggest SF novel of the 1990s. Neal's SF novel, The Diamond Age, promises more of the same. Together, they represent a new era in science fiction. People who plow through these mind-bogglers will walk around slack-jawed for days and reemerge with a radically redefined sense of reality."—Details

"Neal Stephenson is the Quentin Tarantino of postcyberpunk science fiction....Having figured out how to entertain the hell out of a mass audience, Stephenson has likewise upped the form's ante with rambunctious glee."—Village Voice

"Snow Crash drew its manic energy from the cyberpunkish conceit that anything is possible in virtual reality; in The Diamond Age the wonders of cyberspace pale before the even more dazzling powers of nanotechnology."
New York Times Book Review

"Diamond Age establishes Neal Stephenson as a powerful voice for the cyber age....At once whimsical, satirical, and cautionary."—USA Today

"Stephenson's world-building skills are extraordinary.... The Diamond Age should cement Stephenson's reputation as one of the brightest and wittiest young authors of American science fiction."—San Diego Union-Tribune

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Diamond Age, a Hugo Award-winning romp into a future nanotechnological revolution, doesn't lend itself to concise description. For what it's worth, it explores what happens when an incredibly powerful interactive device falls into the hands of a street urchin, who uses it to reprogram the future of humanity. Got that? Stephenson's books rank among the most popular sf novels of recent years but require such close attention that they pose special challenges for audiobook fans. Jennifer Wiltsie's narration here is uniformly strong and well fitted to the material, but this may not be the right kind of book for the average person. Recommended for libraries that count many young and hardcore sf readers among their audiobook patrons. Originally published in 1992, Snow Crash is a popular sf novel in a genre that some wags have dubbed "cyberpunk." Listening to it is like taking an out-of-control roller coaster ride on a double helix, weaving in and out of Stephenson's fully imagined computer-generated "Metaverse" and a near-future real world comprised of bizarre microstates and a vast Mafia-controlled pizza delivery system. The central character, aptly named Hiro Protagonist, is at once a computer hacker, pizza "deliverator," and samurai swordsman. The story moves at such breakneck speed that many listeners may need to replay the first reel simply to figure out what is going on; however, the highly charged reading by actor Jonathan Davis another Frank Muller in the making helps hold everything together. Recommended for libraries catering to forward-looking sf readers. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553380965
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Edition description: Reprinted Edition
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 145,719
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 10.76 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Neal  Stephenson

Neal Stephenson issues from a clan of rootless, itinerant hardscience and engineering professors (mostly Pac-10, Big 10, and Big 8 with the occasional wild strain of Ivy). He began his higher education as a physics major, then switched to geography when it appeared that this would enable him to scam more free time on his university’s mainframe computer. When he graduated and discovered, to his perplexity, that there were no jobs for inexperienced physicist-geographers, he began to look into alternative pursuits such as working on cars, unimaginably stupid agricultural labor, and writing novels. His first novel, The Big U, was published in 1984 and vanished without a trace. His second novel, Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller, came out in 1988 and quickly developed a cult following among water-pollution-control engineers. It was also enjoyed, though rarely bought, by many radical environmentalists. Snow Crash was written in the years 1988 through 1991 as the author listened to a great deal of loud, relentless, depressing music.

Mr. Stephenson now resides in a comfortable home in the western hemisphere and spends all of his time trying to retrofit an office into its generally dark, unlevel, and asbestos-laden basement so that he can attempt to write more novels. Despite the tremendous amounts of time he devotes to writing, playing with computers, listening to speed metal, Rollerblading, and pounding nails, he is a flawless husband, parent, neighbor, and all-around human being.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Bury (co-author pseudonym, with J. Frederick George)
    2. Hometown:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 31, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Meade, Maryland
    1. Education:
      B.A., Boston University, 1981
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Now, a look inside...

A thete visits a mod parlor; noteworthy features of modern armaments.

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. Bud had a nice new pair of blades with a top speed of anywhere from a hundred to a hundred and fifty kilometers, depending on how fat you were and whether or not you wore aero. Bud liked wearing skin-tight leather, to show off his muscles. On a previous visit to the mod parlor, two years ago, he had paid to have a bunch of 'sites implanted in his muscles—little critters, too small to see or feel, that twitched Bud's muscle fibers electrically according to a program that was supposed to maximize bulk. Combined with the testosterone pump embedded in his forearm, it was like working out in a gym night and day, except you didn't have to actually do anything and you never got sweaty. The only drawback was that all the little twitches made him kind of tense and jerky. He'd gotten used to it, but it still made him a little hinky on those skates, especially when he was doing a hundred clicks an hour through a crowded street. But few people hassled Bud, even when he knocked them down in the street, and after today no one would hassle him ever again.

Bud had walked away, improbably unscratched, from his last job—with something like a thousand yuks in his pocket. He'd spent a third of it on new clothes, mostly black leather, another third of it on the blades, and was about to spend the last third at the mod parlor. You could get skull guns a lot cheaper, of course, but that would mean going over the Causeway to Shanghai and getting a back-alley job from some Coaster, and probably a nice bone infection in with the bargain, and he'd probably pick your pocket while he had you theezed. Besides, you could only get into a Shanghai if you were virgin. To cross the Causeway when you were already packing a skull gun, like Bud, you had to bribe the shit out of numerous Shanghai cops. There was no reason to economize here. Bud had a rich and boundless career ahead of him, vaulting up a hierarchy of extremely dangerous drug-related occupations for which he served as a paid audition of sorts. A start weapons system was a wise investment.

The damn bells kept ringing through the fog. Bud mumbled a command to his music system, a phased acoustical array splayed across both eardrums like the seeds on a strawberry. The volume went up but couldn't scour away the deep tones of the carillon, which resonated in his long bones. He wondered whether, as long as he was at the mod parlor, he should have the batteries drilled out of his right mastoid and replaced. Supposedly they were ten-year jobs, but he'd had them for six and he listened to music all the time, loud.

Three people were waiting. Bud took a seat and skimmed a mediatron from the coffee table; it looked exactly like a dirty, wrinkled, blank sheet of paper. " 'Annals of Self-Protection,' " he said, loud enough for everyone else in the place to hear him. The logo of his favorite meedfeed coalesced on the page. Mediaglyphics, mostly the cool animated ones, arranged themselves in a grid. Bud scanned through them until he found the one that denoted a comparison of a bunch of different stuff, and snapped at it with his fingernail. New mediaglyphics appeared, surrounding larger cine panes in which Annals staff tested several models of skull guns against live and dead targets. Bud frisbeed the mediatron back onto the table; this was the same review he'd been poring over for the last day, they hadn't updated it, his decision was still valid.

One of the guys ahead of him got a tattoo, which took about ten seconds. The other guy just wanted his skull gun reloaded, which didn't take much longer. The girl wanted a few 'sites replaced in her racting grid, mostly around her eyes, where she was starting to wrinkle up. That took a while, so Bud picked up the mediatron again and went in a ractive, his favorite, called Shut Up or Die!

The mod artist wanted to see Bud's yuks before he installed the gun, which in other surroundings might have been construed as an insult but was standard business practice here in the Leased Territories. When he was satisfied that this wasn't a stick-up, he theezed Bud's forehead with a spray gun, scalped back a flap of skin, and pushed a machine, mounted on a delicate robot arm like a dental tool, over Bud's forehead. The arm homed in automatically on the old gun, moving with alarming speed and determination. Bud, who was a little jumpy at the best of times because of his muscle stimulators, flinched a little. But the robot arm was a hundred times faster than he was and plucked out the old gun unerringly. The proprietor was watching all of this on a screen and had nothing to do except narrate: The hole in your skull's kind of rough, so the machine is reaming it out to a larger bore—okay, now here comes the new gun.

A nasty popping sensation radiated through Bud's skull when the robot arm snapped in the new model. It reminded Bud of the days of his youth, when, from time to time, one of his playmates would shoot him in the head with a BB gun. He instantly developed a low headache.

"It's loaded with a hundred rounds of popcorn," the proprietor said, "so you can test out the yuvree. Soon as you're comfortable with it, I'll load it for real." He stapled the skin of Bud's forehead back together so it'd heal invisibly. You could pay the guy extra to leave a scar there on purpose, so everyone would know you were packing, but Bud had heard that some chicks didn't like it. Bud's relationship with the female sex was governed by a gallimaufry of primal impulses, dim suppositions, deranged theories, overheard scraps of conversation, half-remembered pieces of bad advice, and fragments of no-doubt exaggerated anecdotes that amounted to rank superstition. In this case, it dictated that he should not request the scar.

Besides, he had a nice collection of Sights—not very tasteful sunglasses with crosshairs hudded into the lens on your dominant eye. They did wonders for marksmanship, and they were real obvious too, so that everyone knew you didn't fuck with a man wearing Sights.

"Give it a whirl," the guy said, and spun the chair around—it was a big old antique barber chair upholstered in swirly plastic—so Bud was facing a mannikin in the corner of the room. The mannikin had no face or hair and was speckled with little burn marks, as was the wall behind it.

"Status," Bud said, and felt the gun buzz lightly in response.

"Stand by," he said, and got another answering buzz. He turned his face squarely toward the mannikin.

"Hut," he said. He said it under his breath, through unmoving lips, but the gun heard it; he felt a slight recoil tapping his head back, and a startling POP sounded from the mannikin, accompanied by a flash of light on the wall up above its head. Bud's headache deepened, but he didn't care.

"This thing runs faster ammo, so you'll have to get used to aiming a tad lower," said the guy. So Bud tried it again and this time popped the mannikin right in the neck.

"Great shot! That would have decapped him if you were using Hellfire," the guy said. "Looks to me like you know what you're doing—but there's other options too. And three magazines so you can run multiple ammos. "

"I know," Bud said, "I been checking this thing out." Then, to the gun, "Disperse ten, medium pattern." Then he said "hut" again. His head snapped back much harder, and ten POPs went off at once, all over the mannikin's body and the wall behind it. The room was getting smoky now, starting to smell like burned plastic.

"You can disperse up to a hundred," the guy said, "but the recoil'd probably break your neck."

"I think I got it down," Bud said, "so load me up. First magazine with electrostun rounds. Second magazine with Cripplers. Third with Hellfires. And get me some fucking aspirin."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 159 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 159 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2011

    Amazing cyber punk

    This book rivals snow crash, neuromancer, etc. I'm extremely impressed by the hard sci fi and strong gripping narative. Worth it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2002

    The Value of Education

    This book made me realize the benefits of education. Nell is no one, she is poor, crude, and is really going nowhere. However once her brother Harvey steals the Primer from Hackworth, he gives it to Nell and her journey begins. The book starts by teaching her the basics. She cannot read, so it reads to her. It teaches her defensive tactics so she can keep the book. It teaches her what exactly is sexual abuse, so that she stays healthy. This is only the beginning, though. As she gets older, the lessons become less about 'reading, writing, and arithmetic', and more philosophical, moral, and ethical. She learns about people and why they leave, and how that can be better in the end. She learns about trust, and how important it is to trust the right people. Two other little girls have their own copies of the Primer, and it gives them lessons that are tailored to them. To Fiona, Hackworth's daughter, it teaches her magical stories and new realms of thought. It develops her imagination, because that is what she is interested in developing. In the end, she becomes an actress. For Elizabeth, a granddaughter of a prominent man, the book creates a world where she is the ruler. She learns about the idea of loyalty and obedience. She later joins another group, an information cult called the CryptNet. There is another difference in their education. Elizabeth was taught by hundreds of different people. She became disillusioned by what she learned, and went off to find another group. Mainly her father, who is a strict Victorian in principle, but who has the soul of a dreamer, taught Fiona. In the Primer, he was only the dreamer so Fiona became a dreamer. And this translated to acting for her. One woman, an actor named Miranda, taught Nell. Early on, Miranda realized that she was raising someone's child, and she took it seriously. She gave up a lot of things to be there for Nell. Because of this, Nell grew up the most intelligent of the three. She grew up and took her place in history, which was to destroy existing society and change the world. I have really enjoyed this book. I read it the first time when I was in high school, and I loved it. I just reread it for this review, and I still love it for different reasons. I like the message that education, while incredibly valuable, will only take a person so far. After that, their cunning, morals, and ideas must take them the right way. Elizabeth reminded me of children who are raised by schools and universities. They are taught by lots of different people who don't really know them. Those types of students become disillusioned and rebel. Fiona shows what happens when there is no balance; she was taught only fantasy and so she immersed herself in it. Nell had balance; her individual story had an overall fairy-tale theme, but it was filled with martial arts, logic games, and moral/ethical lessons. She also had a mother figure, someone who cared for her, at least intellectually. I liked the idea of all the different societies trying to exist. I can see after all the moral corruption, a group of people going back to the Victorian ways. Overall, this book is believable as our future, and it is a future I would not mind having.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2001

    Stephenson's best

    Everyone always raves about Snow Crash and leaves Diamond Age out to dry. Here's my 2 cents... If you want a fast paced, Hollywood movie type of book then Snow Crash is for you. If you're looking for a science fiction work that takes a crack at examining the possible consequences of upcoming technologies, give DA a whirl. Both books are a good read, but DA is the one that sticks in my mind. BTW, if you're looking to match your taste to mine, I thought Cryptonomicon was only so-so.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 28, 2011

    So good

    it makes you want your mommy.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2014

    I read this book as a freshman in high school and instantly love

    I read this book as a freshman in high school and instantly loved it. I might have been a bit young for some of the content, but even so it was an incredibly influential book for me and remains so to this day. Both the content and Stephenson's style have greatly shaped my own writing and reading choices. Readers who seek thought provoking social commentary or just an interesting story will both be satisfied. I would suggest only mature high schoolers and older read this, however, because some of the sexual content and violence can be a bit graphic.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014


    Excellent read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2014



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2013

    It Gets No Better Than This

    Flawless, like the diamond for which it is named. This is the current selection for our book club, "Futures and Fantasies." A book for technophiles who like to laugh at themselves. Stephenson's Neo-Victorians are both believable and hilarious. He does not succumb to "oh wow, new technology," but rather immerses you in it as if it were your daily reality. His writing style borrows from the Victorian with lush use colorful, unexpected, delightful simile. Lit me up like a blowtorch in a blast furnace. I truly cared about the characters. The plot and its numerous subplots kept me glued to my Nook. Altogether a satisfying read. I look forward to reading more Neal Stephenson very soon.

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  • Posted August 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    enjoyed reading the book very much, some problems knowing who was doing what, when.

    Written like it takes place in two dimensions. The little girl in real life and the same little girl as Princess in another life. Follows her through childhood and then suddenly she is an adult. Features the earth with the different continents under a Universal government. Social classes are divided within each of these areas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2012

    Perfect starter for a new Nook user =;^)

    The first book I read, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, was excellent because the plot revolves around a little girl in a world filled with nanotechnology who gets a ‘smart book’ – a very Victorian titled "Young Lady’s Primer" – which guides her through this increasingly complex world to find her destiny ... that seemed very like the Nook itself, so the fit was perfect.

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  • Posted June 26, 2010

    Steam punk? Stunning!

    I had been told that this was a steam punk novel, which I would not call it. I believe that it was lumped into the steam punk category because of the neo victorian society that some of the characters belong to. Though the technology in the book does does not blesh with my concept of steam punk it is amazing. The amount of detail and thought put into the nanotechnology in this book goes far beyond any other book I've read.

    The bottom line is this book might have the coolest nano-tech ever, the world is truly interesting and unique and I found the characters to be comic, tragic and endearing.

    Do read this book, I cant imagine you being disappointed.

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  • Posted May 26, 2010

    This Book is Mind Blowing...

    I was recommended the book by a professor and therefore tried to put off reading it for as long as I could. Unable to procrastinate any longer, I began to read the book and could not put it down. I found it fascinating how technology was used in the book. Stephenson's modern world was very original. I particularly loved the way Stephenson used media in the book and how some of his ideas of technology can be seen as beginning to form in our times. I also found it very interesting the way the plots were intertwined. By the end of the book, I found myself wanting more, not because the ending disappointed me but because I couldn't get enough of it. The only problem I had with Stephenson's book was the way POV kept switching from one plotline to the other. I would have preferred that he chose to stick to one character to follow and or that he spent more time in a given POV before switching to the next. I've bought a few of Stephenson's other books and I look forward to reading them.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Writer

    Neal Stephenson is one of the best writers out there today. Diamond Age is a wonderful book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2004

    Excellent Nanotech Fiction

    Fans of Stephenson's earlier novel SNOW CRASH will not be disappointed by this high-tech yet gritty read set in an oddly Victorian future. Readers of WILLIAM GIBSON, VERNOR VINGE, and newcomer JOHN ROBERT MARLOW will find much to like in this well-told tale by a modern master. (For a completely different take on nanotech set loose upon an unprepared world in our very near future, see Marlow's new novel NANO--another 5-star book with a great review from B&N.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2004

    Innovative ideas

    Stephenson is one of the two or three really creative fiction minds these days. The story is excellent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2001


    Jennifer Wiltsie gives indelible voice to this bizarre yet totally believable tale by ace science fiction writer Neal Stephenson. A versatile actress, her credits include the HBO favorite 'The Sopranos,' and the movies Wirey Spindell and Windigo. Considered by many to be the hottest scifi writer in our country today Neal Stpehenson grabbed attention and accolades with his debut sf epic Snow Crash (1992). Readers who were held sway by his rich imagination and innovation will find much to praise about The Diamond Age. John Hackworth is a genius, a nanotechnologist who designs and executes the Primer, a computer book capable of totally educating its reader. Wanting a copy for his one daughter, Hackworth steals one. But, leave it to this challenging author, the copy is lost and winds up with Nell, not a girl of privilege for whom the Primer was originally intended. The tale picks up steam as Nell begins her unique education and readers are taken on a captivating technological journey that only Stephenson's vision could have conceived.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2001

    Pretty damn good for neocyberpunk set in a revival of the Victorian age

    Any book titled The Diamond Age no doubt aspires to some kind of brilliance, and this book has it. Stephenson gives us a graceful but disturbing vision of what our society is becoming filtered through a near distant future where the Vickies, moralistic and repressive followers, of Queen Victoria II, have most of the political power. The impoverished meanwhile live through Star Trek like materializers that produce a little bit of everything, food, clothing, at extremely poor quality and durability. In this world, a semi-amnesiac and extremely repressed programmer designs 'a Primer' to educate upper-class girls, but it's more than that, and it falls into the hands of a resourceful but terrorized child. Meanwhile revolution is brewing. Fantastically absurd images and concepts. You'll be surprised at how hot nanotechnology can get.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2000

    This book was Awsome

    I loved this book! Stephenson builds a fantastic world of the not so distant future with wonderful carachters. This is my favorite book and I would recomend it to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2000

    Neo-victorian Sci-Fi!

    The Diamond Age is beautiful. This book may represent a new direction for science fiction as a genre. Stephenson's writing stimulates the imagination and makes the reader yearn for a nanotech future.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2000

    Ugh! What a waste of 8 hours!

    When I picked up this book, I was hoping that it wasn't as confusing and as hard to follow as William Gibson's Neuromancer. I was pleasantly engaged by the first half of the book. Wonderful world building, attention to detail, and captivating characters. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. After the halfway point, the book lost what little semblance of a plot it had to begin with. There seemed to be no motivation behind the characters actions. We seem to just be looking in on segments of peoples' lives with no ultimate goal in mind. At the end, there was no climax and no resolution. It was as if Mr. Stephenson couldn't figure out how to finish the book and so just stopped writing at the end of a random chapter. I finished the last page and, literally, asked myself, 'What the hell was that! ' I felt like Mr. Stephenson had just wasted 8 hours of my life. What a disappointment!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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