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

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

by Neal Stephenson

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

Vividly imagined, stunningly prophetic, and epic in scope, The Diamond Age is a major novel from one of the most visionary writers of our time

Decades into our future, a stone’s throw from the ancient city of Shanghai, a brilliant nanotechnologist named John Percival Hackworth has just broken the rigorous moral code of his tribe, the powerful neo-Victorians. He's made an illicit copy of a state-of-the-art interactive device called A Young Ladys Illustrated Primer  Commissioned by an eccentric duke for his grandchild, stolen for Hackworth's own daughter, the Primer’s purpose is to educate and raise a girl capable of thinking for herself. It performs its function superbly. Unfortunately for Hackworth, his smuggled copy has fallen into the wrong hands.

Young Nell and her brother Harv are thetes—members of the poor, tribeless class.  Neglected by their mother, Harv looks after Nell.  When he and his gang waylay a certain neo-Victorian—John Percival Hackworth—in the seamy streets of their neighborhood, Harv brings Nell something special: the Primer.

Following the discovery of his crime, Hackworth begins an odyssey of his own. Expelled from the neo-Victorian paradise, squeezed by agents of Protocol Enforcement on one side and a Mandarin underworld crime lord on the other, he searches for an elusive figure known as the Alchemist.  His quest and Nell’s will ultimately lead them to another seeker whose fate is bound up with the Primer—a woman who holds the key to a vast, subversive information network that is destined to decode and reprogram the future of humanity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553380965
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/28/2000
Edition description: Reprinted Edition
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 190,566
Product dimensions: 5.86(w) x 10.76(h) x 1.14(d)

About the Author

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.


Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

October 31, 1959

Place of Birth:

Fort Meade, Maryland


B.A., Boston University, 1981

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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The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 180 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book rivals snow crash, neuromancer, etc. I'm extremely impressed by the hard sci fi and strong gripping narative. Worth it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Neal Stephenson, but Diamond Age takes everything I love about his writing style and gives it an emotional component that draws me in deeper than any of his other works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Compelling, surprising, original story about a very special book and its subject, who is also the book's student and accidental young owner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
4 stars for the curious... have not read it yet!
VioletDelirium on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This ranks up there with my all time favorite books. Such beautiful character development. I love the way that the two stories weave together. The cultural quirks gave me a great deal of pleasure. I was quite impressed with the world that he created, and how believable it was. I often find myself wondering if it's not also the world that we are creating.
manque on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Unique and absorbing. Better than Stephenson's _Snow Crash_. The story-within-a-story of Princess Nell of the magic book, the dual backdrops of a nanotech future and a sweeping colonial/imperial past, are reminiscent of R. Heinlein at his best. Especially in the blend of narrative and a social philosophy stressing self-reliance, a relentless critical examination of one's surrounding culture and government, and in the way in which all of this is ultimately subservient to the most basic of human tales: the search for meaning, and for love. The only serious negative: a somewhat weak ending.
scistarz on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I love rereading this book over and over. Set in the future, it takes a unique look at how the world's cultures will work out. The idea of a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer with all the tech involved really caught my eye on how much it was a perfect tutor. I want one!
scroeser on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Multilayered and witty, something of a '1001 nights'. I'm unsure, at this stage, how I feel about the ending.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing 5 days ago
The most fantastical and visual of Stephenson's works to date, "The Diamond Age" sticks with me years after I read it as a peculiar dream of David Bowie coming out of a genie's lamp, of floating things and Asia. It's a sweet, wandering read, but not as strong as "Snow Crash" by a damn sight.
kristianbrigman on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Stephenson is one of my favorite authors, and this book is a good example of his work. He clearly is leaning on the style of a Victorian novel, but the book covers many different cultures. In some ways, it's an investigation into culture under pressure from technology, and how cultures might incorporate technology without losing their base beliefs, and does so coherently.The actual Princess Nell parts got a bit long at times, and I am not sure I actually read all of them. But the book is engrossing and creates an atmosphere more than a story. The ending is a bit jarring, simply because it seems to come out of nowhere, but it is not as nonsensical as it seems: as the world spins out of control, we focus in on just one person. In the end, through all the technophilia, the book ends up being about one child's search for a mother, and the ending is natural when looked at that way.
aplomb1 on LibraryThing 5 days ago
The Diamond Age seems larger than its 500 pages, and Stephenson's vision of the future, while transformed nearly into unrecognizability by technology, has the grain of our own reality. We are shown not only the massive Feed lines that transport the raw materials for the Matter Compilers, but also the terrorists who start fires under them to ignite them, and the various colors of the flames the combusting elements make. The world of The Diamond Age seems closer to the immense web of events and repercussions of our own world than the self-contained story-world we are used to seeing in fiction. It's an astounding achievement for any author, and the fact that The Diamond Age is crafted not out of historical fact but out of pure imagination and extrapolation from our society makes it especially amazing.The lushness of the world has its downside, though. It's easy to open this book and get lost in its pages, as Stephenson clearly did as he was writing it, but it simply doesn't have the impact of a focused story. It deeply explores the question of what fundamental quality separates human beings from the increasingly complex machines we build, but so much of the plot seems tangential to this question, tangential even to the rest of the story. We watch characters move through this fully realized world with interest, but not much care. His treatment of the novel's characters is deft, but they don't feel nearly as real as the setting, a disappointment after Snow Crash.Despite its flaws, it's always stunning to get inside Neal Stephenson's head. His view of the promise of technology for education and the failures of "artificial" intelligence are fascinating even to the lay-person, and his eye for immersive detail gets sharper with every book. I'm looking forward to his next tome.
bastet on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A sometimes confusing, but always intelligent view of a strange future in which neo-Victorians live in an uneasy truce with Chinese. Some of it veers on the extreme edge of fantasy. The book that the young heroine carries is the most fascinating thing about this whole novel.
rolandarad on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Discovered Neal Stephenson relatively recently in 2006, was looking for Snow Crash but found The Diamond Age. I will recommend this book to all of my friends because it is so thought provoking. It is not an easy read but will reward the time spent.
rakerman on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I enjoyed Neil Stephenson's The Diamond Age, a big novel of speculating about social evolution and the impact of nanotechnology.
tjd on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I hated this book. I read more than three-quarters of it before I gave up. I found it tedious and poorly written. I liked Snow Crash, but this is a bore.
ragwaine on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A totally different book in the second half. Very muddled ending, I really didn't understand what was going on. Cool new tech ideas, cool original plot idea but I¿m not sure what happened to it. Cool characters dissappeared.
francescadefreitas on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This was funny, frightening, technical, and enchanting.I did find the second half a little bewildering, and I can't quite get my head around the ending - but I think a second reading might help.
yourbob on LibraryThing 10 days ago
A fun read. Better than some of the more recent stuff. Plays with ideas of nanotechnology in some fun ways.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing 10 days ago
Probably my favorite of Stephenson's books I've read, although Cryptonomicon is a close second.
tikitu-reviews on LibraryThing 10 days ago
Fun, shallow technophilia. Stephenson likes multiple plot threads, many characters coming and going, their actions weaving together into a complicated plot (complicated but not complex; eventful, but not difficult to follow). Light on characterisation, heavy on techno-social speculation.The big flaw is his inability to invest the events and characters with emotional weight, despite some objectively pretty heavy stuff going down. It's light and fun until it isn't fun any more, then it's light and fast-paced action, but it never loses the lightness.Presumably this is because Stephenson is most interested firstly in exploring the implications of his technology and social system (in the first half of the book) then in the second half, in unravelling the mess of plot strands he's tangled up and drawing them together into some sort of conclusion. There are signs of the plot bloat that comes to the fore in the Baroque Cycle; he doesn't really manage to tie up the threads in the space provided, but simply lets some characters wander offstage and hopes that we'll be distracted by the flashes and bangs going on at the same time... Nothing is particularly thought-provoking or heart-wrenching, but it's fairly well-told and fun -- a perfect holiday read, but not something to spend hours searching for significance. Or writing a review about, for that matter.
selfnoise on LibraryThing 11 days ago
Tremendous premise and ideas, excellent writing, incoherent ending. Basically, the problem is that Stevenson writes narrative checks the second half of the book can't cash and there's just too much to resolve or explore to fruition. Still an excellent novel, although the more indulgent aspects of his writing, especially after the relatively tight Snow Crash, were to be a bad sign for his later works...
lewallen on LibraryThing 11 days ago
My second favorite Neal Stephenson book. I find his examination of culture as the primary driving force of humanity to be quite enlightening, and his matter-of-fact writing style makes the emotional moments in the book very touching.
heidilove on LibraryThing 11 days ago
This book should be required reading. Not only are the characters and the plot engaging, but the conversations about education and its importance are timeless.