The Diamond Age

Neal Stephenson

Bantam Books. $22.95
(paper $5.99)


The title The Diamond Age signifies several things. In the 21st century, with technology capable of atomic manipulation, diamond (and everything else) can be created atom by atom. With its name,this future recognizes its superiority to any Golden Age and evokes deliberate connations of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. One of the major cultures featured in the book is a recreation of England's Victorian era which takes full advantage of everything nanotechnology offers.

John Hackworth, a brilliant neo-Victorian engineer, designs the Primer, an interactive computer book intended to raise and educate a Duke's daughter. Hackworth steals a copy for his own daughter and loses it, and so the adventure begins.

Having drawn attention to himself and his abilities, Hackworth is first coerced into providing Primers to educate thousands of orphans, then is manipulated into developing the technological mechanism that will free the Chinese culture from the influences of and dependency on Western ideas and technology.

Meanwhile, the stolen Primer ends up in the hands of Nell, a poor casteless girl. Within its pages, she embarks on a fantastic, interactive educational journey that will last a lifetime and have far reaching repercussions for herself and the societies through which she moves.

Neal Stephenson weaves a vast web of separate strands that nevertheless move well together, pacing each other in development, and occasionally touching. His writing is subtle, sometimes too subtle. There are parts of the novel that do not entirely make sense; yet the impression here is not of clumsy or unbelievable plot development, but that Stephenson plays things so low key. Indeed, this slightly obscures the ending of an otherwise very powerful and entertaining novel.

 

The Diamond Age is the winner of the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

This review originally appeared in the April 9, 1995 edition of The Roanoke Times and World-News.

 

This review copyright 1995 by Wendy Morris


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