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
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