Review: The Diamond Age (or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer) by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson, author of Snow Crash, Zodiac and perhaps most famously, Cryptonomicon, has certainly penned another wonderfully intricate yarn with The Diamond Age. Owing to the hints that Miss Mathesson is the erstwhile Y.T. of Snow Crash (this inferred from the ‘many spoked smartwheels of her wheelchair’, her admission that she was a ‘thrasher’ in her youth and the frequent use of the phrase ‘chiselled spam’) among other references, this world conceivably occurs sometime after the events of Snow Crash.

Amazon’s blurb for The Diamond Age is this:

John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer on the rise when he steals a copy of “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” for his daughter Fiona. The primer is actually a super computer built with nanotechnology that was designed to educate Lord Finkle-McGraw’s daughter and to teach her how to think for herself in the stifling neo-Victorian society. But Hackworth loses the primer before he can give it to Fiona, and now the “book” has fallen into the hands of young Nell, an underprivileged girl whose life is about to change.

The great thing about this book is its vision of a not to far future world and the complexity both of that world and the plot that unfolds within it. The strands of story are at first hopelessly disparate, but weave together in some truly ingenious ways. What sucks about this book is the ending. Stephenson, like many science fiction authors, leaves his endings open, sometimes leaving threads unresolved. With The Diamond Age, however, he takes this to whole new levels of irritating by suddenly terminating the book mid-climax. There is no resolution to be had here, it is as if the printers forgot to append the final pages. I’d hate to be this guy’s wife.

Poor ending aside though, this book is a multi-hued pleasure to read. Stephenson blends styles and tones aptly and adeptly and leaves plenty of food for thought with his ruminations on the socioeconomic effects of ripened nanotechnology and, in particular, his discussion of the ultimate moral crime and measure —hypocrisy.

Pro-read, four stars.

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