The Diamond Age (1995)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Neal Stephenson
Publication Date 2002
Format Leather-bound (245 x 165 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Science Fiction
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Science Fiction
No. of Pages 455
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 8
No. of Reviews 248
Frontispiece/Illustrator Jerry Vanderstelt
Introduction/Foreward Pamela Sargent
Original Details
Original Publication Year 1995
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.
Collector's Notes

The Diamond Age demonstrates in living color how science fiction departs from the mainstream. It has what Neal Stephenson has called the science- fiction approach: "an awareness that things could have been different, that this is one of many possible worlds, that if you came to this world from some other planet, this would be a science-fiction world." The world Neal Stephenson has created is located in 21st century Shanghai, but it is not your father's Shanghai. This world has been shaped by nanotechnology-the technology of the very small that makes almost anything possible-and the people, in turn, have been shaped by their technology.

Science fiction is the literature of change.

The people in Stephenson's novel accept the changes around them, and in themselves, even though they carry the past with them. In fact, the novel is about the intersection of the past and the novel's present. That is why it is called The Diamond Age, which is a tribute to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. At the same time nanotechnology has made diamond a substance as common as glass. Even the novel's structure is Victorian, with chapters headed by descriptive summaries, and characters reminiscent of Dickens. Stephenson himself never makes the connection, but the perceptive reader may be reminded of "Little Nell" and "The Old Curiosity Shop."

All of this serves to focus the changes in this world from ours, even the longing for Victorian values: "we must look to the nineteenth century... for stable social models," one of the characters says. "Now nanotechnology has made nearly anything possible," is one of the insights of the Victorian Revival, "and so the culture role in deciding what should be done had become far more important than imagining what could be done with it."

The author of this remarkably dense model-cyberpunk aspires to the condition of reality-was born in Fort Meade, Maryland, the home of the National Security Agency. He came with scientific bloodlines: his father was an electrical engineering professor and his grandfather was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory and her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson became a phys ics major at Boston University before switching to geography because "they were using the coolest computers." He has worked as a research assistant at the Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and for the Corporation for a Cleaner Commonwealth in Boston. Since 1984, when he published his first novel, The Big U, he has lived in the Pacific Northwest with his family and has been a full-time writer.

His second novel, Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller (1988), had more science- fictional elements, but his third, Snow Crash (1992) cemented his reputation as a science-fiction author and launched him onto the bestseller lists. Companies in Silicon Valley are reputed to have tossed Snow Crash onto their conference tables and said, "This is our business plan."

The Diamond Age, however, won the Hugo Award of the World Science Fiction Convention as the best SF novel of the year. It was published by Bantam Spectra in hard cover in February 1995 at 455 pages, with a cover by Bruce Jensen. The Science Fiction Book Club reprinted it in May 1995 at 419 pages, and Viking UK, in September 1995. The U.S. paperback was published by Bantam Spectra in March of 1996, and reprinted in May 2000.

Cryptonomicon, which has been compared to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, was published in 1999 and created even greater excitement. Stephenson also published two thrillers in collaboration with his uncle George Jewsbury under the pseudonym of Stephen Bury, and is planning two sequels to Cryptonomicon.

Stephenson has been a visiting fellow at Ernst & Young's Center for Business Innovation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prof. Michael Hawley of the MIT Media Lab has said, "What Arthur C. Clarke was to a previous generation, Neal Stephenson is to ours. Neal is the kind of genius who puts jarring ideas on every page."

"Faced with books like this," Prof. Tom Shippey wrote in The New York Review of Science Fiction, "why do people read anything else?"

When you enter The Diamond Age, you had better hang onto your sense of reality. It's about to be blown away.