The Diamond Age
Neal Stephenson
Winner of 1996 Hugo Award, Shortlisted for 1996 Nebula Award

Cover Neal almost dropped down to three stars. I was thoroughly enjoying the book until the end. It builds up to highly charged climax. All the subplots and characters are drawing together and then…the book whimpers to a close. At the height of the climax there were a myriad of possibilities open to explore, but nothing happens. The entire thing deflates and ends in a couple of pages. I was extremely disappointed. I still think it is a damn good book, that’s why I still give it four stars. The rest of the book is almost adequate compensation for the ending.

‘Diamond Age’ is a book about a book and a girl. Nell is a young girl with few prospects for the future. Her big brother mugs a man and brings her a book. Even in the diamond age where everything is possible though nanotechnology, the book is a magic book. It’s magic lies in the one thing that no technology can build for you. It’s secret is information. With knowledge there is nothing that can’t be achieved. This is what Nell finds as she grows up with the ‘Young Ladies Illustrated Primer’

Within ‘Diamond Age’ you are given not only the tale of the book, but the tales in the book. Scattered throughout are some of the stories that Nell reads as she grows up. The book is interactive and semi- intelligent. It grows and modifies its stories depending on what Nell experiences and what the book detects from it’s surroundings. It is designed to teach Nell what she needs when she needs it,

But this is only the major part of the story. There is far more then just the tale of the book and Nell. The is the actor hired to play the voice of the book. Miranda doesn’t remain unaffected by her contact with the book. She perceives some of what Nell goes through, through the stories that she has to read in her role of the book.

Then there is John Hackworth the man who created the book. It was a commission from an Equity Lord as a present. John could see some of the possibilities inherent in what he’d been asked to design. He made an illegal copy for his daughter. This leads him to all sorts of problems and opportunities.

On top of all this is the Alchemist who is designing the Seed. If the Seed ever becomes a reality everything that is will change.

I can’t say any more than this without destroying the plot, but as you can see this is a book of surpassing complexity. Pity about the conclusion.

Neal has a breathtaking scope of imagination and can illustrate his imagination in a few words. The book embraces everything from ‘toner wars’ between millions of nanotech machines. To veils made of miniature aerosats that hover around a persons face.

This book is worth reading just to see the breadth of imagination that is possible. It is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. Except the ending which I keep lamenting.