Book Review: The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

I am back this week from a one week vacation.  For me, one of the side benefits of taking vacations is that I get to read a book.  It is very hard for me to read a book otherwise because 1) I am a slow reader and 2) I hate putting the book down.  I just don’t have time for reading unless it is on a long weekend or a vacation.  So for the vacation I just got back from, I took along Neal Stephenson‘s 1995 book, The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.   Stephenson is known among gamers and Second Lifer’s as the author of the Snow Crash novel.

Wow. This is a great book (although the first 50 pages took me a while to get through).  It’s set in the not too distant future, and has some interesting ideas about how society may respond in the face of our increasing technological advances, particularly in the areas of nanotechnology applied to engineering, biology, media/entertainment  education, and security. 

The book is set mainly in China.  The main character in this book is a girl named Nell, an under-privileged girl in Shanghai, who is growing up in a bad home environment.  As a reader, you get pulled into Nell’s life and want to see her succeed.  At a young age, Nell is given a copy of A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, a very powerful computer based interactive teaching tool disguised as a book.  This one of a kind book ultimately teaches Nell to become a leader and change the world. 

As I mentioned, the early part of the book is not an easy read.  You’re immediately thrust into the action of a world much more technologically advanced than our own.  There are new concepts to learn, words you’ve never heard of before and a strange cultural and political order.  Some of the new words you learn are:

  • Skull gun:  As it reads, this is a gun that has been embedded in someone’s skull
  • Mediatron, ractive, ractors – These are all tv/media/gaming terms
  • Nanosites – Very small man made bugs that have a tendency to make it into a person’s bloodstream
  • Cookie cutter:  Nanosite device that enter the bloodstream of a person or animal and do them harm.
  • Nanobar:  Futuristic fabric with embedded capabilities 
  • Matter Compilers – An advanced version of today’s 3D printers
  • Aeorstats – Very small security bugs
  • Velocipede, Chevaline – Forms of travel

If you are diligent and keep absorbing all the new concepts, the book is a great read.  It opened my mind to some concepts about how technology will be applied in the future, particularly in the areas of nanotechnology and media.  For those of you who have not read the book, I encourage you to read it.  For those of you who have read it already, what did you think about it?

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer

  1. ‘The Diamond Age’ blew my mind. I picked it up by chance – at that point I’d heard _of_ Neal Stephenson.
    As a result I started digging around in nanotech – I’m strictly a clueless amateur but I’m at least an informed one. As a result of that I scored a job interview at Zyvex in Dallas – but sadly they were looking for an IT guy with skill sets that I did not posses.
    But as a result of all that reading I also fell back into the alt.space crowd and did spend a few years working as Liftport’s part-time system administrator.

  2. Great!! 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.

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