futuristic picture of a girl framed by gritty steel plates and gearsSubtitled “or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”. The “Diamond Age” part of the title refers to an era ushered in by the perfection of nanotechnology and the ability to build diamonds (or nearly anything else) from raw elements and the parallel ability to use that tech to make stuff (like windows) out of diamond. The book has two primary narrative tracks. The first centers on John Percival Hackworth, a master programmer of nano computers. He is commissioned to build a computer in the form of a book which is optimized to interact with young girls and give them the kinds of experiences that will make them independent and capable women. The commissioned object is for the granddaughter of his wealthy patron, but another copy finds its way into the hands of Nell, a little girl with a drug addicted mother, an absent father, and a seemingly less-than-bright future. And Nell is, of course, the other primary character.

The technology in the book is sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic. It’s really cool, but it’s hard to see how it would work.

Last time I read it my suspension of disbelief was strained by the idea of Victorian social mores coming back in a high-tech society, but for some reason I found that part easier to take this time. Not sure if that’s because the world has changed to make the idea more plausible or if I just got that particular skepticism out of my system.

This is my favorite Stephenson novel for its combination of tight plotting, revolutionary philosophy, fully drawn characters, and cool stuff.