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The Diamond Age

The Diamond Age: or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is a post-cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson dealing principally with the subject of class and cultural tribalism in a world where nanotechnology is ubiquitous.

The primary protagonist in the story is Nell, a street urchin who illicitly receives an interactive book (or "primer") originally intended for a well-bred child in a neo-Victorian tribe. The story follows Nell (and to a lesser degree, a few other children who receive similar books) as she uses the primer to overcome both her lack of education and her deficient parenting. Although Stephenson seems to be commenting superficially on the role of technology in child development, his deeper and darker themes explore the relative values and shortcomings between cultures.

The Diamond Age is most likely set in the same universe as Snow Crash, many years later, based on the assumption that Snow Crashs protagonist YT reappears as the aged Miss Matheson, who drops oblique references to her past as a hard-edged skateboarder. Stephenson has refused to affirm the connection.

This book is probably the most cited example by those who disparage Stephenson's inconclusive endings. These critics are dissatisfied with the ending because, after many pages of intensifying tension, the conclusion both fails to resolve the tension through any explicit action of the protagonists and leaves the characters' futures inconclusive.

However, other critics laud this book's ending for its consistent, if subtle, conclusion that those children who were raised with the original copies of the primer (which included technology which allowed oversight by caring adults) became fully-realized and independent individuals, while an army of children raised with modified clones of the primer (which were fully automated, and so lacked any "parental" oversight) became merely efficient, devoted, but dependent followers. Arguably, such an interpretation might reasonably follow from a single, dark allusion early in the book which suggests the cloned primers were intentionally disabled by the Victorian engineer who designed them, maybe so as to foster a propensity for the Asian children who used the clones to follow the leadership of the Victorian children who used the original copies, although this may not have been Stephenson's intention.

The Diamond Age won the 1996 Hugo Award for best novel.

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