‘The Diamond Age’ was written by Neal Stephenson and first published in 1995. It won The Hugo award in 1996. It is a coming-of-age novel that focuses on a girl named Nell who is born without a phyle (cultural group), which makes her a member of the lowest class. At the age of four, Nell obtains a stolen copy of the ‘Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.’ This is a technically advanced interactive book that is meant for the upper classes, and it has the capability to teach her valuable knowledge even though she is quite young when she begins to use the Primer.
John Percival Hackworth is the second major character. He is a Neo-Victorian high-level engineer. He makes an illegal copy of the Primer for his daughter Fiona, who is the same age as Nell. When his illegal behavior is noticed by the authorities, he is forced to act as a spy for the Neo-Victorians against the Asian territory known as the Celestial Kingdom.
This novel could be the best “multi-punk” science fiction novel of all time. It is part steampunk, containing a phyle called Neo-Victorian that shares some behaviors and fashions with classic Victorians. There is a cyberpunk element, with the Primer acting like one of Case’s “matrix” decks in ‘Neuromancer,’ showing a virtual reality populated by intense characters and backgrounds. A biopunk element exists with the “Drummers,” a colony of people who use distributed intelligence.
Nanotechnology is prominently featured in the novel, and nearly any material can be manufactured cheaply in large quantities using a matter compiler, including diamond, which allows for groundbreaking architectural designs and construction results. Cities also employ tiny nanotech machines for defensive purposes. Therefore, the novel can also be described as containing nanopunk elements.
‘The Diamond Age’ expertly reveals the consequences of future technologies. When material scarcity vanishes, new economic and cultural factors emerge to create other types of scarcity. The belief in the power of education using ideal tools is apparent. In the novel, artificial intelligence has not advanced to human-level yet. The Primer educates Nell using human “actors” that are networked to the book. We can see the beginning of that process in our own world, with increasing numbers of online courses available to students, and online access to experts in various fields becoming ubiquitous.