Like the other Neal Stephenson books (The Cryptonomicon, Zodiac) I've had the pleasure to read, The Diamond Age rose through a long building of the story, and was finished in a flash with a quickly rising climax at the end. Stephenson's books have almost no denouement; they feel somewhat unsatisfying but refreshingly concluded at the same time. Some people refer to this as `Neal Stephenson's "Where the fuck was the ending" syndrome.'

The Diamond age tells the story of an orphan named Nell, and an neo-Victorian engineer named Hackworth, in a world where nanotechnology is common and goverments have been largely replaced by clans. While Hackworth is a middle class white collar working man, Nell is one of the poorest of the poor. Their lives intersect when Hackworth risks his status and standing to bring something wonderful to his daugther. Through the course of the story both Nell's and Hackworth's lives change a great deal, as do the lives of a number of peripheral characters. To a large degree these changes come about because of how much the characters care about each other, and due to the engineer's love of an elegent design.

The title, "The Diamond Age", refers to the fact that in the story it is cheaper to make diamond than glass. The reader will notice that whenever a transparent surface is discussed, it is always made from diamond, except in Dovetail, where the glass is made by hand. The title may also be interperted as a tounge-in-cheek comparison to the time of the first Victorians, the so called Golden Age.

Stephenson's understanding of digital security has markedly improved since he wrote The Diamond Age. Compare the unbreakable, untraceable, perfect system envisioned in The Diamond Age with the paranoid crypto discussed in The Cryptonomicon. Although one could chalk the perfect system up to a science fiction writer's prerogative, one which was almost pivotal to the story (otherwise it would have been easy to find Miranda, etc.), it was certainly nice to see Stephenson expand his knowledge in that area, as it gave us The Cryptonomicon.

The Diamond Age makes a case for parenting. There's this wonderful technology that can teach girls all they need to know, but only Nell, who is basically parented by Miranda, really rises to her potential. In the end, I think that Stephenson is saying that technology can't replace a good parent. Even though the young lady's primer is undoubtably healther than watching TV all the time, leaving your child to learn from this automated wonder is no better than using the TV as a baby sitter. Unless of course your child is lucky enough to get a ractor who will raise her for you...

The Diamond Age has a lot of interesting ideas about society, parenting, and technology. It's a thoroughly enjoyable book; I highly recommend it.