The book features multiple parallel story lines:

  • a poor child accidentally ends up possessing an AI driven book; the voice for the AI is crowdsourced to a woman, who gradually figures out that she's involved in helping out the child;
  • genetic engineering is pervasive, and various factions of society spread viruses into the air as a way to fight wars, communicate, etc... Membership in a subsection of society buys you protection from the viruses; if you're not protected, you can end up severely damaged or otherwise not autonomous;
  • some of the story line features a mysterious religious sect which subsume their consciousness to a collective, which performs some sort mysterious, of massively parallel computation, possibly using its members' brains; they form their habitats under water for cooling purposes.
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    Roughly when would this have been published?
    – Jenayah
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 17:06
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    FWIW the second bullet point is a little off - the book is framed around nanotech rather than genetic engineering, and the microscopic things that are being spread around are nanomachines ("mites"), not viruses ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 12:19
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    @BenBolker well yeah, now that I am reminded of the exact name, I know you're right - but that's what I remembered when I asked the question so I think, leaving it as is ;) Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 2:20

1 Answer 1


This is Neil Stephenson's The Diamond Age.

The protagonist in the story is Nell, a thete (or person without a tribe; equivalent to the lowest working class) living in the Leased Territories, a lowland slum built on the artificial, diamondoid island of New Chusan, located offshore from the mouth of the Yangtze River, northwest of Shanghai. At the age of four, Nell receives a stolen copy of an interactive book, Young Lady's Illustrated Primer: a Propædeutic Enchiridion, in which is told the tale of Princess Nell and her various friends, kin, associates, &c., originally intended for the wealthy Neo-Victorian "Equity Lord" Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw's granddaughter. The story follows Nell's development under the tutelage of the Primer, and to a lesser degree, the lives of Elizabeth and Fiona, girls who receive similar books. The Primer is intended to steer its reader intellectually toward a more interesting life, as defined by "Equity Lord" Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw, and growing up to be an effective member of society. The most important quality to achieving an "interesting life" is deemed to be a subversive attitude towards the status quo. The Primer is designed to react to its owner's environment and teach them what they need to know to survive and develop.

The Diamond Age is characterized by two intersecting, almost equally-developed story lines: Nell's education through her independent work with the Primer, and the social downfall of engineer and designer of the Primer, John Percival Hackworth, who has made two illegal copies of the Primer for his own young daughter, Fiona. (One copy is stolen by Nell's brother.) His crime becomes known both to Lord Finkle-McGraw and to Dr. X, the black market engineer whose compiler Hackworth used to create the copy of the Primer, and each man attempts to exploit Hackworth to advance the opposing goals of their tribes. A third storyline follows an actress, Miranda, who plays the voice of Nell's Primer and has almost become Nell's surrogate mother, in her attempts to find Nell. Later Miranda's storyline is taken over by Miranda's associate Carl Hollywood after Miranda disappears.

Part of Hackworth's punishment was having to infiltrate the Drummers, who are indeed an underwater cult that employs a hivemind.

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    One of the first novels in the Post-Cyberpunk genre. _...which begins with a typical cyberpunk character, ... Bud, who gets arrested, tried, and executed before the actual story begins, to show that such characters have no place in this world. The novel is set in a near-future where tech advance has wiped away nation-states and radically altered the entire global economy – for most people, this turns out to be a good thing. _ Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 20:36
  • For the book, check this entry directly. Written in 1995, a long time ago. Not the best, not too bad. Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 20:36
  • Groan... @DavidTonhofer please include customary tvtropes warning with that link... Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 2:21

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