The novel's neo-Victorian setting, as well as its narrative form, particularly the chapter headings, suggest a relation to the work of Charles Dickens. The protagonist's name points directly to Little Nell from Dickens' 1840 novel The Old Curiosity Shop.
Judge Dee mysteries
The novel's character Judge Fang is based on a creative extension of Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee mystery series, which is based around a Confucian judge in ancient China who usually solves three cases simultaneously. The Judge Dee stories are based on the tradition of Chinese mysteries, transposing key elements into Western detective fiction.
Nell's father, Bud, is presented as an archetypal cyberpunk character. He is a career criminal (though not a particularly skilled or high-ranking one) with various surgically implanted devices to aid him in his 'work'. Stephenson attempts to establish The Diamond Age as a "postcyberpunk" book by killing this character early on, while acknowledging the influence of the cyberpunk genre.
The Wizard of Oz
When Nell enters the castle of King Coyote in the Primer's final challenge for her, she encounters an enormous computer apparently designed to think and placed in charge of the kingdom. The computer is named "Wizard 0.2", a typographical allusion to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In that book, the Wizard puts on a grand appearance but is later revealed to be merely a man hiding behind a curtain. In similar fashion, Wizard 0.2 creates an impressive light show as it apparently processes data, but it is then revealed that the computer's decisions are in fact made by King Coyote himself.
The Diamond Age can be seen as set in the same universe as Snow Crash, many years later. This reading is based on a connection between Y.T., a major character in Snow Crash, and the aged neo-Victorian Miss Matheson in The Diamond Age, who drops oblique references to her past as a hard-edged skateboarder. This would set The Diamond Age some 80–100 years after Snow Crash.
Further supporting evidence to connect these two novels include:
- Stephenson's short story "The Great Simoleon Caper" which refers to both the Metaverse seen in Snow Crash and the First Distributed Republic seen in The Diamond Age (another short story which fits in the Diamond Age milieu and even shares a character is "Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast").
- references to Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities (FOQNEs) in both novels.
"The Great Simoleon Caper" depicts a United States in which rising inflation encourages people to use an untraceable relay system that makes it impossible to enforce taxes on online transactions (which was later used as a plot element in another of Stephenson's works, the 1999 novel Cryptonomicon). By the setting of Snow Crash the United States and most other nation-states have collapsed because of hyperinflation; in The Diamond Age, one character tells Miranda that they collapsed from the lack of tax revenue. Small, voluntary governments like the burbclaves depicted in Snow Crash replaced nation-states.
Both novels deal with an almost "primitive tech" replacing a current, worldwide use technology, in the sense of the reprogramming of the mind through ancient Sumerian chanting in Snow Crash (which also uses allusions to Babylonian prostitutes passing an information virus like a sexually transmitted disease), and the idea of nanotechnology propagating and communicating through sexual intercourse, passing from body to body like a virus. Both novels use an ancient, almost primitive threat to modern, "Western" technology and ideology (The Raft in Snow Crash and The Fists of Righteous Harmony in The Diamond Age). Stephenson explores the idea of the tech divide and its social and economic ramifications to the extreme using these violent, but not surprising, social revolutions.