Aug 26, 2016

The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson

It's pretty fascinating to read Stephenson as he writes now and as he wrote twenty years ago. This is the second early book of his that I've read, and having read SEVENEVES, his latest, just recently, the evolution of his writing is obvious. While The Diamond Age and Snow Crash center around futurism and technology, Stephenson clearly delved much deeper into hard sci fi as time went on. His later novels contain a hefty dose of detailed mathematical and scientific descriptions, while his earlier work has little of that. Science fiction fans who aren't as interested in hard science will prefer this novel and other early works.

The conceit of this novel, as evidenced by the title, is that after internecine warfare and dwindling resources, human society reorganized into self-determined tribes, or phyles, all sustained by the Feed - nanotechnology-driven matter compilers - with three major tribes dominating: one of these is the Neo-Victorians, adopting Victorian morality and ethics, as well as social structures, clothing, beauty ideals, etc. Chapters begin with veiled descriptions of what we're about to read, and the narration adopts a wry, British-like humor.

As for the plot, I'll paint only very broad strokes, as Stephenson's books are complex and evolving. John Hackworth, a Victorian, is tasked by a wealthy, powerful man with creating an interactive book to teach said man's granddaughter to think for herself. Hackworth does his duty, but creates a copy for his own daughter, which then falls into the hands of Nell, a poor, abused little girl without a tribe. With three Primers instead of one, the future suddenly becomes much less assured.

Like all Stephenson's books, I loved it. I didn't get sucked into it like with some of his others, but his masterfully built plot, wonderful characters, and always wry narration are still a true delight.

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