Confucius. Nanotechnology. Neo-Victorians. Ractors. Tribes. Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.
Reading the 1996 Hugo Award and Locus Science Fiction Award winning novel, The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, was a refreshing experience for me. While I see it categorized on-line as Cyberpunk, I don’t feel comfortable putting it into any one box. I was drawn into the story from the very beginning and found myself carried along by my curiosity about how the story would unfold.
I would have titled the book, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, because much of the novel centers on the primer. A nanotechnological engineer creates a primer for a wealthy client to give to his granddaughter in order to ensure that she will grow up to be an exceptional woman. The primer tells “stories to a young person, tailoring them for the child’s needs and interests—even teaching them to read if need be.” The engineer, who has a daughter about the same age as the granddaughter, makes an illegal copy of the book. Unfortunately, he is mugged by a gang and his copy of the primer stolen by one of the boys. The boy gives it to his four year old sister, Nell, who immediately bonds with the book. It tells hers stories that incorporate what is going on in her life. This includes Nell’s attachment to her four dolls/stuffed animals as well as the physical abuse and neglect she experiences. Many of the stories are in the style of Grimm’s fairytales. The stories also have an anonymous human element to them, ractors—think actors who help create animated movies and games. Nell interacts with the primer well into her teenage years.
The Diamond Age is just a good over all story. As a reader, I felt the love that an older brother or father has for a little sister/daughter, yet the book was not in the least bit sentimental. It contained a few moments of humor. In a few places, I found some profound wisdom, yet I would not describe the book as especially philosophical.--Stephenson brings up some interesting points in regard to the topics of belonging to a tribe, discipline and intelligence.--The neo-Victorian subculture presented in the book isn’t just an affectation, but adds to the story. The book contains some sex and violence, but it also contains moments of childlike innocence. It is an odd book, but a very pleasing one to read.