This is a new look for cult author Stephenson's unstoppable sci-fi classic, The future is small. The future is nano ...And who could be smaller or more insignificant than poor Little Nell - an orphan girl alone and adrift in a world of Confucian Law, Neo-Victorian values and warring nano-technology? Well, not quite alone. Because Nell has a friend ...
This is a new look for cult author Stephenson's unstoppable sci-fi classic, The future is small. The future is nano ...And who could be smaller or more insignificant than poor Little Nell - an orphan girl alone and adrift in a world of Confucian Law, Neo-Victorian values and warring nano-technology? Well, not quite alone. Because Nell has a friend, of sorts. A guide, a teacher, an armed and unarmed combat instructor, a book and a computer: the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is all these and much much more. It is illicit, magical, dangerous. And it isn't Nell's. It was stolen. And now some very powerful people want to get their hands on this highly desirable object. Nell is about to discover that the world can feel very small indeed ...Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic 'The Baroque Cycle' (Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World) as well as the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age (winner of a Hugo Award), Snow Crash, Zodiac, Anathem and Reamde. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age." I've tried to get into cyberpunk before, and stumbled over jargon and scattered narratives. I was very pleased to find that all the slang or jargon that Stephenson wants to introduce you to is done within the first few pages, and he is a much more calm storyteller than many of his colleagues in the genre.
It's after you've gotten comfortable that he releases the deluge; there are so many themes and questions in this book that I'm going to have to read this again to begin to get a handle on all of the ideas he tosses around.
The chief, most obvious one is basically: how do you educate a young mind to think for itself and avoid mindless indoctrination without accidentally indoctrinating said young mind? That is where the book's subtitle (or the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer) comes in. Commissioned by an aristocrat for his granddaughter in the hopes that it will teach her independent thought and a flexible mind, a copy ultimately falls into the hands of the daughter of the engineer who executes the design of the primer, and another one ends up in the possession of Nell, a poor child living in an abusive home. Nell is our chief protagonist, and it is her trajectory that is followed most closely throughout the novel.
The primer is an advanced tool, involving actors ('ractors, from "interactors") to act out the situations put forth by the technology of the book, but the three girls all turn out quite differently. The novel has some ideas as to why, and this is where I found the interesting meat of the story, though there is so much more to find that different people will be sure to find other themes on which to chew.
I will definitely read this book again in order to see what else I can discover.
Easily one of Stephenson's best, one of my personal favorites. A richly detailed world, a huge cast of wonderful characters.
Jul 26, 2007
better character development than Snow Crash
I liked the characters much better than in Snow Crash. I think Stephenson does a good job of capturing the setting (mental and physical) of Shanghai as a non-Asian, but also providing a vivid future portrait. I found some plot threads remained somewhat inadequately explained compared to others, but it is such a densely layered story that it probably is unavoidable.
May 29, 2007
A Neo-Victorian Hackers Quest
Those familiar with Neal Stephenson's other books will of course gobble this novel up, for although it lacks the pace of Snow Crash it give us a glimpse of the a possible future that is tantalizingly seductive
Those not familiar however will be taken on a whirlwind adventure, exploring a future where nations no longer exist and humanity is split up into tribes (or phyles) and united by technology, where a book infused with nanotechnology can become a magical item to a young girl and change her life forever, and where a Victorian nanoprogrammer can be lost for years in a collective mind under the sea.
Publishers Weekly, 1994-12-19 Stephenson's fourth solo novel, set primarily in a far-future Shanghai at a time when nations have been superseded by enclaves of common cultures (``claves''), abundantly justifies the hype that surrounded Snow Crash, his first foray into science fiction. Here, the author avoids the major structural problem of that book-a long lump of philosophical digression-by melding myriad perspectives and cogitations into his tale, which is simultaneously SF, fantasy and a masterful political thriller. Treating nanotechnology as he did virtual reality in Snow Crash-as a jumping-off point-Stephenson presents several engaging characters. John Percival Hackworth is an engineer living in a neo-Victorian clave, who is commissioned by one of the world's most powerful men to create a Primer that might enable the man's granddaughter to be educated in ways superior to the ``straight and narrow.'' When Hackworth is mugged, an illegal copy of the Primer falls into the hands of a working-class girl named Nell, and a most deadly game's afoot. Stephenson weaves several plot threads at once, as the paths of Nell, Hackworth and other significant characters-notably Nell's brother Harv, Hackworth's daughter Fiona and an actress named Miranda-converge and diverge across continents and complications, most brought about by Hackworth's actions and Nell's development. Building steadily to a wholly earned and intriguing climax, this long novel, which presents its sometimes difficult technical concepts in accessible ways, should appeal to readers other than habitual SF users. Author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Publishers Weekly, 1996-01-08 Cyber-fiction from Stephenson, in which an engineer living in a neo-Victorian future is commissioned to write a subversive primer for girls. (Mar.)
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