The Diamond Age

Monday, September 10, 2018


The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
Neal Stephenson, 1995

Hugo winner - 1996
Premise: In a world where people are bound together only by their philosophies and their nanotech, men try to control the future and girls raise themselves with the help of a special book.

This isn't the worst Hugo-winning book I've read. That honor still belongs to Stand on Zanzibar. But this is one that I would not have finished reading if it weren't for this project.

The beginning is very promising. Nanotech designer Hackworth is in an interesting position, faced with the puzzle of how to teach children raised in a wealthy coddled society to be innovators and leaders. His solution is The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, a "book" which operates as a highly advanced interactive teacher, using classical fairy tale tropes to encourage learning and independence.

One copy of this book, smuggled into existence by Hackworth, intended for his own daughter, falls into the hands of Nell. Nell's life, dodging her mother's violent boyfriends and scrabbling for subsistence with her street-tough brother, is the opposite of the girls the Primer was meant for, but that only means that she can take greater advantage of it.

So far, so intriguing, right? But it's just.... so......... long.............. It eventually includes every "neat" idea about computers and distributed networks and sex cults and interactive VR and Confucian ideals and neo-Victorian culture that the author could come up with. Most of these ideas are at least somewhat interesting, but it never comes together.

By the end, I just wanted it to be over. There was so much off-screen character development and change that it felt like a different book. I didn't care what happened to any of the characters, none of the plots I was interested in paid off, and the climax was just a mess of characters I no longer recognized doing things I didn't care about.

This was my least favorite book by Stephenson back when I'd only read this, Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Zodiac. I really tried to give it a fair shake on re-read, but I think I like it even less now than I did back then. Interesting ideas just don't work for me without compelling characters any more.

1 Star - Didn't Like It, Almost DNF

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