May 4, 2011

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

Absolutely primo modern speculative fiction. After a few different books that I sort of enjoyed and sort of just felt meh about, this one knocked my socks off. Concepts, delicious. Story, engaging. Philosophical meandering, minimal. Characters, fleshy and companionable.

I guess that just makes sense. Universe-building and character development are the heart of a coming-of-age novel like this. And the concepts employed aren't necessarily unique to this novel. I tasted traces of David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, a little Dickens, big gobs of William Gibson - you know what I'm saying. And, of course, refined threads from Stephenson's own Snow Crash (which I didn't enjoy half as much as Diamond Age). But all that is just seasoning in a mighty fine soup.

In a world where most of your basic needs are met - one way or the other - what drives a person to succeed? To make something of herself? To rise from a childhood of abuse, neglect, and a mother named Tequila (really? but then, not so different from Brandy) into positions of leadership and fulfillment? Is it hardship? education? a close connection to parental figures? Stephenson takes his time in exploring these questions, and the reader is richer for it.

There was just so much to enjoy here. So many images created. The mouse army, building human rafts. The neo-Victorians, steampunkian in their top hats and watch chains. The Drummers' undersea orgies. Skullguns, smart paper, bodies in the river, actors in a ship. It's not perfect and the tech may or may not age well, but the blend of Idea and Story is right up my alley. I'm loaning this one to a friend, as soon as I run into him, and will probably have to buy myself another copy in a few years when I get an urge to read it again.


Ms. Moon said...

You are such a good book reviewer.

downtown guy said...

Ha, I'm totally not. I barely talk about the books themselves most of the time.