The Diamond Age: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
I struggled with this book, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and struggled with it once again. I read this book as a sort of challenge from my husband, trying to get me to read a different type of book. I really wanted to like this book for the basic premise – a future with nanotechnology, but a group of people who took an Oath and lived a Victorian lifestyle. There is so much more to this book, but this ideal is what kept me reading to the last page.
The first one hundred or so pages were very difficult to get through for someone who doesn’t read heavy sci-fi to begin with. The type of sci-fi I have read in the past was all very generalistic, not very detailed with nano-technology and quantum physics (which, thankfully, this book did not get in to); so this book was a bit of a challenge. Neal Stephenson, if you have not read anything of his before, also seems to ‘create’ language as he goes along. It’s set in the future, so let’s make up words to describe the various types of people and objects.
Then the story turned to the young girl, Nell, who got an Illustrated Primer, and it changed her life. The idea of the Primer book is that it is interactive with the reader, and therefore bonds with its reader. Without going into WAY too many details, Nell learned to change her life, speak like the ‘Vickys’, and became schooled in the ways of the New Atlantan Victorians. (I think I got that right?!) There are several different story lines going on in the book, where some were dropped and some seemed either rushed or not well executed.
As I was reading this story, it seemed that several different people actually wrote this story, as sections of the book were so completely different from the majority of the book. As I approached the final 30 pages, I was trying to figure out how the author was going to wrap up the story in so few pages, and he did not complete the task well. I finished the last line and shouted, ‘That’s IT!?!?!?’
I have to give Neal Stephenson some credit for the seeming depth of his knowledge – or well-researched, at least. This book ties in Victorian age mores with nanotechnology, Chinese traditions and customs with futuristic theatrics. I think if he stuck to just these few storylines, it would have made a better book. I feel that the author added way too many other storylines into this book and completely muddled it up, and didn’t know HOW to end it, so he did abruptly. (I am left wondering how you can bite through your own lip while biting through someone else’s at the SAME time?!)
I have so many questions about this story. I did like the sections that focused on the story of the Primer and Nell. Hackworth was a character that I liked, until the middle of the book, and Dr. X was a seemingly interesting character, but you don’t know what happened to him in the end. As I mentioned earlier, there were too many sub-plots that were introduced and never touched on, while ‘The Seed’ and the ‘Fists’ were brought in near the end with no real explanation as to WHY. This reader was left wondering if the book was switched in the middle of the writing, that there were two different books that were somehow pasted together.
I will not judge other modern sci-fi books on this one alone, but I think it will be a while before I can wrap my noggin around nano-technology and quantum warp drives, or whatever else there is out there, waiting for me to discover. Hopefully when I do turn to another of this genre, it will have a coherent storyline, the writing style will be maintained throughout the story, and the characters will be ones that you want to invest your time with and will be true to themselves. It was a neat premise, but poor execution.