The Diamond Age

Rating: +

Neal Stephenson

This book is a science fiction novel that probably could be labeled as cyberpunk, though less so than Stephenson's book Snow Crash. The book is set in the future when the entire world has dissolved into an unstable collection of kingdoms which vaguely resemble today's countries, except that these kingdoms aren't necessarily geographically unified. The world's technology is far ahead of what we currently have, with Star Trek type replicators and robots, but the society itself seems old-fashioned. In this setting, an inventor is employed to create an electronic book for a powerful man's granddaughter that will teach her to be creative, resourceful, and think for herself. The plans for this book are not kept as secret as they should have been, and this book falls into other hands.

From here, we get to see how this book helps a young girl who is part of the poor and helpless of the world grow up, keep herself safe, and become educated. We also watch the inventor and his employer try to track down the book and its plans. While all this occurs, the characters wander through a variety of odd situations which point to a large degree of unrest in the world and some probably conspiracies.

Most of the plots end up being pretty interesting, but my favorite part of the book was watching the girl interacting with her book. She has to be taught how to read, and really how to think for herself. There are a lot of great details about how the book would be programmed to behave, how they get it to be responsive and interactive, and what techniques it uses to teach various skills and concepts. I kept thinking that I wanted a copy of that book for myself. I thought that it came off as being fantastic, but borderline realistic enough that I could imagine such a book existing.

There were also a lot of other little technical gadgets in the book that I thought were clever. Again, they were slightly beyond realistic, but seemed plausible when reading the book, and Stephenson did a good job at adding enough detail that the reader could imagine how such an object might be built and programmed. I think that it would be very creepy to live in the future he describes, where micro-machines wage warfare within our bodies without our even knowing it, but it was a very intriguing world to read about.

One complaint I have is that by the end of the book things were just too weird. Some type of revolution occurred, but I couldn't keep track of who was on what side. Some other very bizarre things happened as well, that were only partially explained at the end. I finished the book feeling a little lost and as if too many details had been thrown at me all at once to tie everything together.

Overall, though, this book was a lot of fun to read. It was worth it at least for the plot line following the electronic book. And it was enough to prompt me to go out and look for Snow Crash.


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