The official blurb: The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. It is to some extent a science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life. The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial intelligence.
I have no idea what post cyberpunk is. I’ll go look it up for us. Be right back.
OK, I’m back. You are going to LOVE this:
Post Cyber Punk is the reaction to the Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy of Cyberpunk. Of course, Post Cyber Punk involves Reconstruction of concepts Cyberpunk deconstructed, or deconstruction of Cyberpunk Tropes (such as the Dystopia). The Cyberpunk genre itself was meant as a reaction to utopian fiction popular in the 1940s and 1950s while exploring technology’s possibility for abuse Twenty Minutes Into the Future (tech from Star Trek will just result in Brave New World), but as the genre itself got so Darker and Edgier to the point of being just as unrealistic, it was predictable that Cyberpunk itself will get a deconstruction.
Yeah. I don’t know what all that means either.
How about this? Post-Cyberpunk is a modern reaction to the now antiquated visual qualities of ’80s inspired cyberpunk. Post-Cyberpunk tends to have a greater focus on Transhumanism, space travel, and emerging technologies that weren’t imagined at the time of the ’80s.
Back to Stephenson and The Diamond Age. It is set in a near future that is unrecognizable in some ways and disturbingly familiar in other ways. Nations have dissolved and people now tend to congregate in tribes or “phyles” based upon their culture, race, beliefs or skills. Nanotechnology has upended society, and even the poorest people have access to matter compilers that create clothing, food and other items from a feed of molecules. Still, the lack of education and opportunities for the underclass has created a wide division between them and a wealthy phyle like the Neo-Victorians, who have adopted the manners and society of the British Victorian age.
John Hackworth is a brilliant nanotechnologist who lives with and works for the neo-Victorians. He is approached by one of the leaders of the clan, Lord Finkle-McGraw, to secretly create an interactive smart book for Finkle-McGraw’s young granddaughter. Lord Finkle-McGraw fears that the neo-Victorian society is too hidebound and commissions Hackworth to use his skills to create a children’s book that will develop a more educated and inquiring mind. Hackworth develops this book, the “Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer,” but can’t resist the temptation to (illegally) create a copy of it for his own young daughter.
Unfortunately for Hackworth, Dr. X, the Chinese black market engineer whose compiler Hackworth used to create the copy of the Primer, wants a copy of the book for his own purposes as well. Hackworth is mugged on his way home with the Primer by a gang under Dr. X’s direction, but the young thug who grabs the book gives it to his 4-year-old sister Nell rather than to Dr. X. The education Nell gets from the interactive Primer ends up changing her life drastically. While Nell’s life is benefited immeasurably by the Primer, Hackworth runs into serious trouble, caught between the pressures exerted by both Lord Finkle-McGraw and Dr. X, both of whom are aware of his crime and both of whom are using Hackworth for their own interests and goals.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I lifted this plot synopsis whole from a reviewer named Tadiana on Goodreads.)
There are a couple of side plots which kind of bog the book down, but all in all, a long, dense but fascinating read, as are all of Stephenson’s books.
I ‘read’ this book via my text-to-speech function on my Fire, and it was disconcerting that the reading voice kept pronouncing ‘Primer’ with a long ‘i’, like paint primer. lol
I have to be in the mood to read Stephenson, but when I am, I really like his work.