THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stephenson

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.

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DARK SEPTEMBER Inger Wolf

This is a Scandanavian mystery.  It won the Danish Crime Academy’s Debut Award in 2006 for the most exciting debut of the year.  Yep, that’s me, right on top of things, only 11 years late.

It is late September, and Anna Kiehl, a student of anthropology and a single mother, does not return from her evening run in the forest. The next morning, she is found dead. She is naked, her throat is cut, and there is a bouquet of poisonous hemlock on her chest.

Police inspector Daniel Trokic is in charge of the investigation, and it leads him to the case of a prominent scientist and specialist in neurochemistry and antidepressants who disappeared eight weeks earlier. Daniel Trokic must get to the killer before he strikes again, but this turns out to be a dangerous pursuit.

OK, here I am with nothing to say about this book.  It was fine.  It was what I consider to be a standard police procedural/thriller, and that is fine with me.  I don’t need Nobel Prize Winners for Fiction in every book I read.  It  had an interesting plot, and OK characters.  There is room in this world for adequate, as well as knock-your-socks-off.  My socks are still on but I am happy anyway.

 

THE HUNGER OF TIME by Damien Broderick and Rory Barnes

Technology has started to accelerate at a terrifying rate. By mid 21st century, we might see a Singularity: a convergence of artificial intelligence, advanced nanotechnologies for building things at the atomic scale, precise genomics, other wonders. What happens after that? Will the descendents of today’s humanity become gods or demons, or simply destroy themselves? And will we be among their number, carried along by rejuvenation and immortality treatments?

For twenty-six year old Natalie and her irritatingly beautiful 17-year-old sister Suzanna, these are no longer abstract questions. The familiar world is on the brink of crisis. Dumped by her live-in boyfriend and stuck back at home with her parents, Nat is not a happy person. And her father Hugh is acting like a mad scientist. What the hell is he building out there in the garage? When Hugh frog-marches his family into the garage, it looks as if he’s really gone mad, and they’re due to perish even before the plague wipes out all life on earth. But the machine Hugh has been working on hurls them all-not forgetting their dog Ferdy-ever farther into the future, and the escapade doesn’t stop until the very end of time and space.

Odd book.  Natalie, supposedly 26, through whom the story is told in first person, thinks, speaks and acts like a mid teen.  Without knowing really what this book was about, I thought it was a YA sci fi effort.  But nope.  Dad builds or discovers, or creates, an everted fractalized 6-brane.  Which is a space located inside what seemed like a giant geode.  They spend a few minutes hopping forward a year, emerge to find the world different, having somewhat survived the big plague.  After a series of dangerous events, it is apparent that they need to get out of Dodge, so they go back inside the thing, and hop forward another thousand years or so, to find a really different world, pick up a passenger, and on they go again.  Each leap is a huge amount farther in time than the previous.

Each world they encounter is odd and for me not the best imaginative idea of future societies, all of them seemingly similar to our current society.

The whole thing devolves into an incomprehensible philosophic/physics mishmash that although poetic in the reading, didn’t make all that much sense,  and anyway if I want to read incomprehensible philosophic/physics musings, I prefer it in non-fiction form, not badly disguised as bad fiction.

It was an interesting concept, this ever-increasing leaps through time,  to the end of time, but mostly it just left me with that whaaaa? face.

HELL IS EMPTY by Craig Johnson

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.  William Shakespeare, The Tempest, act 1

Well-read and world-weary, Sheriff Walt Longmire has been maintaing order in Wyoming’s Absaroka County for more than thirty years, but in this riveting seventh outing, he is pushed to his limits. Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian, has just confessed to murdering a boy ten years ago and burying him deep within the Big Horn Mountains. After transporting Shade and a group of other convicted murderers through a snowstorm, Walt is informed by the FBI that the body is buried in his jurisdiction-and the victim’s name is White Buffalo. Guided only by Indian mysticism and a battered paperback of Dante’s Inferno, Walt pursues Shade and his fellow escapees into the icy hell of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, cheating death to ensure that justice-both civil and spiritual-is served.

Blurbalishious.  I didn’t like this one as much as the others, mainly because I didn’t really care about chasing evil men through a snow storm.  I have had enough of snow storms in several of the other books in the series.  It was, as all of these books are, well written, full of great characters and beautiful descriptions of the scenery and the mind.  I think Mr. Johnson writes some of the best descriptions.  Just pulls you right into the middle of the scenery.

You may possibly be glad to know this is the last of the Longmire series which I have in my possession, although not the last of the series available.

QUIET AS A NUN by Antonia Fraser

Lady Antonia Fraser is the widow of Harold Pinter (1930-2008), and the author of Marie Antoinette: The Journey.

When a murder takes place in a secluded tower at Blessed Eleanor’s Convent in Sussex and the victim is an old school friend, Britain’s most popular TV reporter Jemima Shore finds herself in the middle of a disturbing puzzle. The dead woman, a nun, was to inherit one of the largest fortunes in Britain. Jemima walks into the eye of a worldly storm of fear – and the more she learns, the clearer it becomes that more lives, including her own, are being threatened.

This was written in 1977, which is like, crumb, forty years ago!  It was republished in 1998.  How the heck did it end up on my reading list?  I have no idea.  Anyway, it is a fine mystery, not especially special, but definitely OK.  It raises, if somewhat obliquely, the subject of ‘particular friendships’ between the nuns, and also discusses the issue that was prevalent even in the seventies, of the draining away of nuns from their vocations.  Lady Fraser was born in 1932, which makes her even older than me,  so the book has a slight tinge of the prim and proper,  but made for lovely reading all the same.

 

AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton

 The blurb says:  this is the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

OK, enough from blurbville.   This is set in England in 1979, and if you like fantasy lite, and sci fi, and reading and witches, you are going to kvell over this book.  Growing up in Wales with a whacko witch mother who is really nasty, our gal and her sister see, cavort and speak with fairies, which are not like any fairies you are familiar with.   At one point, she muses, “I wondered if fairies are a sentient manifestation of the magical interconnectedness of the world.”   Yeah, I often muse that, too.  Even 

She is a voracious reader of sci fi, and throughout the book we are treated (subjected to, if you are not a sci fi fan) of innumerable mentions of the classic sci fi canon from the fifties on.  When she escapes the viscousness of her mother after her sister dies, she goes to live with her strange father, who seems to be under the spell of his two wealthy sisters, with whom he lives.  Our gal comes to the conclusion that these women have a hold over him because they, too, are witches, but of the more benign variety.

Well, me being the sci fi aficionado that I am, loved the references, and had to agree with her when she says, at one point,

Did you ever read so much SF that you start thinking you don’t know quite what’s impossible any more?

The lines blur so much these days between sci fi and reality, and fantasy and reality, that you just have to wonder, don’t you.

I believe this book falls into the category of fabulism, which is a form of magic realism in which fantastical elements are placed into an everyday setting.

It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it immensely.  Because I have never seen a fairy and consider that totally unjust. If the subject of fairies et al interests you, you might take a gander at DAIMONIC REALITY – A FIELD GUIDE TO THE OTHERWORDLY by Patrick Harpur.  I wrote about it here,  but what the gist of what he says about fairies is:

His basic premise is that our psyche extends beyond our physical human bodies.  He leans heavily on Jung’s Archetypes of the collective unconscious,  suggesting that visions and apparitions might well be the projection of those unconscious Archetypes.

He calls all these various paranormal phenomena collectively the daimonic reality, and tells us that although this stuff may have some physical reality, such as crop circles, or Yeti footprints or UFO landing traces, it is not literally real.  It is literally metaphor.  He believes that our modern society has no room for the irrational and the incomprehensible, and that instead of fairy folk myths, or origin tales, we are compelled to convert all that anomalous phenomena into scientificism – scientific and technical explanations.  He points out that even physics, with its ever diminishing size of the foundation of matter – molecules, atoms, quarks, down to claimed entities that have never actually been seen, only postulated, the dual nature of some particles as waves/particles, are really simply more daimonic reality covered over by quasi science.

See what reading fiction does for you?  Sends you off into some other very fascinating non-fiction paths, where your mind can expand on ideas that you haven’t come across before.

 

 

THE DARK HORSE by Craig Johnson

Yahoo!  Number 5 in the Walt Longmire western sheriff series.  In this tale, Walt investigates on his own when his instincts tell him something isn’t right about a prisoner accused of killing her husband.

Wade Barsad, a man with a dubious past, locked his wife’s horses in their barn and burned the animals alive. In return, Mary shot Wade in the head six times-or so the story goes. Walt doesn’t believe Mary’s confession, and he’s determined to dig deeper. Posing as an insurance claims investigator, Walt soon discovers other people who might have wanted Wade dead, including a beautiful Guatemalan bartender and a rancher with a taste for liquor, but not for honesty.

This was a little hard to read in parts, because, you know, horses and fire.  And in this book, our intrepid sheriff must go undercover to Absalom – population 40 and all of them suspicious of strangers and authorities. The locals are giving him a real hard time, but Walt is not a quitter, and slowly he begins to gather evidence about the victim.

The move away from Absaroka County brings a welcome change of air for the series and an occasion to steer closer to the classic western genre, not only by finally featuring horses, cowboys and Indians, sweeping vistas of Powder River and Twentymile Butte, even a barroom bare knuckles fight, but with the whole plot structure of the Lone Stranger come to bring justice to the lawless frontier town. The regulars of the series (Vic Moretti, Henry Standing Bear, etc) are all there, but they play on the fringes of the main storyline. Dog has a much better exposure than in previous novels and he rises to the occasion admirably. This latest book also has the bonus of offering a glimpse at Walt’s childhood, as his parents’ farm is near Powder River.

We meet the ‘miniature stagecoach robber’ Benjamin – a ten years old tough man ( In this country you don’t touch a man’s horse without his permission ). It was lovely the way Walt handled him, never talking down or making fun of the little guy, stern and authoritative, yet open to all questions and considerate of the boy’s feelings.

[in the interests of full disclosure and fair play, some of the above was stolen directly from reviews of the book.  I am so far behind in blogging my reads that I have taken to ethically suspect shortcuts.]

Another superb offering in this series filled with a cross section of the human condition, folks we are drawn to understand and care about.