Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

In twenty-first century Shanghai, nanotechnology has been fully integrated into society.  People are organized into cultural gatherings where they live, work and rarely interact with those from other 'claves'.  There are scientific claves, Victorian ones from the English that conquered and was a big part of the country for so long, those that hark back to ancient Chinese traditions, etc.  John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer.  He has worked on various products and come to the attention of both one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the Victorian clave and Doctor X, a man who works on the criminal side of the Chinese claves.

Hackworth is hired to create an interactive book or primer, that can be used to provide an education that goes beyond the structured education most children are given.  It's called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.  Although developed for the granddaughter of the wealthy man who hires Hackworth, Hackworth creates a second version for his own daughter, Fiona.  This version is then stolen when Hackworth is mugged on the street and it makes its way to a young girl in the poorest clave, Nell.  Nell's life would be expected to be poor and limited but as she interacts with the primer and learns its lessons, she finds a pathway to a richer, more interesting and exciting life than she had ever had the opportunity to even imagine.  There are other intriguing characters such as Miranda, the actress that acts the parts of the primer, Doctor X, who has a vision to help his society move forward and others.

This is the fourth novel Neal Stephenson produced.  It explores the fields of nanotechnology and the implications on society when anything can be produced cheaply and well and there is no reason for most people to work, an issue that American society is just now starting to grapple with.  It considers the role of education and how it can constrict as much as free students.  It talks about the reality that people tend to congregate with those like them and whether those who are unlike can ever truly integrate with each other.  This book is recommended for readers of science fiction/fantasy.

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