The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

[rating=4] I enjoyed this story about how to educate your little girl to be an independent, free-thinking, bad-ass anarchist with a deep knowledge of Alan Turing‘s concept of binary code.

As other reviewers have mentioned, the first half of ‘The Diamond Age’ is really fun and captivating, but I grew fidgety and dissatisfied with the ending, where Stevenson went a bit off the rails with his “let’s fuck everything up now” attitude.

When Stephenson does this, it never feels like an author giving his plot an “aha moment” twist. It feels like a little boy wielding a plastic dinosaur over his carefully constructed wooden block empire and yelling SMASH! CRUSH! DESTROY! while bashing the shit out of everything with his handheld, Jurassic deus ex machina.

I really did not understand Neal’s motivation for abandoning the amazing tale of Nell the Wonder Girl and choosing to follow her father instead. Why leave the venerable world of Neo-Victorians and ancient Chinese culture, to veer off into a strange tangent involving underwater sex raves? Why plunder the overdone Matrix-concept of using human wetware as electricity-generating oracular supercomputers? I mean, sure, if you want, but couldn’t his editor have suggested gently that this could be a separate piece, perhaps for a short story or another book entirely?

Anyway, I would like to register a general thumbs-up for this creative book with its provocative look at East meets West, nature vs nurture, class divides, education theory, crime, logic, craftsmanship and economics. My thanks to Mr. Stephenson for NOT naming the lead character “Hiro Protagonist”, as he chose to do in Snow Crash, which made it impossible for me to read beyond the first chapter of that book without groaning in pain. Nell was perfect, thank you.

A few other works of gritty, alternate reality featuring cool young women…

1) Margaret Atwood’s ‘Oryx and Crake’

2) Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’

3) Philip K. Dick ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’

4) Robert Heinlein’s ‘Friday’

4 of 5 stars / bookshelves: read, sci-fi fantasy, 512 pages, Publisher: Spectra (1995)
Read in November, 2011

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