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The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson February 24, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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The Diamond Age or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson, is a delightfully intellectual romp (like all his books I have read so far) through ideas which may or may not populate a landscape recognizable to you or me.  In the case of The Diamond Age, we do not.  This terra incognita is a future world of a strange kind of plenty, wherein goods are relatively cheap due to nanotechnological assemblers but life is poorer than before, set in a mainland China where Confucian ideals once again hold sway and phyles (we would consider them either gangs or mutual benevolent associations) aid persons in dealing with life’s vicissitudes (and other phyles).  One of these is a pseudo-Victorian fanclub , New Atlantis, that copies Victorian manners, mores and discipline.  They are curiously successful, albeit very conformist.

One of the Vickies, Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw, fears stifling conformity and commissions John Percival Hackworth to create a book to teach subversion to his grand-daughter, so that she can adapt to any social order by not fully embracing it (I tried this with my kids, but they are pretty uncritical). There is supposed to be only one copy, but Hackworth makes another for his daughter which is promptly stolen from him and ends up in the hands of a very-lower-class child, Nell.  His mugging brings him to the attention of Judge Fang, a Confucian who begins to see something extraordinary going on.

The book remains with Nell, for whom it was certainly never intended.

I could tell you more, but you would miss the descriptions and setup which are the best parts of this kind of story.  I do heartily recommend the audiobook version, if only for Judge Fang’s New York accent and droll take on Confucian law enforcement:

This book touches on about a dozen major themes: individuality, obedience, organizational control, nanotechnology, gender, race, artificial intelligence, intellectual property vs. open-source creations and cultural association vs. racial association.  I could write a book about this book; in fact, the Wikipedia entry for this thing runs for ten pages on my big monitor.

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