Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson

Having read several other books by Neal Stephenson, I knew what to expect when I picked up 'The Diamond Age'. He creates a world, based on reality but somehow a little different, and every tiny detail has been carefully constructed. His prose is dense, but fascinating, and as a physics novice, even I can generally understand the complex concepts he introduces, due to the strength of his explanations. The central character in this book is Nell, a neglected girl growing up on the outside of accepted society, and it examines how her life is changed by a gift from her older brother. He gives her a book, 'The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer', he stole from John Percival Hackworth without realising it is actually an interactive life-guide. The Primer teaches Nell, and the other girls who receive copies, equipping them for a subversive life in a crumbling society.

The vast array of characters could become confusing, but the intense descriptions and diversity of personality Stephenson creates etch the characters firmly into one's consciousness. Each character has a a very definite aim throughout the story, and as these converge over the last few chapters, elements of the story from earlier in the book that may have seemed rather esoteric come into sharp focus. I particularly enjoyed the fairy-tales woven into the Primer, holding a mirror up to Nell's dysfunctional life while suggesting ways she can improve her lot. Every girl could do with one of these while growing up!

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