Monday, September 25, 2006

Unobtainable books

I did a bit of shopping on the King's Road at the weekend. More about that at some other time, perhaps, since this post is to be about The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson, a copy of which I bought from Waterstone's on Saturday.

I haven't even finished it yet, but feel compelled to write about it. The book's set in a future, never precisely stated when, where enclaves have been set up all over the Earth by various religious, ethnic or commercial "phyles", and nano-technology can be used to create all manner of items, machines, computers inside paper, and diamond sheets cheaper than glass. One of the phyles are the Atlantans, or New Victorians, who have reverted to the solid values and morals of the 19th century Victorians as a model to live by. One of the more prominent of these, Lord Finkle-McGraw, disturbed by the very bland and conventional upbringing and views of his own children, has determined that his young grand-daughter will be educated somewhat less conventionally. For this purpose, he has hired an Engineer, John Hackworth, to create The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, an interactive book which Elizabeth can use and which will help her become more creative, eccentric and less staid.

In the process of creating the Primer, Hackworth decides to create an illegal copy to give to his own daughter, Fiona. However, he's mugged on his way home from having generated to illicit copy, and the Primer falls into the wrong hands. Or, let's say, the hands of a girl for whom it was not intended, an orphan, Nell, whose home life is far from the privileged one that Elizabeth (or even Fiona) will live. She bonds to the Primer, which teaches her how to read, how to stand up to bullies, and tells her stories - and otherwise acts almost as a surrogate parent (though not necessarily by showing her only the good things in life).

Various other persons and interests want to get hold of the Primer, or to make copies of it: this involves Hackworth in bribery and spying for both sides as atonement for his crime.

It's wonderfully imaginative stuff as usual from Stephenson, but it leaves me lamenting that the Young Ladies' Illustrated Primer is just a figment of his imagination. I so wish I had had a copy, growing up. Even now.


At Tue Sep 26, 01:56:00 am, Blogger First Nations said...

.....and that will be going on my list as well. thanks!
you write a great review. i wish i could. i get too in awe of the authors skill to dare it, i think. you made me want to read this, though. dang!


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