The Age of the Illustrated Primer

I read Snow Crash ages ago, and had always intended to come back to Neal Stephenson and read more. I just didn’t get around to it until now. My boyfriend purchased me a copy of The Diamond Age, sure I would love it, and he was right.

The Diamond Age is a story not only about the coming of age of several young women of different societal statures, but also of invention, individuality, and the importance of education, all presented in a cyberpunk futuristic world with digital paper and cybernetic horses.

Now, one of the most interesting things about this book was the fact that it was originally printed in 1995 but the tech that he talks about in this book became a reality in 1997 when E Ink spun off of the MIT Media lab, and with the debut of interactive books for the iPad just a couple years ago, we are pretty darn close to the primary Maguffin of this book: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. All that is missing is a slightly more advanced AI that can adapt the story to the reader’s environment. Our Print to Voice technology is almost good enough to handle the read aloud component as is.

This makes this trippy, tribalistic future that much more realistic, which is both frightening and exciting. Imagine being able to adapt every child’s education to their individual experiences. The kind of creativity and advancement this could foster would be incredible.

But, enough about what this book talks about. Suffice it to say that the alternate future it plays with is just about as odd as the one in Snow Crash and just as fun to read about. The writing itself is flawless. Engaging and unique, as all of Neal’s books are, it also takes a chapter or two before you get used to the language he uses. He has a whole new vocabulary he introduces to deal with his fractured society, and it takes a little bit to understand what everything is, but that adjustment period is entirely worth it. Once you get past the first 12 pages, you’re golden.

So, if you’d like a not-quite dystopian conversation about the importance of education and individuality, The Diamond Age is definitely the book for you. Just have patience with the opening, Stephenson rewards you in time.

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