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Neo-Victorians, Utopia And The Big Picture The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

What does an advanced supercomputer, an important and powerful equity lord, a judge following Confucian principles and a poor, little girl who lives in a bad neighbourhood have to do with each other? A lot, as it turns out, if we’re talking about The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson.

It’s really hard to sum this book up for you without actually giving away important detail. Let me just say that a certain very valuable and certainly smart object falls into a little girl’s hands, which it shouldn’t have done. That has consequences bigger than just the change in the little girl’s life that it brings up. In a way, it’s the coming-of-age story of this little girl, however, it’s not only that. As I’m starting to believe most of Neal Stephenson’s book are, it’s written to bring out the big picture and it certainly delivers. How does one little thing influence and create an entire subculture? Well, that’s what this cyberpunk scifi utopia is about.

And now let’s more on to reasons why you want to read it.

It’s A Utopia For Once

How many times have you actually read a Utopia? Huh?

(I can hear you silently disappearing into the night, one by one.)

Cause you probably have not. It’s all about dystopia! The last utopia I’ve heard of? I think it must have been the one written by Thomas More. Because after that, it’s been one dystopia after another, and frankly? Sick. And. Tired. Which is why I’m so glad to actually read a contemporary Utopia! Okay, so those societies might still be struggling here and there, but it’s a world that actually works. So there. Bite it, dystopia.


Neal Stephenson has crafted an incredible world here. It wouldn’t be possible for me to delve into the details here because (that’s why the book is 500 pages long, really!) There are so many cultural groups in this book aside from the Neo-Victorians, but they are focused upon the most (and let’s face it. They need to be there for the cyberpunk to actually happen.) Imagine a society that’s more technologically advanced than us, but take their tea seriously and transport themselves on mechanical horses. Never forget Victorian costume. I am not sure I would like to live in a society like that, but reading about one? Hell yes please!!

The Big Picture

You might have noticed that I have lots of love for big picture scifi. I love it when an author makes you concentrate on the little things, on particular characters, and then twists and turns the events in a way which suddenly enables them to zoom out quickly and blow your mind with the amazing effect it had on society, the environment, the planet, the universe… I am in awe of books that do that. Neal Stephenson? He’s a master at it. And The Diamond Age is no exception. This particular story focuses on how small events make big changes come up in societies. And once again, I loved how Stephenson presented this. *claps*


I liked this book and all, but… There’s just something it lacks. Maybe that’s just good cut-editing. Because at times I felt like maybe it didn’t need to be 500 pages long or present so much detail to keep the story going. At times I didn’t know quite where it was headed. The language also reinforced that, because it was really genuine with all of the invented or old-world terminology, but some of that sometimes jarred me. And considering the book is already 500 pages long, I don’t want to be reading it slower than I have to. Despite this, I still believe it’s worth a read! I don’t regret reading it and I certainly feel like it expanded my horizons. So I will definitely be reading more of Neal Stephenson’s books.

Have you read anything by Neal Stephenson? Have you also felt like he writes real “big-picture” books?

I’m Evelina and I try to blog about books that matter, with a bit of fun there too! Disability and equality will be topics you see a lot, but there’s also a lot of scifi, fantasy and… GIFs. I’m also the proud founder of #ARCsAnonymous.

28 thoughts on “Neo-Victorians, Utopia And The Big Picture The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

  1. When I think of Utopia, my mind always flashes immediately to a society, or world, where nothing happens, lol. It’s like we’re all citizens on Krypton. Well educated, altruistic to a fault. “Excuse me Ma’am, I so apologize for bumping into you on this beautiful summer morning with so many smiling faces everywhere.” Instead of, “Hey, watch where yer goin’, you old bat!” Pulls pistol, points and cocks it. Her, that is.

    A strange example of utopian characters comes to mind. A commercial on TV recently. Lexus. A man is crossing the street, his papers fly everywhere suddenly. He’s about to gather them up. A driver is approaching, speeding a bit. He slams on the brakes, THEN gives the poor pedestrian a crappy look, and THEN raises his hands in an obvious gesture of disgust at the poor guy. I know he’s thinking, “You fuc**** idiot, I could have killed you.” He sure doesn’t get out to help the guy pick up his papers…and maybe ask if he’s ok. That’s our current utopian society.

    A book that is truly driven by idealistic characters would be a tough sell, eh? Do you know of any? I do:)

    1. You have a good point about utopias, that’s what it feels like to me 😀 actually, I am wondering if I was correct calling this a utopia? Because it does have its problems and it does sort of fall apart in places by the end, but generally – it’s a world that works. Because in dystopias we are reading either about tyranny, or just general anarchy. And in contrast, this book has a working, affluent society, and many different cultures one can belong to if one wants. So it would seem utopia is the fitting one here.

      Actually, lol, that quote example you gave about bumping into someone is exactly how a New-Victorian WOULD behave 😀 😀 so you nailed it!

      You are right, everyone is so busy with their own enlightenment and ‘mindfulness’ that they forget to be mindful of one another. So your Lexus ad does paint a correct picture!

    1. Awww I loved Snow Crash (ahem, when I was 19. I don’t know how I’d find it now – 20 years have changed my expectations a bit). I actually found it more accessible than The Diamond Age, but after Avalinah’s comments I might have to revisit both and see how I get on!
      imyril recently posted…Tremontaine: My Life for Your LifeMy Profile

    2. I think Snow Crash is next on my list 🙂 I can totally get being intimidated by Neal Stephenson 😀 his books are very long, his language pretty full of complex and flowery words. However, I recommend reading Seveneves first, maybe… It was just so good. Set in space too, and I didn’t feel like it dragged as much as this one, although it is longer 🙂

    1. I know right, those New-Victorians were exactly the thing that hooked me about this book 🙂 but all the other social and cultural groups were also very very interesting. I hope you enjoy this, if you read it 🙂

    1. I’m not even surprised you own this! It seems like you have all the good sci-fi books 😀
      You are right, I also thought speed reading sounds totally unfun. That’s why I’ve never tried learning it. But now it just sort of works. But I guess you have to get in the rhythm, because there will be some books that you just want to enjoy and not speed read. So it really depends on what you’re reading, I guess 🙂 I read different books at different speeds.

  2. I read Snow Crash and enjoyed it, except for the like 30 pages on toilet paper distrubution that I really could have done without. This is one I’ve been meaning to try at some point.

    1. Toilet paper distribution? XD haha… yes, Neal Stephenson is like that sometimes. Or rather, you sometimes wonder what his editors were doing.
      I hope you enjoy this one, if and when you get to it 🙂

    1. Thanks Lashaan, and you definitely do need to read something of Stephenson’s 🙂 just prepare yourself for a long read. I might have mentioned this (about a zillion times already…), but I really loved Seveneves by Stephenson, so I can recommend that one even more than this one 🙂

    1. That’s the thing – the Stepford wives is more like a masqueraded dystopia. In a Utopia, things actually work 😀 and not in a way where everyone needs to be a robot. A good Utopia, I would say, is Island by Aldous Huxley. I really loved it 🙂
      And thanks! I’m glad you enjoy my reviews, it always makes my day to read your wonderful comments 🙂

  3. Great post as always. This sounds very original and very good. The world that you describe in your commentary sounds fascinating. I love the idea of the mechanical horses. I also like thoughtful science fiction.

    I have read a few books that might be classified as fictional Utopias. Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed was probably the best of them.
    Brian Joeseph recently posted…The Power by Naomi AldermanMy Profile

    1. Thank you, Brian! I think you might enjoy this one. If you love the idea of those horses (chevalines, they called them), I think you would be absolutely in awe with THE REST of the amazing gadgets and appliances. And I think you would enjoy the social and cultural aspects of this book too.
      I will check out the Dispossessed! Somehow, people have been recommending me Le Guin’s books this last week or two 🙂

  4. OH MY GOD, I NEED THIS BOOK. It’s terrifying how often I think that after ending up on your blog. You’re bad for my wallet.

    It sounds like a slightly earlier version of D.O.D.O. (which I loved and you need to read) so as soon as I’ve finished this comment I’m clicking over to the library website 🙂

      1. What, really?? O_o that’s the plus of ebooks, I guess 😀 Well, D.O.D.O. is the newest one. This or this seem to be available?
        I really want to read D.O.D.O. myself though, I’ve heard great stuff about it too 🙂

    1. xD I just wish you also bought from Book Depository then xDDD kidding, but lol, affiliate links are so useless, aren’t they?
      I do think maybe they could have this in the library though? It isn’t a new book, so it should be available 🙂

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