Fantasy, Fiction, Other-cultures, Scifi, Scifi month, Society, Steampunk

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?

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Darius Jung
4 years ago

Wow, this one sounds awesome! Thanks for the recommendation ☺️

Patrick Sean Lee
4 years ago

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… Read more »

Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy

You’ve sold me, I would love to read this. I always wanted to read Snow Crash but I’m intimidated by it for some reason?? So in any case, I hope to try one of his books soon. Thanks for sharing!

4 years ago

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!

4 years ago

You had me at Neo-Victorians! I realize I haven’t read ANY Utopia books at all, so this sounds like a promising start!

Paul Liadis
4 years ago

Another one I own but haven’t gotten to. I sense a theme 🙂 I really need to work on my speed reading thing. Actually at work we had a presentation on learning to read faster, but that actually sounds not-fun to me.

4 years ago

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

Dunno, I don’t read many books set in modern America.

*pew* *pew* /finger guns in the air

Lisa Taylor
4 years ago

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.

Lashaan Balasingam
4 years ago

This sounds super awesome! I need to read a Neal Stephenson book ASAP!!! Love all these reasons you point out too. Especially a utopia!!! Utopia gone wrong are so rare too. Great review. 🙂

Laura Thomas
4 years ago

Utopian makes me think of Stepford Wives. LOL Everyone is the same and all are happy. I don’t think I’ve read a utopian. Just so you know, that wasn’t me sneaking away. LOL Loved your review. Even if a book isn’t a wowzer, you still make it entertaining to read about.

4 years ago

…and I’m just going to add another book to my tbr now…

Brian Joeseph
4 years ago

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.

Hanna - Booking in Heels

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 🙂

Hanna - Booking in Heels

They don’t have it! How is that fair!? They have TWO copies of D.O.D.O. but not this!?