I recently finished Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. I think I can enumerate Neal Stephenson up there with Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut, those weird, funny, mind-stretching guys who write. I wonder why I haven't discovered any women who write like that? Something to ponder.
The Diamond Age centers around Princess Nell in a steampunk sort of world, where Neo-Victorians ride on robotic horses and build huge builings in the sky made out of diamond that is from a matter compiler. A lot of the action is in Shanghai, and in the Leased Territories, and towards the end it takes place underwater.
Nell is a little girl who lives in a dirt poor neighborhood with terrible parents, and her brother Harv lives with her too. Harv is her parent figure in this uncertain world; he teaches her things, and takes care of her. One day he brings her The Young Ladies Illustrated Primer, which he stole from a Vicky (Victorian). The thing is, it's a very special book, and it teaches her to read and so on.
The narrator of the book is a real person named Miranda, who slowly begins to think of herself as Nell's mom. She witnesses, through what Nell says, horrible things in Nell's life. It messes with poor Miranda's head, so Carl Hollywood, sort of her agent, feels compelled to help her. Meanwhile, John Hackworth, the unfortunate creator of the book, becomes involved in all sorts of adventures. You see, his creation of the book was ... illegal. He was supposed to make only one copy of the book, and it was for the grandaughter of a noble, but he also secretly made two. One was supposed to be for his daughter, but it got stolen before he could give it to her.
Nell struggles and overcomes her demons, rises in society, and she becomes the real heroine. One thing I really like about Neal Stephenson's female characters -- they are strong women. Amy Shaftoe in The Crypt0nomicron was also a very strong woman character. I find it quite fascinating that such a macho man as Neal Stephenson seems to be could consistly create such strong women characters. I like it.
Neal Stephenson is a very Dickensian writer, too, in the level of details he gives about people and scenery, and Nell's story, rising from the depths of society to the very top, is like something out of Dickens, too.
He ended this book the same way as The Crytonomicron, abruptly. That's one thing I don't like about his writing. But, it's very masculine of him; he was done with the story, so he just ended it. And really, he said everything that needed to be said. I guess I just wanted to keep hearing his voice :)