by Neal Stephenson
Book list Stephenson's dazzling cyberspace adventure, Snow Crash (1992), drew accolades as one of the most innovative, thought-provoking first sf novels since William Gibson's Neuromancer. Unlike Gibson, who followed with lesser sequels, Stephenson breaks new ground in a grand-scale forecast of the coming nanotechnological revolution. John Percival Hackworth is a cultured nanotech engineer who risks the censure of his neo-Victorian social class, or tribe, when he forges a copy of an interactive, computer-driven book called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. With the unprecedented power to single-handedly educate its reader, the primer is designed to shape the values and maintain the superiority of the dominant tribe. During a mugging, however, Hackworth loses the copy to a lower-class thug, who in turn gives it to his sister Nell. As Nell learns secrets from the magic book, her understanding of herself and her world grows in ways the primer's designers never intended, and the entire destiny of society changes irrevocably. Stephenson's command of character and stylistic nuance has grown captivatingly stronger, and he now offers startling new ideas in virtually every paragraph. With breathtaking vision and insight, Stephenson establishes himself as not only a major voice in contemporary sf but also a prophet of technology's future. ~--Carl HaysNON-BOXED REVIEWS
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publishers Weekly Stephenson's fourth solo novel, set primarily in a far-future Shanghai at a time when nations have been superseded by enclaves of common cultures (``claves''), abundantly justifies the hype that surrounded Snow Crash, his first foray into science fiction. Here, the author avoids the major structural problem of that book-a long lump of philosophical digression-by melding myriad perspectives and cogitations into his tale, which is simultaneously SF, fantasy and a masterful political thriller. Treating nanotechnology as he did virtual reality in Snow Crash-as a jumping-off point-Stephenson presents several engaging characters. John Percival Hackworth is an engineer living in a neo-Victorian clave, who is commissioned by one of the world's most powerful men to create a Primer that might enable the man's granddaughter to be educated in ways superior to the ``straight and narrow.'' When Hackworth is mugged, an illegal copy of the Primer falls into the hands of a working-class girl named Nell, and a most deadly game's afoot. Stephenson weaves several plot threads at once, as the paths of Nell, Hackworth and other significant characters-notably Nell's brother Harv, Hackworth's daughter Fiona and an actress named Miranda-converge and diverge across continents and complications, most brought about by Hackworth's actions and Nell's development. Building steadily to a wholly earned and intriguing climax, this long novel, which presents its sometimes difficult technical concepts in accessible ways, should appeal to readers other than habitual SF users. Author tour. (Jan.)
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