I’d read a lot of books since middle school. Many, many bad fantasy novels, some amazing novels, some classics and some of the ones that continue to be a staple of high-schoolers in the 80’s and 90’s. Looking back on those books, a lot of them were about adventure, but also about searching for something bigger than one’s self. I wasn’t really a science fiction reader, but I was a big fan of a tech writer and novelist named Neal Stephenson. It was 1996 and his book The Diamond Age had my full attention.
Sometime in the mid nineties, I discovered William Gibson and cyberpunk and was sucked into this vision of the near future. The stories were generally neither bleak, nor utopian. They were very much like the world we live in now, actually. Watching the possibilities of new technologies like virtual reality, the internet, and 3-d printing unfold against a backdrop of industrial espionage and ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary situations was amazing. Cyberpunk was in the Science Fiction Section, so I must be a scifi fan, right?
I picked up The Diamond Age, during the fall of my sophomore year of college. I’d just moved to a new state, new town and a new school, and was figuring out what I wanted to do with the art degree I was working on. The book didn’t change my life, but it did put it all into sudden focus, defining many of my thoughts on education, hypocrisy, subversiveness, community, making things, the use of technology, and parenthood. The book follows the stories of three main characters. John Hackworth is an nanotech engineer, literally making custom objects and machines from atoms. Miranda Redpath, an actress in virtual reality productions. Finally, there is Nell, who is really the central character of the book, a young girl who is given a book that changes her life.