Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Banished to unfrequented parts of their minds

Hackworth had enjoyed San Francisco and was hardly immune to its charm, but Atlantis/Shanghai had imbued him with the sense that all the old cities of the world were doomed, except possibly as theme parks, and that the future was in the new cities, built from the bedrock up one atom at a time, their Feed lines as integral as capillaries were to flesh. The old neighborhoods of Shanghai, Feedless or with overhead Feeds kludged in on bamboo stilts, seemed frighteningly inert, like an opium addict squatting in the middle of a frenetic downtown street, blowing a reed of sweet smoke out between his teeth, staring into some ancient dream that all the bustling pedestrians had banished to unfrequented parts of their minds. Hackworth was heading for one of those neighbourhoods right now, as fast as he could walk.

— from The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson.

I'm not enjoying this novel as much as I expected to, but it's early still, and I suspect a great deal of my difficulty with it has to do with the fact that I'm away, sadly not in Stephenson's Shanghai, and my focus is elsewhere. I'm having a hard time following the plot, but the world is sufficiently interesting, although it is revealed in a fairly expository manner.

Maybe it's the wrong book for the wrong time and place. However, there are several bits I'm finding compellingly strange and witty, and I anticipate a pay-off.

I'm also looking forward to starting Stephenson's Anathem, which I recently acquired, particularly since its appearance on a list of 10 recent science fiction books that are about big ideas. After all... Science monks! Big ideas!

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