As reported today by BoingBoing, my favorite Neal Stephenson novel, perhaps even my favorite science fiction novel, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, is being produced by George Clooney for The Sci-Fi Channel as a six hour miniseries. Even though a really great adaptation is perhaps too much to hope for i'm still pretty chuffed that someone with Clooney's commitment to quality is overseeing a teleplay certain to give this multifaceted book a wider audience. It's now over a decade old, but this dense, colorful jumble of cyberpunk, steampunk, nanotechnology, history and sociology is still fresh and perhaps more relevant.
Though it won the Hugo in 1996, The Diamond Age is controversial even among Stephenson fans, in part i think because the dual protagonists deny the ending of a standard closure. In my unscientific poll of Stephenson readers, it seems that people who thought the book was primarily about Nell loved it, the people who thought it was about Hackworth, not so much. i don't recommend this for someone planning to read it for the first time (much spoilage), but the excellent Wikipedia entry has some elaboration on this issue. Like Dune, Diamond Age is a madly cultish book, and undoubtedly any television adaptation will multiply the book's fanatic admirers.
It's funny, recently i was thinking about The Diamond Age while reading about The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation. Some writers had issues with Oprah developing charities in South Africa rather than North America, or with lavishly equipping and housing a small number of girls, rather than warehousing and training the largest number of students possible with the funds allotted. The idea of giving girls education, culture, and tools specifically to enhance their leadership potential reminded me of the Victorian and Chinese girls with their runcibles. It seems to me that if a billionaire is investing in the futures of young people, it's all speculative, but positive. Without wealth exceeding even Ms. Winfrey's, there's simply no way to prove the more practical approach, but her goal isn't merely standard competence, but exceptional acheivements. When Oprah explained her interest in African girls was because, more than Americans they appreciate and grab the opportunity, it led me to consider the tension between cultural paradigms illustrated by the Victorian girls and the Mouse Army. If someone was actually able to build 'ractive' illustrated primers, i think it likely that Oprah would be willing to bankroll them to empower her girls.