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#medieval #play #feudal #inquiry

In Viriconium (1982), M. John Harrison: moody portrait of artistic subcultures in a city beset by a mysterious plague

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (1995), Neal Stephenson: a novel with a neo-Victorian social structure

The Windup Girl (2009), Paolo Bacigalupi: technological advancements clash feudal social patterns

medieval social patterns clash with advanced technology

The novels “In Viriconium” by M. John Harrison, “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson, and “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi blend elements of medieval social structures, feudal patterns, and artistic subcultures in ways that align with Johan Huizinga’s concept of play. Examining how play manifests in these societies sheds light on their designs, structures, and characters.

In “The Diamond Age,” Stephenson presents a neo-Victorian society where advanced technology coexists with Victorian social norms and hierarchy. A rigid class system categorizes individuals by birth, wealth and status, mirroring Victorian stratification. Technology reinforces this divide rather than advancing equality. Ractors, personalized AI assistants, perpetuate class distinctions through their use. The novel explores blending futurism with archaism and the consequences.

“The Windup Girl” depicts a post-apocalyptic world where powerful corporations and families dominate despite renewable technologies. A caste system limits social mobility, paralleling feudal exploitation. Lower classes face servitude and objectification. Themes of rebellion against oppression emerge within this framework. Both novels examine the outcomes of merging the new with the old, considering how power dynamics impact individuals.

“Viriconium” portrays a decaying city sustaining artistic subcultures. A class hierarchy echoes feudal structure. References to knights evoke medieval codes while artistic flourishing diverges from such rigidity. Its fluctuating landscape challenges stability, mirroring subcultural transience. Like Umberto Eco’s works analyzing recurring historical patterns, “Viriconium” blends fact and fiction yet focuses more on art, decline and change.

Huizinga viewed play as central to human culture, not solely entertainment but a phenomenon shaping societies and their configurations. These novels exhibit play in their designs:

In “Viriconium,” the city serves as a playground for characters and readers amid fantasy and ruin. Subcultures embody play through creative exploration and blurred reality/imagination. Decay mirrors play’s separation from everyday life.

Nell’s interactive Primer guides her learning through games and stories in “The Diamond Age,” representing structured play facilitating growth. The society resembles a complex game as factions strategize within hierarchal structure.

Power dynamics in “The Windup Girl” resemble a manipulative game as elites control lower strata. Emiko performs for others’ amusement, exemplifying objectification through play. Genetic experimentation highlights unintended dangers of such experimentation.

While incorporating play, these novels also delve into its darker and more complex aspects. Playfulness can enable exploitation and systems’ devolution rather than liberation. Overall, they provide insightful perspectives on how play shapes worlds and reflects humanity, for better and worse.

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  1. neomedievalism decades apart
    Neomedievalism refers to the revival or reimagining of themes, aesthetics, and influences from the medieval period in contemporary culture. It