A hundred years from now, Anathem will be revered as one of the great books of our time. Not only because it’s a gripping story, but because it seemsA hundred years from now, Anathem will be revered as one of the great books of our time. Not only because it’s a gripping story, but because it seems to predict how philosophy will resurface from the catacombs that science buried it under. The discipline has been in decline ever since the Enlightenment, while science has been on the rise. In Anathem we see the potential for a merging of the two; that as we continue to theorize about the metaphysical implications of quantum theory and multiverses, new schools of thought will emerge that are more based on quasi-religious philosophies and less on the scientific method.
Set on the Earth-like planet Arbre, Erasmas (strangely whose name sounds like a portmaneteau of the man who raised me) tells the story of how he and his Concent- a sort of university cum abbey- try to figure out why a spaceship is hovering over their planet. Erasmas is part of an elite group of thinkers called theors who probe the mysteries of the cosmos using thought alone, long after the technology used to extract scientific knowledge was banned to them by the Saecular World. They aren’t even allowed in the Saecular World unless it’s a holiday, at which point they're encouraged to show people glimpses of theoric life.
The most important thing to know before tackling this beast of a book is that it will require some patience to get attuned with the interesting world Stephenson has created. He uses a lot of kooky words to replace things in our language, most of which are regular philosophical terms. In fact, the whole book is like a survey course in logic, as there are many dialogues which display the lost art of rhetoric. He also finds no shame in throwing out historical events on Arbre as if we should already know about them (don’t worry- there’s a chronology after the Table of Contents). But if you’re patient enough to get through the first few hundred pages, which all take place at the Concent, you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable adventure through the world of Arbre, outer space, and even the fabric of space-time. That being said, lot of this book is work. It challenges you to solve an increasingly complex mystery of causation, evincing daunting subjects like abstract geometry, time travel, and inter-dimensional "worldtracks".
The Ending (spoiler alert)
For anyone who's a bit lost about what happened at the end, maybe this summary will help. It may not have appeared so at first, but Arbre is the home planet of the Geometers. A thousand years before the current events take place, the Geometers emigrated to outer space using a technology that allowed them to travel through different cosmos. Mind you, this is in a different narrative. In the book a narrative is something that branches apart from a worldtrack. Worldtracks are sequences of causation that exist in an infinite amount of cosmos, whereas narratives are sequences of causation that exist as outcomes of the choices people make. Narratives have little bearing on the natural world, whereas worldtracks are restrained by the laws of whatever physical parameters a cosmos may possess.
Since the Geometers left Arbre in a different narrative, there was no way for anyone in the current one to know about them. That's why they were deemed aliens upon returning to their planet. However there were theors who did know about worldtracks and narratives. After noticing geometric patterns on their spaceship that resembled their own, they deduced that the Geometers had returned home after a millennium of traveling through cosmos. These were the Thousanders, whom Fraa Jad was a member of. In fact, the Thousanders were the ones who'd signaled them to return to Arbre because they felt that a Reconstitution was in order, which would free them from the Concents and diminish the power of the Saecular World. I'm not sure how they did this, but somehow they signaled them back using the "Wick": an inter-dimensional thread which extends through "Hemn Space" into other cosmos. Meanwhile during this thousand year stretch, the Geometers inhabited various planets in four different cosmos, one of which was Earth, suggesting that in the Anathem multiverse we on Earth are descended from avouts on Arbre. Meaning, our ancestors came from a planet in an entirely different cosmos.
Lastly I will touch on the mystery of Fraa Jad. Not only was he a Thousander, but a gifted Incanter. An Incanter is a person with the ability to alter physical reality or change the past by whispering incantations, which he does several times in the book. He was magically able to "cut and paste" narratives on top of one another to create a scenario where he could save the world, negotiate with the Geometers, and die while meticulously allowing Fraa Erasmas and his friends to claim all his glory in order to cover up the power he had. The reason for this cover up was that the avouts didn't think the Geometers, much less the Secular World, should know they had people who were capable of changing the past. That kind of knowledge would bring disaster to Arbre and any other planet colonized by the Geometers.
Anathem is such a fascinating book: truly one of the all-time greats. It really expanded my mind and made me see things in a new light. It shows new potentials in story-telling and philosophy that I think may influence other writers in the distant future. Because let's face it, this is a book far ahead of its time, and most of the world isn't ready for it yet. We may even make scientific discoveries that the book would seem to prophesize, elevating its status as a classic. It always makes me nervous to make claims like this, since I haven't read every single book, but along with Cloud Atlas I believe this is the best book released this century so far, and the finest speculative fiction novel since Gravity's Rainbow. ...more
You know a writer's great when he has the ability to change the way you think about the world. Borges' mathematical interpretation of cosmology branchYou know a writer's great when he has the ability to change the way you think about the world. Borges' mathematical interpretation of cosmology branches off in several directions with all the stories he writes. Some are set in the real world, but most are set in fantasy worlds, where the narrator might appear to be talking about our world at first, instead of his own.
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius left me speechless. Imagine a world of immaterial things- only the thoughts and ideas of geniuses, with no actions whatsoever. It's like a representation of what the afterlife might look like on the Mental Plane of metaphyisical philosophy.
The Circular Ruins is like the idea behind The NeverEnding Story - that our creator is imagining (or dreaming) us into existence, while we in turn dream him (or others) into existence.
The Lottery of Babylon suggests that the creator of the world leaves everything up to chance; that everything that happens, even something as insignificant as a grain of sand landing on a beach, is the result of a lottery number drawn from an infinite number of others.
The Library of Babel also plays with the idea of infinite possibilities. It suggests that the narrator's universe is made up of an infinite number of rooms where books can be arranged in an infinite number of letters. I sure wouldn't want the daunting task of doing research in that library!
The idea behind The Garden of Forking Paths probably makes the most sense out of all of them. It says that time is an infinite fractal of constantly diverging paths; that everything that has happened and could possibly happen exists in our universe and ones parallel to it. This seems to predict some of the new multiverse theories in cosmological physics, though I don't think he ever studied it.
Borges was a straight up genius. Even though his stories are fast-paced, he leaves enough on the table for you to understand, though not always completely!...more
Simply incredible. Valente has created an original blend of moving prose, surreal fantasy, and religious adventure. Her mythological sorcery is enhancSimply incredible. Valente has created an original blend of moving prose, surreal fantasy, and religious adventure. Her mythological sorcery is enhanced by some very profound writing. She is an instant favorite....more
I’ll start by saying that Pryan is another fascinating, otherworldly planet, unique in scope like Arianus in Dragon Wing and Aberrach in Fire Sea .I’ll start by saying that Pryan is another fascinating, otherworldly planet, unique in scope like Arianus in Dragon Wing and Aberrach in Fire Sea . The planet is turned inside out, meaning its surface is on the inside and subjected to constant daylight by four “stars” centered at the core. Naturally, this creates a planetary greenhouse effect, which causes the jungle-laden surface to sprout mega trees the size of continents.
Elven Star is also interesting for its diverse cast of species & characters. Elves, dwarves, humans, giants, dragons, and one kooky wizard bring balance to a story loaded with contrasting personalities. The thing that really enhances this book, at least for me, is the coupling of forbidden romance with raw, apocalyptic adventure. Not to mention the well placed comic relief; there’s no shortage of wisecrack humor and dramatic hysterics. The unstable relationships between Alethea & Roland; the dragon and Zinfab; Roland & Rega; the dwarf and pretty much everyone; Zinfab and pretty much everyone; Haplo and pretty much everyone, is the chaos one might expect after centuries of racial instability yields to the sudden unification of a global alliance, much like in Lord Of The Rings .
It has it’s moral perks and immoral downfalls as well: from the breaking of race barriers to betrayal and abandonment (Haplo, you dick!). Don’t let the first hundred pages of character development turn you off, or the fact that it’s far different from Dragon Wing . The action & drama comes at you in full force for the remainder of the book. Once the giants invade the land it’s an unrelenting page turner. One of the most intense passages I've ever read was when the giants first rumbled onto the pages- when Paithan and Rega were trapped on that enormous mushroom....more
A little too much Douglas Adams and not enough Clive Barker. It's funny, but over-the-top randomness is a turn-off for me. The City Of Dreaming BooksA little too much Douglas Adams and not enough Clive Barker. It's funny, but over-the-top randomness is a turn-off for me. The City Of Dreaming Books is more subdued in that department (though not by much), and it also has something resembling a plot. First timers to Walter Moers should start with that book, not this jumble of aimless wandering. The creativity factor earned it an extra star, but other than that there's not much going for it....more
This is a great start to what appears to be a phenomenal fantasy series. On Arianus a storm of political discontent makes life interesting for an assaThis is a great start to what appears to be a phenomenal fantasy series. On Arianus a storm of political discontent makes life interesting for an assassin, an abandoned prince, two estranged magicians, and a revolutionary dwarf. Arianus, the world of air, is every bit as wondrous as Abarrach in Fire Sea. With floating continents of coralite, a deep-core maelstrom, an icy firmament, arrogant elves, repressed dwarves, and flying dragons, this book did not disappoint. Trust me, this isn't your typical medieval-based fantasy; it's complex, multi-dimensional, otherworldly, has mysterious characters, and the plots are perfectly paced....more