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
If you enjoy world-building then 2312 is a must read. Kim Stanley Robinson has all kinds of brilliant ideas about the solar system 300 years from now If you enjoy world-building then 2312 is a must read. Kim Stanley Robinson has all kinds of brilliant ideas about the solar system 300 years from now. Most of them are based on the idea of terraforming- a way of altering an astronomical object to make it suitable for habitat. A lot of the places that get terraformed in 2312 were engineered as a way of preserving ecosystems and communities on Earth that became uninhabitable after Global Warming and the mass extinctions of the 21st century.
Robinson takes us to almost every planet and a large variety of moons and asteroids, each of which have been terraformed into unique environments. Venus aptly has cities named after Goddesses and famous women. One of them is made of seashells (which must be a reference to Boticelli's Venus). By terraforming Venus, engineers used a giant shield to deflect all the solar radiation that formerly made the planet inhospitable. They also bombarded it with meteors in order to increase its spin. Then on Mars they built supersized hexagonal canals that were connected to each other at their vertices, allowing the whole planet to become irrigated. The peak of Olympus Mons is a top destination for space travelers, and the site of an important wedding ceremony in the book. Saturn's turbulent atmosphere is also visited, and there's a fun little segment where people go surfing on the rings of the planet.
Mercury's the home of Swan, a hundred-something year old designer who's as irritable as any protagonist I've encountered. She teams up with a group of investigators interested in solving the reason why Mercury's main city Terminator was destroyed. They think it has something to do with robotic humans called 'qubes', making 2312 yet another warning about the consequences of machines becoming humanized.
This book changed my perspective on the solar system. Though I'd read about other planets and their moons before, I'd never actually visited them in my mind. And there were so many asteroids that got engineered in interesting ways that it made me wonder if terraforming will ever be possible as an art form. Robinson went out of his way to dedicate whole chapters to listing off these worlds. That brings me to the next interesting thing about this book: a lot of it is experimental. Some chapters are fragmented and encyclopedic, while others are poetic and ambiguous, leaving a lot to the reader to decide what happens in between the gray areas. However, most of the book is written in the standard narrative form we're all familiar with.
One of the gripes some people have about 2312 is that the main characters are either unlikable or just plain boring. Swan may be stubborn and bratty, but I found her more interesting than some of the other strong female leads in literature, who show no emotion at all. Speaking of no emotion, there's Wahram- Swan's love interest- who's a total square. I was surprised he didn't turn out to be a robot. Despite their faults they make a good couple, and you start to see why their differences draw them to each other near the end of the book.
Of all the intriguing ideas Robinson came up with, the one below made me feel like a more complete person. It's hard to explain why, but if you enjoy reading, writing, and science the way I do, you may have some use for it:
"To form a sentence is to collapse many superposed wave functions to a single thought universe. Multiplying the lost universes word by word, we can say that each sentence extinguishes 10^n universes, where n is the number of words in the sentence. Each thought condenses trillions of potential thoughts. Thus we get verbal overshadowing, where the language we use structures the reality we inhabit. Maybe this is a blessing. Maybe this is why we need to keep making sentences."
The idea of thought being a dimension of space is what particularly draws me to it. Like time there are infinite varieties of thought, and therefore an infinite potential of sentences, each of which are defined here as existing in their own realm as a thought-form. This means that the activity of writing a sentence can be an act of creation; that as the pen moves across the paper, new universes are being born after each period. So, a whole book would contain its own multiverse. And a library? Well, there's no word for that yet....more
I’m rating this based on it’s memorability and not on how much I enjoyed it. The bone-chilling ending threw my thoughts on it sideways and I can't sayI’m rating this based on it’s memorability and not on how much I enjoyed it. The bone-chilling ending threw my thoughts on it sideways and I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone due to its sheer unbelievability. It also takes a long time to get into, partly because the main character isn’t introduced until halfway through the book and partly because the subject material jumps around. Huxley has created here a “utopian dystopia”, in which everyone is happy, but for all the wrong reasons. Brainwashing, cloning, conditioning, and class stratification are all morally compromised in order to make the world a “better place”. The writer does a tremendous job of undermining the philosophy of the World State by making examples of his characters. Supposedly it's a satire, but I only found it moderately funny. Books like 1984, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Infinite Jest must have taken ideas from Brave New World, so its influence cannot be ignored.
*Spoilers* The dynamic between Lenina and John is particularly interesting to me. John was affluent in Shakespeare and Brave New World ended up being sort of being a cross between Othello and Romeo & Juliet . It is a doomed romance, but only one of the lovers ends up committing suicide- the male one, for his guilt in raping (not killing) the woman he “loved”. You have to feel sorry for both Lenina and John. Lenina was this empty beauty queen who’d finally found a man that didn’t just want her for sex, and in the end we see her crying and holding her heart because she clearly missed John. Then John broke her heart by doing what he did, but was it really his fault? John had to succumb to the conditioned masses because someone had released soma into the air. Then they harassed him into doing the very thing he sought to exile himself from. It begs the question: if drugs and conditioning made rape orgies socially acceptable- praised even to the point of glorification- would people still do it? I like to think not....more
Great plots, good endings, but really dry writing. I had heard that Philip K. Dick inspired a lot of my favorite movies, so I thought I'd check him ouGreat plots, good endings, but really dry writing. I had heard that Philip K. Dick inspired a lot of my favorite movies, so I thought I'd check him out. Maybe his short stories are too fast paced, so I'll try his longer work and see if that style suits him better.
Favorites from this collection: Fair Game Strange Eden Sales Pitch We Can Remember It For You Wholesale...more
Great book! It will probably be a sci-fi classic. Even though it's written for a mainstream audience there are plenty of insightful quotes, and WilsonGreat book! It will probably be a sci-fi classic. Even though it's written for a mainstream audience there are plenty of insightful quotes, and Wilson has a talent for ending sections with remarkable sentences that would probably even keep readers who aren't fans of sci-fi wanting more. Not only that, but that he's served up some fascinating, well-developed characters (most of whom are certified geniuses), and he has a concise way of explaining all the scientific perks that nerds like myself ponder over.
The hook of the book is that Earth, for some mysterious reason, has been blacked out by a membrane which encloses it inside a sort of wormhole which speeds up time. Humans are faced with the daunting task of trying to discover a solution to the "spin" before being swallowed up by the time-lapse of the sun's growth. I thought that it could have been about 100-150 pages shorter: I didn't think the expedition to Mars was necessary, but in the classic sci-fi genre Mars is pretty much essential, so Wilson probably just wanted to take a chapter from his influences. The ending was a perfect cliffhanger, satisfying yet unsatisfying, and has me wanting to read the next installment in the series....more
Interesting thought experiment. What would happen if a whole city went blind? Saramango doesn't seem to be much of an optimist, but his predictions arInteresting thought experiment. What would happen if a whole city went blind? Saramango doesn't seem to be much of an optimist, but his predictions are probably accurate. Nevertheless it's difficult to read about what he thinks would happen. I'm surprised I didn't like it because postmodernist sci-fi's are usually really cool books, and I love long paragraphs that break from convention and meander. Maybe it was a poor translation or it had flat characters that failed to captivate me, but most likely it was the fact that most of the book is set in a white-walled asylum; I guess I felt suffocated by the lack of setting. I think it would have been a much better book if he distributed scenes of civil chaos in the city between the endless chapters of quarantine....more
What on Earth did I just read? Or should I say space? How about the time-dilated multiverse? In sci-fi lingo you could best describe the hypotheticalsWhat on Earth did I just read? Or should I say space? How about the time-dilated multiverse? In sci-fi lingo you could best describe the hypotheticals in this book as the quadruple T: telepathy, teleportation, and time travel. In this day and age these would be classified under the paranormal, but they become quite normal in Bester’s future. If that isn’t enough fun for you then behold the other spectacular oddities that he serves up here: egghead stoics stripped of all senses, an insane blind girl who sees in the infrared, clowns masquerading as bourgeois elitists while plotting the destruction of enterprise, burning spirits showing up at random moments, a man being able to talk after his head is severed from his body, an alloy that detonates with the force of the Big Bang, a bionic man who can slow down time and move at the speed of lightning, unconventional font effects... And what kind of a name is Jiz McQueen? It sounds like a name that Ronald McDonald would make up if he became a cross-dressing pornstar.
Of course, this book has all the machisimo basics that any book for guys can’t go without; like hot women, disjointed shouting, miraculous action sequences, money laundering, romantic betrayal, etc. Gully Foyle, an anti-hero who is strikingly flawed to begin with, is on a mission of vengeance against those who abandoned him in outer space. His primitive drive wreaks all kinds of havoc on the solar system and those closest to him. This psychotic brutality makes it readable even for people who use their conscience because 1) it’s entertaining and 2) his character evolves. It isn’t all this manic space-mongering that makes it widely regarded as one of the best sci-fi books ever written. The greatest thing about this book is Gully’s transformation from a barbaric space cowboy to an interstellar guru. Before the ending I wasn’t sure if I’d give it 5 stars, but now I definitely can.
Author Alfred Bester is a creative genius who uses many interesting plot twists in this fast-paced tale set 400 years in the future. It was only 250 pages, but it could have easily been over 800, as every chapter is jam packed with action and heated dialogue. This isn’t just a book for techies: I’d recommend for anyone into movies like The Matrix, Terminator, The Fifth Element, and Star Wars. ...more
God almighty. Gravity’s Rainbow is so good that it will blast you into the air and land you on cloud 9. Bought my dilapidated 1974 copy for only a bucGod almighty. Gravity’s Rainbow is so good that it will blast you into the air and land you on cloud 9. Bought my dilapidated 1974 copy for only a buck at the used books store. Got my money’s worth more than any other book I own (since it’s over 800 pages), but payed the price mightily with the absence of footnotes. Like Ulysses, there’s so much going on here that no one could possibly put all the pieces together after the first read. Pynchon wanted this book to be studied, but it’s more than just an obscure puzzle. Unlike Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow has an interesting plot. You might not think so judging from the first few hundred disorientating pages because the narrative is parabolic, meaning that the final chapters are just as convoluted as the first. The plot is relatively lucid at the zenith of the parabola, where we get to follow the adventure of a man monitored by an agency that can't figure out why German rockets are landing near places where he's getting erections. Yes, erections. The man, one fugitive Slothrop, is as recklessly courageous as he is comically oblivious, making this novel just as uproariously funny as it is sexually grotesque. It’s set during an alternate history of WW2, mostly on the torn battle-plains of middle Europe. Slothrop’s looking for a specialized rocket that's trying to kill him, and he goes through an awesome series of cartoonish adventures involving all kinds of fucked up people to get there, including two of my favorites; the irate redneck Major Marvy and the sorrowfully beaten Bianca. Pynchon, while highly intelligent, has an uncanny fascination with fecal matter, incest, masochism, paranoia, and kazoos in conjunction with calculus, aerodynamics, metaphysics, chess, tarot, and the kabbalah. What makes it great is that all the quirky eccentricities fit together: imagine the madness of a war set to the antics of an erotic circus and the atmosphere would be this book.
Interpretations (spoilers): The beauty of Gravity’s Rainbow is that both the rationality of the plot and the abstraction of the art give and take from one another, resulting in a massive paradox when taken as a whole. Not only that, but there are an awesome number of metaphors at work here, including the most obvious one- erection and ejaculation with launch and trajectory. During the climax (muffled laughter) Pynchon is making a spectacular metaphor by representing the process of life as the arc of a rocket’s trajectory, while the other half not seen represents the mysterious hauntings of the underworld, life after death, and the plot-holes in the story. But it's a double metaphor: Pynchon wanted Slothrop to represent everyone, including his readers, because everyone has a “Them” that’s out to get you and everyone is going to die because of “Them” (I liked that he lead us to believe that Them was literally General Electric and other industrial tycoons, lol so true). The rocket is coming for Slothrop, who’s sitting inside a movie theater in L.A., but often in the novel Pynchon switches the narrative from Slothrop to YOU, just like he does right at the end, so the rocket’s after YOU too, you who were so confused as to who was after you and failed to make sense of things, just like our paranoid protagonist. Perhaps if this book ever gets turned into a movie you will be sitting there in the theater watching the nose of it coming down to penetrate through the movie screen, and you might even be having sex with someone since you've been sexually conditioned (if anyone was jerking off during the book's climax I really pity you). Aside from that, many other interpretations abound, including an interesting take on its structure that involves a tarot deck, the kabbalah, and the idea that gravity’s rainbow can be a metaphor for the Periodic Table (the rainbow a metaphor in itself; f=ma). It’s really a horny scientist-occultist-paranoiac’s dream book. Clearly original and unlike anything I’ve read before.
I guess I should elaborate on my interpretation of the plot as well. It may be wrong, but this is the only way it makes sense to me. In London Slothrop was attracting the rockets to wherever he was, not the other way around. The Imipolex G in his penis made him a target- all the launches were during his orgasms (good thing he never stayed anywhere too long). His monitors were studying the phenomenon because they didn't understand it... Pointsman and Jamf weren't in on it together. Jamf was working for GE and hence the nazis, while Pointsman was with the allies. Once they discovered that Slothrop's penis had a mysterious power they went through hell to castrate him, but castrated Marvy by mistake (lol). The allies were after the Schwarzommando (aka Enzian) but they should have been after Blicero (aka Weissman), whom they thought was dead. Blicero had the rocket with Imipolex G, not Enzian, and he was the one who fired the 00001 that killed Slothrop in the end, thus proving to all his corporate sponsors that a mind control agenda using manufactured rockets and skin injections was dreadfully possible. The Counterforce was unsuccessful in locating Slothrop, so they snuck into corporate dinner parties and made obnoxious scenes (more lol). The allies didn't necessarily lose, the technology just fell into the wrong hands, the nazi Blicero who sold the world. I have no idea why Goddfried had to be inside the rocket to find Slothrop... probably had to do the with the metaphysical dynamics of Imipolex G. It's all pretty sad, but many of the classic sci-fi novels have similar conclusions to show us how technology can be dangerous.
Most memorable parts: toilet diving scene slothrop chasing the thief SS rocket factory mayhem orgy on the anubis ship when slothrop becomes the hero-pig the story of lyle bland last few pages...more
This is a masterpiece of staggering genius, and one of the best books I've ever read. There are six nested stories in the novel and each of them folloThis is a masterpiece of staggering genius, and one of the best books I've ever read. There are six nested stories in the novel and each of them follow six separate lives of a reincarnated soul(s?) whose archetypal drive is to rebel against the powers that be. David Mitchell uses an impressive repertoire of styles to distinguish each of these lives, from the grammatically elitist english of The Pacific Journal Of Adam Ewing to Zachry’s wild southern U.S. slang-uage in Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rthin’ After. As far as genres are concerned, there’s a little something for everyone including the funny & entertaining Ghastly Ordeal Of Timothy Cavendish and the dystopian-scf-fi-mystery-thriller An Orison Of Sonmi-451. But I’ve never read anything quite like the stream-of-consciousness tragic comedy Letters From Zeleghem, my favorite of the stories. The dark romance between the quirky musician Robert Frobischer and Eva the tease won my heart. Sloosha’s Crossin’ was another unique and beautiful tale set in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, my second favorite. The story I haven’t mentioned, The Luisa Rey Mystery, is by no means weak due its stellar plot, but the narrative is formulaic and easy to understand, so I found it the least intriguing but it’s probably the most accessible to other readers.
Underlying all this abstraction, Cloud Atlas leaves these intricacies & clues scattered about that relate each story with one another sequentially. After reading this great quote from Sloosha’s Crossin’ it all came together: “I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Somni the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.” How true n’deed, n’ how relev’nt to th’ scope o' th' novel. It did seem to me that the idiosyncracies in personalities carried through each story, and even multiple ones too. With all the implicit romances it seems like there might have been reincarnated star-crossed soul mates in each tale (I made a chart of all the relationships because I was so intrigued by them, see below). Maybe I think too damn much, but this book's Escher-esque complexity absolutely floored me and I’d recommend it to anyone.
SPOILER ALERT: This is for anyone interested in my soul mate theory. Autua is Robert Frobischer is Isaac Saachs is Timothy Cavendish is Hae Joo is Zachry. Adam Ewing is Eva is Luisa Rey is (Nurse Noakes?) is Snomi-451 is Meronym. The chronological "math" adds up, the behaviorism of them are all similar, and there's an implicit romance between each except for the Cavendish story, which is the only one that could make me dubious....more
Conceptually it was pretty interesting, but a lot of the passages were deliberately confusing and the dialogue was awful. I thought his descriptions oConceptually it was pretty interesting, but a lot of the passages were deliberately confusing and the dialogue was awful. I thought his descriptions of quirky futuristic modifications were great, but the characters were so soulless that it became difficult to care for them during the weak action scenes. I can see how it was highly influential to concepts like cyberspace and "the matrix" (this came out in 1984)....more