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Anathem by Neal Stephenson
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Oct 11, 08

bookshelves: fiction, science-fiction, locus-award, own
Read in October, 2008 — I own a copy, read count: 1

Anathem is another incredible book by Neal Stephenson, although probably not for everyone. Highly philosophical, brimming with hard science, it is the story of a world where scientists have been more-or-less sequestered for centuries in "maths" (the scientific equivalent of a monastery), living ascetic lives and devising high philosophy of the universe. It is the story of a specific Avout (=monk), Erasmus, and what happens when the world that they know is turned upside down by an unexpected threat (I'm being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers).

For many people, the plot may drag (it is a long book with almost 900 pages of text), particularly given that so much of the book is filled with philosophical discourse and discussion (almost always important to the story, although often is its not obvious how or why until much later). Stephenson also invented many words to express slightly unique concepts or to frame well known concepts in slightly different language. For example, "the reticulum" is used for the book's equivalent of the internet. The title, "Anathem" is a deliberate mix of the words "Anthem" and "Anathema". This can make the reading, particularly at the beginning (say maybe the first 100 pages or so) as one is settling into the story and the plot is largely put aside for background and setting, a bit more complicated and potentially frustrating for some readers (although there is a very useful Glossary of many of these words at the back of the book).

Anathem suffers some of the same pretentions as The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and System of the World), but not nearly to such an extreme and will likely be much more enjoyable to most readers. Personally, I probably put this as his second best book, with #1 being Cryptonomicon, which I think is generally tighter and more approachable.
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10/02/2008 page 100
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Lori (Hellian) Heh, yay for another person who loved Cryptomonicon as much as I did!


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