Monday, October 13, 2008


I took a couple days last week to read Neal Stephenson's latest: Anathem.

Cryptonomicon is my favorite book, so I always have high hopes when he cranks out a new one.
While I enjoyed portions of The Baroque Cycle, overall, I didn't recommend it. Just too dense and the detailed historical political machinations left me cold.

Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age were filled with topics I'm familiar with, so I loved those books.

Similarly, most of the subjects in Anathem are things of interest to me, so I had no problem following along. For those not up on their quantum particle theories or Existential schools of thought, Stephenson provides entries from The Dictionary and often has characters engage in Platonic Dialogs on these topics.

Being a word nerd, I enjoyed his playing around with language. Again, The Dictionary is frequently presented for those who don't enjoy ferreting out the meanings of strange words.

So, what's it about?
As with all good literature that's hard to define.
Superficially, it's an adventure story. A boy leading a (literally) cloistered life finds himself leading a group of people from different backgrounds on a journey to save their way of life. A terrific story in a great setting.

Of course, it's also about some Big Ideas like the intersection of quantum mechanics and philosophy. Sort of Schrödinger's cat in the many-worlds model meets Nietzsche.

It's also about how society's relationship with technology.
A love story! Space ninjas! Magic balls!

Let's just say it's epic, contemplative, educational and most of all, entertaining.
It IS a lengthy book, so if you're not used to plowing through 900 pages, pick it up on CD or downloaded audiobook.

Like most of Stephenson's "speculative fiction" it is absolutely grounded in history. Because of this, everything has a realism and believability that draws us into the world of brother Erasmas and the journey he is about to begin.

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1 comment:

  1. book review of this in sunday ny times book review mag.

    not all that positive.


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