Tuesday, January 04, 2011



Anathem is a 2008 science fiction (do I have to call it "speculative fiction"?) novel by Neal Stephenson. I used to seek out long novels, but gradually it seemed novels were longer and longer just for increasing their usefulness as doorstops. I began to see long novels as those which hadn't had the benefit of a good editor. I started eyeing them with suspicion and passing on to other works. I have read several books by Stephenson, though, which made this one more tempting -even though it is 935 pages long. I'm glad I took the risk. It's a fascinating read. There is information on the book at Neal Stephenson's site.

from the fly-leaf:
Anathem, the latest invention by the New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, is a magnificent creation: a work of great scope, intelligence, and imagination that ushers readers into a recognizable -yet strangely inverted- world.

Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside "saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside -the Extramuros- for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent's gates - at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros - a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose - as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world - as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet ... and beyond.

Salon.com calls it a "mind-bogglingly ambitious epic saga" and says "is not for the weak of heart. But there are compensations." That makes it sound downright hard to read. I probably missed a lot, but I enjoyed it anyway. Locus Magazine says, "its brilliance is undeniable". Strange Horizons closes its review by saying, "Anathem is a unique, impressive but fairly mad novel: one part hubris to one part taking the piss to one part gnarly geek awesomeness." SF Signal calls it "All in all, a very enjoyable read, especially if you like Stephenson." The Washington Post reviewer didn't like it at all. The Guardian reviewer admires it: "The only catch to reading a novel as imposingly magnificent as this is that for the next few months, everything else seems small and obvious by comparison." SF Site describes it as "part coming-of-age story, part space opera, part alternate history, part quantum mechanics tutorial, and a completely awe-inspiring creation." Another SF Site reviewer says it is "a prime example of what science fiction itself can be at its very best."

1 comment:

  1. I usually don't have the patience for books this lengthy, but my little brother bought it for me last Christmas and so I read it and quite enjoyed it. :)