April 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Fiction, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

Nine-Hundred-Page Neal has done it again.  If you like ginormous science fiction novels that contain entire carefully realized universes, Anathem is the book for you.  If you’ve read anything else by Neal Stephenson, you’ll most likely have begun to feel the urge to read this the moment you heard it was out.  He has a tendency to develop diehard fans, because nobody else can do what he does.

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What Stephenson does is to lead the reader down the garden path, until what would have seemed like impossibly abstruse scientific concepts are actually comprehensible.  In the case of Anathem, he includes three capsule lessons in the back that can be incorporated into the story, or ignored if one isn’t that curious.  This is a clever technique in that it makes the reader feel just that much more alert and intelligent, and he is able to take the plot into places it couldn’t have gone in less capable hands.  Reading Stephenson’s books feeds your brain in the way that simple consumption of genre fiction can’t.

Anathem revolves around the idea of a monastic community that reveres science and rational discourse, while the secular world is the place for dogmatic religious ideas.  While the book is a classic space opera in some ways, it’s really about the nature of consciousness.  The conversations on this topic are absolutely irresistible.

Now, there are some tropes common to most sci fi.  I haven’t read much of it lately, so it took me about 100 pages to get rolling in this book.  For some reason, I tend to get irritated with the character names and their attempts to sound alien, yet familiar.  It also takes a while to get used to all the neologisms – Anathem has a 19-page glossary, and I found myself keeping a bookmark there to make it easier to refer to.  Once I had absorbed this material, I got sucked into the story, making this massive tome a fairly quick read.

I must share my favorite quote from this book, which is a massive spoiler, so only read it if you’re not planning to read the book:

“Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs,” I said.  “We have a protractor.”

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