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.
Topics: Philosophical, Epic, Suspenseful, Mathematics, Alternate Universe, Aliens, Space, Physics, Politics, Cosmos, Language, Music, Conspiracy, and War
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I liked the breadth of the story -- it feels somewhat epic. A wonderful read, all in all.more
Basically what you have here is a sort of alternate universe where they have these monasteries that are scientific instead of religious. And with lady and gentleman scientists both. And they sort of cloister themselves off for different periods of time, like 1 or 10 or 100 or 1000 years, so the outside society is constantly changing while the monasteries more or less stay the same.
It also is about different philosophical/mathematical/scientific ideas that people in our world have thought of already, and explains them to you in an understandable way. I know this sounds annoying, but it isn't.
What I love about Neal Stephenson's writing:
--it makes you feel smart and teaches you things at the same time
--even though the story is very involved, you always know exactly where you are and what is happening to whom
--he is willing to spend a whole paragraph describing a vast collection of folding chairs and tables, just for the hell of it
--he's kind of a goof
--he can write a book that is 935 pages, and on page 500 or so you are already sad because it will eventually have to end.
What I don't love:
--he has this idea that only women can possibly understand interpersonal relationships, and men are clueless oafs. I don't believe this is true.
--a 935-page book is freaking HEAVY.more
-It is told from the perspective of a monk (avout in book-vocabulary) and is very heavily infused with philosophy, thought experiments, dialogs (think Plato), and slow-living. There is physical action, but it is between hundred page stretches of slower-paced maneuvering.
-If it happens to you like it happened to me, there will come a point 850 pages in where you will realize something that seems like a plot hole so large you could throw this book through it and you will want to. Keep reading. Not only is it not a plot hole, but it is neatly tied up into the story. I can't tell you anything more.
-The last 50 pages are slower than anything you have read so far, but the last page makes it worth it.more