Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem By Neal Stephenson

William Morrow, New York, 2008

From my library hold list.

I have been a Stephenson fan since reading Snow Crash in the early ’90s.  It is one of those books that I return to again and again and it always seems to be several steps ahead of  modern techno-culture.

Anathem is 900+ pages.  Reading it felt taking a step back in time and ending up thousands of years in the future.

On the planet called Ambre,  Fraa Erasmas, a young Avout living in a monastery-like community called a Concent, is happy to take part in rituals he and his cohorts do not really understand.  He spends most of his time in deep dialog with his teachers.  Avouts are intellectuals, removed from society and all technology,  like monks or nuns.  Concents are walled compounds and members are grouped into Maths, based on the study of certain disciplines and on lengths of time.  Members of Maths are allowed to enter society during a yearly 10 day event called an Apert.   Depending on their Math, Avouts take part in this celebration every year,  every ten years,  or every hundred years. Then there are the Millenniums.  The rest of the time Avouts are sequestered in their Concert unless called upon to help the outside world is a matter that requires scientific or theoretical problem solving.

Erasmas’ teacher, Orolo, has discovered a strange ship circling the planet and manages to take pictures of it. This sets off a series of events that has Orolo expelled from his community and the secular and political society calling on members of Concents from all over Ambre to help determine what the ship is and where it comes from.

Simple, huh?  The thing about Stephenson is things are never simple.  I spent the first couple hundred pages flipping back to the glossary, learning what all the terms meant.  Ambre itself seems earth-like but  reversed and regressed.  Concents are intellectual and time is spent discussing mathematics, physics and philosophy.  Thinking is their avocation and the spiritual is intellectual.

Outside, in the Sæcular world, there is commerce, technology and religion, very like our own. We learn that thousands of years of war and peace have developed this divided society.  I am fascinated by Stephensen’s ability to create a world that is so like our own and yet so different.  He states that his inspiration for Anathem comes from the Long Now Foundation and their 10,000 year clock.  Long Now is an organization I have following for several years.

I devoured Anathem over a period of four days and only found a few bits that didn’t quite work for me.   The end feels rushed and left some questions unanswered.  There is no way I can write about Anathem in any way that does it justice.  If you are fascinated by the history of human thought, by philosophy and science, and are a fan of science fiction you will enjoy this book.

Now I think I am ready for Stephenson’s newest novel,  Reamde.   It is over 1,000 pages long.


Filed under 2012 Speculative Fiction Challenge, Review, Sci-Fi Experience, SciFi

13 responses to “Anathem by Neal Stephenson

  1. this is one of the highest priority books on my to be read list. i read snow crash a few years ago and adored it but i’ve been intimidated by the length of the books (and worried that they’ll be a bit over my head, with all the appendices and charts, etc).

  2. I keep hearing about this author but I’m not sure I’m up to him yet. I think I need to be nice and rested.

  3. I’ve read a handful of Stephenson over the years, and finally picked up a copy of Anathem. It sounds fascinating, and right up my alley, now all I gotta do is find time to read it!

  4. I just started REAMDE it is my first time with Stephenson…to early to tell yet what I think of it. It is worth exploring so far…..D

  5. Lu

    I really need to get my act in gear and read one of Neal Stephenson’s books!

  6. wow a real chunky book Gavin not sure this is one for me ,all the best stu

  7. alan

    If you liked Anathem then read the glass bead game and a canticle for liebowitz. All are different stories with the same mind bending underlying theme.

    • Canticle for Liebowitz is one of my all time favorites. I’d like to read it again, maybe this year. I have never read The Glass Bead Game but have added it to my TBR list. Thanks!

  8. 4 days!?! Goodness. I also enjoyed this book a great deal – listened to the audio and it took me more than 4 days. My man and I tried to make a tangle in the garden that year, but it did not turn out as productive as in the book.

  9. Arbe. The name of the world is Arbe.

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