Book Review: Neal Stephenson’s Anathem
I stared at this tome for awhile before I cracked its spine; the size of it is daunting. I had to psyche myself up for the gargantuan task I’d set upon myself. This book is 900+ pages. One has to stop and consider it for a while.
The first thing you run into after you open the cover is an “explanation” for what you’re about to read. It starts by saying that if you’re the type who doesn’t like stories spoon-fed to you, then you should skip this explanation. So, I did.
I spent the first couple of chapters in the book confused. So, why didn’t I put it down?
The confusion was good! The characters are warm and real. The author goes through the delicate task of explaining their thoughts and emotions without being heavy handed about it. I just didn’t know what the heck was going on in the world around them. Apparently, that’s what the “explanation” was for. After I finished the novel, I went back and read what he wrote in the beginning of the novel. It doesn’t take anything away from the story if you read that part. In fact, I wouldn’t skip that chapter entirely. Going back for it helps the world make a whole lot more sense.
While going through the novel, I find myself really caring for the people described in this book and the relationships that they forge. The world also started to make sense. And what a magical and amazing place Neal Stephenson has created. I can totally see myself living there.
But that’s not the only thing: I’m not even sure what to call this genre. It feels like Science Fiction, because of all the fantastical technology that’s present within its pages. However, the technology in this world already exists in ours in one form or another. The story of Anathem takes place in a world called Arbre. Arbre is a lot like Earth, but it isn’t Earth. It reminds one of the world we call home, while still having enough differences to make it its own.
It follows the path of a young “monk.” But, he’s not a monk in sense of how we’d know them in our world. The best way I can describe him is that he’s a scientific-method monk. Like, a Zen monk, only not Zen but science? You get it.
I know this is all confusing. I don’t want to write this review with spoilers and I feel that any little bit I tell you more than I already have will just ruin the sense of wonder and glee that I felt as the stories, concepts and intrigues that only Stephenson’s brain can cook up unfolded before my eyes.
He cleverly intertwines the plot with traditional scientific concepts, ideas to promote longer views of history (The Long Now Foundation was a heavily influence in this novel), quantum suicide/immortality theories, many worlds interpretation, etc., etc.
It’s enough for a geek to explode in nerdgasm.
Then, when it was all said and done and I neared the end of the book, I realized I was thinking, “Damn, it’s only nine hundred some pages…”
Oh look. It has appendices…