Neal Stephenson is one of those guys who are so smart it hurts. It really shows in Anathem, a novel you could call sci-fi, or if you’re one of those people who don’t want to be soiled by the sci-fi ghetto but still enjoy great writing, you could call it “speculative fiction.” Same thing, but sounds much more coffee shop and black turtleneck.
Anathem takes place on a world that is a lot like Earth. After a series of “terrible events,” scientists and philosophers have moved into “concents” (think monasteries) where they spend their lives keeping knowledge alive and running great clocks—basically, time capsules of human knowledge, with the idea that when civilization “extramuros”—outside the concents—goes belly-up (as it’s wont to do from time to time), the concent inhabitants will be able to help rebuild.
To this end, the inhabitants of the concents avoid contact with the outside world, instead pursuing their studies and philosophizing. And, oh, the philosophizing! Stephenson has created a whole philosophical and scientific history as a backend for his plot.
Like a lot of Stephenson novels, Anathem takes a while to build up steam, starting out slow and meandering before the plot really kicks in. Which is understandable considering the sheer amount of world he has to build. Once it gets going, though, Anathem becomes very hard indeed to put down.
If you like your fiction erudite and generously sprinkled with philosophy, you can’t go wrong with Anathem. Highly recommended.
The novel also serves as a nice meditation on values—how much of the now do we spend on what’s important, and how much on fluff and vacuousness?
Posted Wednesday, 04 November, 2009 by Nic Lindh
Another book roundup, including some stellar athletes and soldiers, what might be the most jaded, soul-weary protagonist ever, and some grimdark fantasy.
The Internet is getting creepy, and Nic is breaking out his tinfoil hat after newspaper paywalls push him over the edge.
Nic is tired of tech sites obsessing over Apple’s financials and business strategy. So very tired.
Nic reads a book about the processed food industry and is incensed.
Computers are complicated. This brings out the irrational in people.
Nic proposes the loan word Rechthaberei be incorporated into American English.
The Core Dump is back! Books were read during the hiatus. Includes The Coldest Winter, Oh, Myyy!, Tough Sh*t, The Revolution Was Televised, The Rook, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Gun Machine, Fortress Frontier, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, and The Memory of Light.
This site will return in February.
From a true patriot to a world-weary detective, a dead god, and a civilization about to sublime from the galaxy, this book roundup spans the gamut. Includes Where Men Win Glory, Wild, Inside the Box, The Black Box, Three Parts Dead, Red Country, and The Hydrogen Sonata.
Springsteen gives a concert in Phoenix. It’s fantastic.