Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anathem: Reviewing Neal Stephenson's new book

When I read that Neal Stephenson was going to release a new book, I got really excited.  I own all of his books from Snow Crash forward.  I was really interested to hear about the topic of the new book.

Here is the general description:

Anathem is set on a planet called Arbre, where the protagonist, Erasmas, is among a cohort of secluded scientists, philosophers and mathematicians who are called upon to save the world from impending catastrophe. Erasmas - Raz to his friends - has spent most of his life inside a 3,400-year-old sanctuary. The rest of society — the Sæcular world — is described as an "endless landscape of casinos and megastores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change." Their planet, Arbre, has a history and culture that is roughly analogous to Earth. Resident scholars, including Raz, are unexpectedly summoned by a frightened Sæcular power to leave their monastic stronghold in the hope that they may prevent an approaching catastrophe.

At first, I was just confused, and then I was a bit concerned.  I read a lot of tech blogs ( Boing Boing, Makezine, Hack-a-day), and there is this outright contempt for people who don't believe in evolution, man-made global warming, and other science based "facts".  They seem to paint this picture of this select group of Tech geeks that believe in science "facts", and then there are the rest of us who just care about what Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are doing.  Maybe that's my misunderstanding, but that's what it sounds like to me.  So I was afraid this new book was going to be another disposition on this dichotomy.  However, I am such a big fan of NS's topics and style, I got the book anyway.

Initial Thoughts:
I am about 120 pages through this 910 page monstrosity.  At first, it was really difficult to grasp all of the meaning of the sentences because all of the vocabulary is made up.  I am horrible at pronunciation, so I know I am creating fictional ways of saying these words.  After about 60 or so pages, you start to get a little bit more comfortable with the words, and Stephenson picks the perfect time to start building the mystery.
I am very happy with the book so far.  The issues above that I was concerned about are there, but Stephenson is not very heavy-handed with it.

Here is one good quote from the book that I think applies to me:
"Boredom is the mask that frustration wears." 
The question is what to do about it.

Other observations:
The "secluded scientists" are basically just Augustinians Monks or at least characatures of them, but they just study a different topic.  It is an interesting point to see that this same behavior is rationalized when studying Pythagoras' theorem, but it is sheer folly when it is the Old Testament.

Well, I will try to do another update half way through the book and also at the end.  If I get "carried away to a dream world of magic", then I might not post again until the end.

1 comment:

Ellisha said...

Wow! I actually understood what you said! Thanks :) I had no clue you read that much either... keep blogging!!