Tuesday, December 16, 2008


by Neal Stephenson
I've been of fan of Neal Stephenson's novels since Zodiac, his Boston Harbor eco-terrorism romp, though, like many people, I read Snow Crash first. Stephenson's books eschew the intimidating cool of some science fiction writers, and are more about adventure in the service of Big Ideas. Anathem is no different, yet his scope may be grander than usual; this time he's invented a world so that he can explore an alternate evolution of scientific thought. Unlike Snow Crash, Anathem starts not with a death-defying chase, but with a conversation in a monastery, and some have complained that the story doesn't really get rolling until about 200 pages in. I disagree. The conversations, the personalities, the contrasting of cultures is fascinating. Though the pace may seem slow at first, this is a well-built world worth learning about, one with a lot to say about our own. And our hero, Fraa Erasmas, is a thinker among thinkers. These are interesting people, who, for most of their lives, have had a lot of time on their hands. Of course, this is soon to change.

Like others of Stephenson's books, Anathem has its flaws: underdeveloped female characters and an ending that is both satisfying and frustrating. But, all in all, it was a long and glorious ride, full of fresh ideas but also in the tradition of world-building epics like Dune or Lord of the Rings.

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