Thursday, October 30, 2008
Neal Stephenson's Anathem
You are sentenced to read the entire Book.
It's not exactly a punishment. It's more of a recommendation. Anathem is not an easy read. (Stephenson tends less and less to books you can take lightly and bang out on, say, a long flight or a much-needed personal day. You need to sit and comprehend these wordy sonovaguns. I will take his well-thought out, cleverly-written, involving novels over, well, Sidney Sheldon, any day. More entertaining. Better characters.) You will be, I think, a quarter of the way in to know why I threw the Book at you, though.
More than even Cryptonomicon, this one is for the smart people. If you're down with Hoffstader's Godel, Escher, Bach or just keen on math and philosophy, then you'll feel right at home in the maths--the kind of physics/math/science monasteries of his alternate-world Arbre. You'll be seeing this world through the eyes of Fraa Erasmus, who was "collected" at a young age and is a self-effacing, charming narrator who leads you into his world, and how it interfaces with a larger multiverse. In other words, an sf bildungsroman.
There is a smashing great teacher, a love interest, great comrades, and interesting adventures as a sheltered, intellectual youth embarks on a ridiculously important mission, learns a great deal about himself, and the outside world, and the ouside worlds beyond himself.
This is a fun read--Stephenson has a sense of humor that glints here and there, and his young (mostly male, but with some kick-ass girl characters in Cord and Ala) "heroes" feel real. There are some made-up terms that are themselves pretty interesting and amusing. A glossary is provided, although once you get the hang of his universe, you start to understand where his people are coming from. As my smarty-pants regular readers might suppose, if I had any regular readers, an alternate universe usually is a spec. fic. way of explaining the one you live in.
This does. You will appreciate it. Not a bathroom read. There is a bit or two where you may even want tissues to hand, if you are particularly sympathetic to your "fiction people." And although Stephenson's books usually end up being considered science fiction even when, like the Baroque Cycle, they aren't really--this is. The good kind. Makes you think.