Sunday, May 17, 2020

ANATHEM


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Anathem, Neal Stephenson, HarperCollins, 2008, 935 pp
Since I have not been working on my writing during the pandemic, I figure I can at least squeeze in a few more reviews. I know I have followers who like Neal Stephenson and this one was up there with my favorite reads lately, so here you go.
Another Neal chunkster read! Anathem followed the last one I read: The System of the World. After writing three novels set in the 17th and 18th centuries, he surged way ahead to the year 3000!

The book got mixed reactions when it was published in 2008, even from some of his most diehard fans. My husband advised me that I did not need to waste my time.

I felt my time was well spent, even though it included flipping to an extensive glossary of terms. All the scientists, philosophers and mathematicians are cloistered off in coed monasteries where they study and discuss endlessly their theories while maintaining a wobbly relation with the outside world.
That other world includes the illiterate, irrational, unpredictable people, living on fast food and glued to their devices. There are some exceptions though.

There is a system by which new generations are brought into the monastery setting, since the fras and surs take a vow not to reproduce. I liked the long view on how these new generations are selected and trained.  Various regulations cannot prevent rivalries and tensions, even rebellion within the walls, which made all those characters human after all.

Of course, this is Neal Stephenson, so there has to be more to the book than philosophical and scientific discussion, though despite some great ideas there is maybe a bit too much of that. Sure enough an alien spacecraft lands and the secular powers are so overcome with fear that they must call on the wise guys to help deal with the menace.

Wild adventures ensue including space travel and first contact and all manner of life threatening capers. Also the the scientists, philosophers and mathematicians of all ages get to put their knowledge to the test, including quantum theories as applied to other worlds. 

I found it all absorbing, original in many ways, and clever as can be.

20 comments:

  1. i've been undisciplined about reading a NS book and i see that that is going to have to change... i was impressed by your post on "The System of the World" but the library closed before i could check out a copy but that's no excuse i know... which of these two did you think was better? i'm going to (gasp) buy one... love your "wobbly relation" to reality!!

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    1. I would suggest starting with Cryptonomicon. If you like that one you would like all the others I wager. When I have to buy books these days I either use my local indie/curbside pickup or Abe books mail order.

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  2. I was looking through some piles of books today - looking for 2 books I still haven't found - and came across the first 2 volumes of his Baroque Cycle! I'd forgotten I had them. I count that as a result. Now to put a month to one side to read them!!!!

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    1. Good find! Yes, the reading part is a time commitment for sure.

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  3. This had me up until aliens. I am not terribly interested in aliens or space travel, unless it is reading about astronauts and the Gemini/Mercury/Apollo missions in the 60s.

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    1. Well, this is about that except about 1000 years in the future!

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    2. When they could actually get to planets!!

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    3. That part would be cool, but...aliens! Blech.

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  4. Another writer that I haven't read and probably should. So many books, so little time.

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  5. I know! I don't worry about you though. You just keep reading!

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  6. "Anathem" has been on my TBR list for quite a while. For no reason at all. Will have to see that I get it done this year. ;)

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    1. It had been on my physical shelves since 2008!

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    2. Ooof, I'm feeling a lot better now. That's exactly how long I have it. LOL

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  7. This sounds like a good one actually, I've never read this author but I really should!

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  8. This author must have a wild imagination. Prolific too ... I guess he had another book last year, right? Kudos to you for finishing these ... I have a wobbly relation to sci-fi but it's not never ... I like aliens, traveling into space is okay too.

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    1. Yes, he had a new book out at the end of 2019. I own it and that is why I decided to catch up on the ones I had missed. He is so good at addressing big ideas in an entertaining way.

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  9. I always like discussions about books that have mixed opinions. It's always nice too see another persons point of view about a book! I did not read this book, but I am curious if I'd like it or not now ...

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    1. I like such discussions too. In fact, they are my favorite discussions. At least we made you curious!

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    2. Those kind of discussions are the best. We can see different aspects of a book that we might not have found otherwise.

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