Rating: Dig It!
“Anathem” is long, it is dense, and it might just be the best bit of speculative science fiction this past decade. In his classic and formidable style, Neal Stephenson has managed to create a masterpiece that combines some of the grandest, most breathtaking adventures with equally engrossing examinations of history, philosophy and human nature.
The book follows the story of a young man named Erasmas, an inhabitant of the Earth-like world of Arbre. There he lives, with thousands of his peers, in a convent for scientists and mathematicians that has existed for thousands of years. Inside, he remains protected from the corrupting influence of the outside world. After a series of eye-opening events, Erasmas must depart his comfortable surroundings and venture forth on one of the most epic adventures ever written.
One of the greatest joys of “Anathem” is discovering the subtle, enlightening examinations of modern human existence, something Stephenson conveys through carefully worded descriptions of how Erasmas perceives his world. Another is the puzzle-like challenge of matching Arbre’s histories, traditions, religions and scientific principles to their Earthly counterparts. The depth of cultural and historic knowledge that Stephenson draws from is so vast that it would be impossible to pick up on it all, even on a 10th reading.
“Anathem” is not for the faint of heart. If you’re looking for a novelization of the popcorn sci-fi schlock playing at Movies 10, this is not the book for you. But if you have an appreciation for true science fiction the kind of rousing story that speaks with passion and conviction about the truth of the human condition “Anathem” is a can’t-miss classic.
A parting word of wisdom: Stephenson included a timeline and glossary for a reason; don’t be afraid to make use of them.