Quick Review: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

This book came out quite some time ago, I know. I just read it again, and I had to say this to someone. It’s just that damned good.

Neal Stephenson is an anthr0pologist of the future. I swear, his books study humanity not as it is, but as it will be. He does this by having an incredibly wide view and form grasp upon our past. He definitely showed this with his writings in The Baroque Cycle.

I loved those books. To many, they were fucking unreadable, though. Horrible chunks of thick slimy brain matter started sliding down the front of your face whenever you cracked those books open.

Anathem does not suffer from that. In the way that The Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon entertained, so does Anathem.

It is the story of Erasmas, a young scholar who lives in seclusion amongst a group of monk-like people who have secluded themselves to keep society from infecting their thinking.

Then stuff happens.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail as to what occurs, as one of the greatest things Stepehenson does in this book is draw out the tension and provide the release of the “AH HA!” moment whenever things come together.

Stephenson also does a remarkable job of taking major concepts and making them understandable, as well as contextual to the story. Much as his explanations of basic cryptography were well done (and relevant) to Cryptonomicon, the same is true for theories of thought and physics throughout Anathem. This makes the book a true joy to read.

Stephenson also has a marvelous fun time with language in this book. Using Latin and Greek (and a few Germanic) word roots, he bends words to his will, making up a number of words that sound like they’ve been around for forever. You read one of the words he’s made up for this book, and based on context and word root, you know what it means. No glossary is needed. It’s fabulously done. I wish I had half his skill at that alone, much less the rest of his writing ability.

In my opinion, Anathem is one of the best sc-fi books I’ve read in the last decade. Not giving it a go would be a disservice. Pick it up.
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~ by Benjamin Kenneally on May 9, 2010.

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