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Q Do your neighbors burn one another alive was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec Do your shamans walk around on stilts Do you fancy you will see your dead dogs and cats in some sort of afterlife c Q Orolo had asked me along to serve as amanuensis It was an impressive word, so I d said yes c Q My talent for envisioning things, and spinning yarns in my head, failed me that evening, as if it had gone on vacation I could make no sense of my interview with Spelikon c There are a number of technical problems to writing sci fi and fantasy Chief among them is the tremendous amount of work required to set up a cultural matrix a language, a history, an iconography, etc that makes the world fully realized and engaging In this new 900 page doorstop, Stephenson tries to solve this problem with approximately 200 pages of exposition, setting up the mindset of a post apocalyptic monastery where you have religious scholarship without the religion mostly So you have to wade through a lot and I mean a lot of invented slang and jargon mostly revolving around philosophical and metaphysical conceits as well as 4,000 odd years of this history which still seemed somewhat murky and half finished at the end of the book After it was over, I still never really quite got what the Elkhadarian school of philosophical thought really was.Let it be said that I love Stephenson Zodiac and The Big U were entertaining little novella playets, and while obnoxious in places Snow Crash was a great post consumerist action thriller The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are fantastic techie epics who else would think to pit Confucianism against Victorianism in the battlefield of nanotechnology , and while clearly in need of some pruning and wildly anachronistic the Baroque Trilogy is awesome.But Stephenson has always had problems with plot One of his tricks is to walk us through incredibly complicated quantum possibilities, indicate the most spectacularly threatening one, and then have it occur, almost off stage, as if the verbal rehearsal actually was the thing itself Action by conversational fiat Now that I think about it, Greg Bear, Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, and even Robert Heinlein did this Maybe it s a sci fi thing Still, it feels like cheating Anathem has this in spades, only with a lot talking Granted, I really enjoyed the characters, and once the plot really got rolling around page 400 or so , I was totally hooked Plus, I feel like I understand quantum mechanics a lot though I m sure my confidence is unwarranted and I am suffused with that trademark Stephenson glow that comes from signing onto a very cogent, earnest, and unsentimental analysis of the way society should work Stephenson does great, sometimes even brilliant, macro analysis However, the action is mostly in stasis for a good two thirds of the book, and it takes a very hardcore geek to make it through the Many World theorems that stand in the place of much of the plotting So I think the audience for this book will be very small possibly composed solely of physics majors , which is a shame, as he s still a great writer He may need an equally great editor, though. @Free Epub º Anathem é Fraa Erasmas Is A Young Avout Living In The Concent Of Saunt Edhar, A Sanctuary For Mathematicians, Scientists, And Philosophers, Protected From The Corrupting Influences Of The Outside Saecular World By Ancient Stone, Honored Traditions, And Complex Rituals Over The Centuries, Cities And Governments Have Risen And Fallen Beyond The Concent S Walls Three Times During History S Darkest Epochs Violence Born Of Superstition And Ignorance Has Invaded And Devastated The Cloistered Mathic Community Yet The Avout Have Always Managed To Adapt In The Wake Of Catastrophe, Becoming Out Of Necessity Even Austere And Less Dependent On Technology And Material Things And Erasmas Has No Fear Of The Outside The Extramuros For The Last Of The Terrible Times Was Long, Long AgoNow, In Celebration Of The Week Long, Once In A Decade Rite Of Apert, The Fraas And Suurs Prepare To Venture Beyond The Concent S Gates At The Same Time Opening Them Wide To Welcome The Curious Extras In During His First Apert As A Fraa, Erasmas Eagerly Anticipates Reconnecting With The Landmarks And Family He Hasn T Seen Since He Was Collected But Before The Week Is Out, Both The Existence He Abandoned And The One He Embraced Will Stand Poised On The Brink Of Cataclysmic ChangePowerful Unforeseen Forces Jeopardize The Peaceful Stability Of Mathic Life And The Established Ennui Of The Extramuros A Threat That Only An Unsteady Alliance Of Saecular And Avout Can Oppose As, One By One, Erasmas And His Colleagues, Teachers, And Friends Are Summoned Forth From The Safety Of The Concent In Hopes Of Warding Off Global Disaster Suddenly Burdened With A Staggering Responsibility, Erasmas Finds Himself A Major Player In A Drama That Will Determine The Future Of His World As He Sets Out On An Extraordinary Odyssey That Will Carry Him To The Most Dangerous, Inhospitable Corners Of The Planet And Beyond Christmas 2010 I realised that I had got stuck in a rut I was re reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works Something had to be done.On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci Fi award That s 35 books, 6 of which I d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life so far.There are some books that deserve 6 stars For me,Anathemis oneAnathemwon the Locus Sci Fi award in 2009 There were other books up for the award that year, but nothing worth mentioning in the same breath The Hugo award went to Gaiman sThe Graveyard Bookwhich is a wonderfully poignant little story but to say it s better than this Laughable.I love this book so much that I named one of my cats Erasmas after the hero We just call him Razzie unless he gets a full name telling off for humping his little brother It s a story about a tight knit group of highly academic friends who happen to be monks who worship maths and science in a post post apocalyptic world, being tossed out into the wider, wilder society on a quest to make contact with dimension hopping aliens What could you ask for Jason Pettus has done a superb job of explaining quite why this is such a perfectly constructed concept check it out so I won t go into that.Skimming other reviews I ve seen that a lot of people got bogged down my the math love, or found the characters hard to relate to, or straight up found it dull I m flabbergasted at this Normally I understand that some books just don t gel with some people, but I refuse to bow down on this one it s not the book s fault, the book is perfect you people are broken in some deeply intrinsic way It s not just geeky, it s got a lot of heart and humour too.How s this for a quote Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs, I said We have a protractor My personal favourite moment would be the sudden arrival of the martial arts monks I haven t grinned that much at a book since the mimes went all kung fu at the end ofThe Gone Away World .I spent the whole read wittering about how much I loved it to the extent that I d barely sighed my contented little sigh at THE END before my wife snatched the tome from my grip to see what all the fuss was all about.Somehow I d never heard of the marvellous Mr Stephenson before I began my Locus Quest but that was the whole point of the quest I d gotten incredibly lazy and wasn t trying out new authors This was exactly what I d been hoping to discover.It was the third book I read in my Locus Sci Fi reading list followingAccelerandoandRainbows Endand the first to float my boat to the rafters 5 stars, no hesitation.I ve since readCryptonomicon ,The Diamond Age ,QuicksilverandConfusionas part of my quest, withThe System of the Worldstill to go before I m finishedSnow Crashis his only novel not on my reading list and that s the one I m most looking forward to at the moment I expect I shall read everything he cares to write when I saw any of those kinds of beauty I knew I was alive, and not just in the sense that when I hit my thumb with a hammer I knew I was alive, but rather in the sense that I was partaking of something something was passing through me that it was in my nature to be a part of After this I read Passage Oh my lord, this is still one of my top ten favorite works of literature Like Ever.Not only has this seminal masterwork of fiction withstood a second read with flying colors, but it continues to define and defy both Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction categories Heck, I think we can say it belongs on any Philosophy shelf, too, and I defy anyone to not laugh their heads off at the haircuts or Rakes or so many beautiful easter eggs of ideas studded through the opening couple hundred pages.What It s just a bunch of monks talking philosophy and science in an alien world How the heck could that be fun Ahh, this book moves on from that soon enough, especially when mysteries both small and really large start piling up, and the high tech history of the world with it s truly awesome advances is only part of the reveals in store for us.The world building is probably the most fantastic and excellent that I ve ever read in any novel, and I m even including masterworks like Dune and Foundation in this category More than anything, it s the history and the alternate progressions of thought and development that is so close to our own history that is so amazing And funny Screw Occam s Razor We ve got a Rake Little easter eggs abound in the opening that make so much sense later in the novel, and on the second read, they re even better because we know what to expect Causal Domain Shear What s that A haircut OMG Do not expect this to remain a sleepy monk community that has remained cloistered with a few exceptions for 5 thousand years Do expect some truly wonderful and crazy science, philosophy, action and adventure, aliens, space travel, time and space hacking, immortality, shaolin monks kicking all sorts of ass, horrible world killers, and multiple dimensions.Holy crap, right It s a damn near perfect story, including great characters, pacing, reveals, science, politics, philosophy, and even religion and poetry It also continues to blow my mind How can something this complicated in its entirety read so easily, so effortlessly But it does, and it s funny as hell, too.I remember my first reading of this getting under my skin and confounding me at the same time I kept wanting to categorize and pigeonhole it, and with every new hint that came along to tell me that I was going to fail miserably, I slowly got the hint that I just needed to go with the flow, trust the author, and just get fully immersed There s no other way around it.And there has never been a book quite like this in my life, ever before or ever since.I can t even say that my love of this novel is a case of right place, right time, because with the second read almost eight years after the first, you d think that I d have grown as a person I ve certainly read a lot of new books, too But, alas, this one still packs one hell of a punch.The total action scenes at the climax had me gasping for air, literally I actually started crying from just how freaking awesome it all was Don t ever let any tell you that there is nothing new under the sun, or that SF or literature is dumbing down This is one of the smartest pieces of fiction I ve ever read I am in awe. Reviewing a 1,000 page book that s part alternate history, part close encounters of the third kind, part futuristic sci fi utopian fantasy, and part philosophical treatise is like trying to milk a camel while sitting in quicksand Incidentally, if you ve never tried that, I don t recommend it you end up getting both milk and sand in some pretty weird places Also, it s worth noting that, as a general rule, male camels don t particularly enjoy being milked and have a tendency to make their displeasure known by humping you as hard as they can It s also worth noting that, in this context, humping means slamming your head into the ground with their humps given that, in this instance, the ground is quicksand, it doesn t actually hurt all that much, but see previous comment re getting sand in some pretty weird places Anathem is my first exposure to Mr Stephenson s oeuvre, and I m given to understand that it s not necessarily his most accessible work Admittedly, I don t possess the intellectual horsepower to fully comprehend everything that s going on here then again, most days I lack the intellectual horsepower to light a candle , but I suspect that s true, as there are some pretty dense and brain bending digressions in what can, at times, be a gripping and thoughtful narrative about time, space, and coexistence Even in those instances, however, Stephenson s stylistic verve saves the narrative from veering into unreadable territory It s almost annoying how effortless he makes it seem, imbuing the book s narrator, Erasmus, with a voice that s by turns authoritative and unsure but always likeable and unequivocally human Whether he s theorizing about quantum physics, engaging in dialogue about parallel universes, teasing and being teased by his intellectual brothers and sisters, or wrestling with the confusing emotions that surround the bonds of family and passionate love, Erasmus is the reader s guide to a world that s similar to our own yet distinctly different enough that we need him to guide us through it.Anathem is not an easy or quick read, unless you happen to be one of those rare individuals capable of extracting milk from an ornery camel atop a shifting bed of colloid hydrogel It is, however, a rewarding and worthwhile read, even if it s one that s likely to make you think than make you breathless with excitement though it does that on occasion, too But, hey we could all stand to do a little thinking in our lives about the world around us and the way we relate to other people and races genders ethnicities I just might need a break from doing that for a while after this Maybe I can find the literary equivalent of a Michael Bay movie As the most popular review of this book shows clearly this is not a novel for everyone You cannot run a marathon if you didn t go through a proper training Sitting on the couch all year round is not the necessary regimen This book is very similar it requires an intellectual gym, so to speak Knowledge of Latin, history, and philosophy, a wide frame of civilisational reference, linguistic sensitivity, attention to detail, engagement and patience If you are not equipped with the above, save yourself the torment and just skip it unless hate reading is your hobby.But if you are proficient enough to brave these deep waters, you will find a masterpiece a world where scientists are considered a danger to the society a world where academic communities live rigorous lives ever fearing the possible Sack a world where those who care for knowledge that is unadulterated and happiness that does not come from chemicals in your blood close themselves in secluded places opened once in ten years a world where a mixture of the Plato Academy and the monks of Mount Athos is the ultimate counterculture and the most dangerous form of rebellion a book as demanding as it is rewarding a book that doesn t spoon feed its reader a book that requires thinking and apt attention not your causal read a fantasy, with a flavour of science fi spanning well beyond the genre s boundaries a book that can be read like a puzzle with a doll inside a doll inside a doll.No doubts about it one of the best reads this year With my rare five star recommendation. Anathem is an astonishing, enormous, intimidating, and intensely enjoyable book However, it is also the most science fiction y of any book he s written so far, and that may turn some people off Also, I m given to understand that some people would prefer not to have to think about polar coordinates, geometric proofs, bubble universes, string theory, or relativity in their pleasure reading That is, of course, their prerogative Also, it s long And at times there are scenes that go on for pages and pages where people mostly just brainstorm and talk Some some people may disagree perhaps even violently with this review However, if you DO like these things, and if you also enjoy a romping adventure tale and some good philosophical musings on the nature of consciousness, the universe, and the organization of society, then, my friend, this is a book for you A few weeks before the book came out, Stephenson talked about his involvement with the Clock of the Long Now Anyone who s been interested in the project for the last couple of years knows that this is an effort to make a clock that will last centuries And its ultimate goal is to get people to think in terms of long timelines, instead of letting our horizons become very short Stephenson took the idea of that clock, made it many clocks, and then built a civilization around them, in the grand old tradition of science fiction writers taking new technology and then asking What if And, being who and what he is, he does it with a staggering depth of detail, imagination, research, and humor His characters are as well developed as we have come to expect all except one female, Cord, that I thought was startlingly cardboard for a Stephenson heroine This book is a testament to Stephenson s flexibility as an author Erasmus, the main character is quiet, naive, and charmingly rational Quite the opposite of a Nan or an S.T.In the grand tradition of world building epics, this is a book that makes much sense if one reads the chronology and glossary provided before one tackles the first chapter And then, admittedly, almost nothing happens for about 200 pages However, once things get going, they go with a bang The first third of the book bore an unexpected and I m sure unintended similarity with the Harry Potter books It takes place in a mathic community, which is a world roped off from the rest of us The protagonists are young in their late teens and early twenties and completely free to do all the thinking and studying they desire This gives them ample opportunity for the investigation of some odd happenings in their lives And, because this is a Stephenson novel, this leads naturally to alien spaceships, parallel universes, time travel, codes, enigmas, adventures, technology that refuses to work properly, and people in disguise It s wonderful It s so wonderful that the 890 hardback pages weren t enough Afterward, my brain felt stretched and aerated, my eyes were tired from all the reading, my arms hurt from trying to hold this heavy book up, and I wished it wasn t over.I said some of you might not agree with me It may not be his best work But I sure loved it And now I m having trouble not applying Occam s Razor to everything that comes up in my life And also a little sorry I don t live with the mathics, where you can expect everyone to make sober judgments based on data givens rather than impressions And here we are in the middle of an election year Wouldn t it be nice if nobody made a decision unless they evaluated the evidence personally That would, of course, mean that no one could pass judgment on a book until they d read the whole thing. One of the most challenging books I ve read, and one that I got a lot of satisfaction out finishing Stephenson s got a wildly inventive mind and reading him is like jumping onto a high speed bullet train at full speed It took about 70 pages to get used to the new language that he invented for this story, and I had to refer to the glossary repeatedly, but suddenly it just clicked, and I was completly caught up in the world Stephenson created.Not for casual reading, but fans of sci fi, physics or alternate world plots should give it a try. After digesting Stephenson s latest 937 page tome, my response basically boils down to Meh Ok, maybe not, Meh exactly Maybe like, Hmmm I wish I could say something elegant about it, but the problem is that there isn t a lot to say about the book as a whole because the book as a whole isn t really that good or that interesting The book as a whole is difficult to describe, because so much of the book seems like a digression from even itself that instead of a book, it s like a lot of separate little works on a unifying theme.That unifying theme is science, and Stephenson has a lot to say about science And he says it, almost like he was a heretic espousing some radical concept the orthodoxy would be offended by, in code Not only just in code, but in the form of a fictional dialogue as if he needs his own voice and opinions to be deniable Of course, here the problem isn t so much deniability, because I m not sure Stephenson ultimately says much of anything fresh or radical or likely to get him in trouble with the orthodoxy, as it is convincing people to read his opinions in the first place You probably couldn t get a lot of people to read a frequently dry 937 page text on the material Stephenson is covering, but you might could if you dressed it up in the form of a science fiction story about an alternate world where the schism between science and religion occurred at the dawn of Western Civilization and both retreated to cloisters to observe their respective discipline.More than anything, Anathem reminded me of The Young Ladies Illustrated Primer from The Diamond Age particularly the part where in the narrative where it illustrates fundamental concepts of computer science only without the illustrations or the interactivity Far than it is a science fiction novel, the text is a primer seemingly aimed at young people most of the time, introducing concepts from philosophy, math, and science in what can only be described as a somewhat entertaining and slightly subversive way.The most salient feature of the text to me turned out not to be the much discussed alternative language, but the fact that Stephenson has chosen to tell the story in the first person which seemed to me to be a bit of a departure and employs what struck me as a highly unreliable narrator Erasmus, our protagonist, is a highly naive, incredibly sheltered, idealistic, impressionable, nineteen year old to which the appellation man would seem to be dubiously applied He s essentially a physics monk, and yet he serves as our sole window the world of Stephenson s creation which colors the events with all of Erasmus s biases and naivety I often wondered what things looked like through the eyes of his sib, or his mentor, or any number of other characters.The second most salient feature of the text is the frequent employment of invented technical jargon SF bullshyte, if you will as it is employed by the residents of the world of Arbre, and in particular, the cloistered Mathic world of Arbre This was disappointing to me, because I went based on reports I d heard expecting a full blown invented language on par with say the street slang of Burroughs Clock Work Orange or even the elvish languages of Tolkien Instead, what I got was a really thin code full of in jokes and sly references some of which I got immediately and most of which I didn t feel compelled to track down if I didn t In most cases, they are just bullshyte another of his jargon words, if you are wondering relabeling of famous real world scientists and philosophers or their theorems or philosophical schools For example, Thelenes for Socrates Thelenes The Hellenes The Greek This might be fun reading if you are in to cracking the code, but I had enough of the gist of it that there seemed to be no need Besides, Stephenson absolutely spoon feeds the reader with definitions, both in chapter headings and within the text, to the point that not only is it full of annoying exposition, but much of the fun of deciphering the text is immediately lost Thus, the author ends up gaining very little except where it relates to his twist, such as it is and which you can see coming three or four hundred pages away It seems to me that if you are going to pull this sort of thing, you shouldn t talk down to the reader but trust them to understand you But the whole book seemed a lost opportunity for depth and creativity to me, so that was par for the course.There is little to say about the book as a whole except that it is generally anticlimactic at every point along the way None of the little story arcs have particularly worthwhile payoffs, and whenever you think that the story is about to become interesting it collapses again and simply pitters out I probably making this sound worse that it is Bits and pieces are in isolation really interesting, and I made it through the book easily enough But Stephenson has raised the bar for himself pretty high in my estimation, and this is I think far from his best work.Anyway, some other random observations Provener It s a beautiful building, but considering how much time the author lavishes on the details of its layout and construction, you d think it would play a central role in the story.Apert Just once I d like some legends introduced into a story that don t turn out to be factual and central to the plot Of all the story digressions, I m not sure that there is one that is frustrating than throwing Erasmus in a cell while the story advances around and without him.Anathem The first great crisis, which leads to Erasmus s next two quests neither of which turn out to be all that important or interesting or even necessary except perhaps to Erasmus s peace of mind.Voco Pause for scientific investigation.Peregrin After 300 pages of exposition, the story commences in haste, if by haste you mean meanders about for another 600 pages Still, some of the best lines of the story occur here, if you ll pardon the minor spoilers Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs, I said We have a protractor Okay, I ll go home and see if I can scrounge up a ruler and peice of string That would be great I try to avoid spoilers, but for the record, the above lines and the conjectures that they contain turn out to be not strictly true, and even importantly I think, and ironicly, the point of writing lines like that is somewhat undermined by later events anyway.Feral Something must be wrong We are having an actual adventure here.Orithena Don t expect any satisfying answers here Inbrase Pause for scientific debate This, ultimately, ends up leading to debate.Messal You know that you ve arrived as a successful and respected author, when just as you are reaching the climax of your sci fi adventure, you can get away with dropping an 80 page conversation into the text and still get your novel published.Advent Stephenson finally returns to form Some trade mark Stephenson adventure with a trade mark Stephenson let down when we reach the expected climax Also, does anyone else find it odd how often in their stories supposed hard science fiction authors resort to magic and techno religions that is to say, gods, demigods, eternity and or heaven as brought to reality by mastery of Gnostic sciences Talk about putting your Faith in reason.Requiem D nouement.Reconstitution How sweet.Calca Did anyone else get the impression that these were originally part of the text, and that Stephenson had been forced to put them in the appendix solely because his editor finally showed some backbone and called him on it I suppose I should actually discuss some of the issues Stephenson raised, but I can t manufacture enough excitement to hold a separate Suvinian Dialog which given a pedagogue like me, ought to tell you something , so if anyone wants my take on a particular idea, they ll have to do some prompting.