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Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem (2008)

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,755215737 (4.21)1 / 327
  1. 160
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (the_awesome_opossum)
    the_awesome_opossum: The plot and writing are really similar: a dense and complex mystery/thriller set in a monastery. The Name of the Rose is historical fiction, not sci fi, but if you enjoyed the complicated and weighty plot, Name of the Rose would also be good… (more)
  2. 120
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  3. 110
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Wova4)
  4. 70
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (vnovak, szarka)
  5. 60
    Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (freddlerabbit)
    freddlerabbit: See the Name of the Rose recommendation above - I find Foucault's even more analogous here because Name of the Rose is a bit more plot-driven than the other two, where Foucault's and Anathem both have as much as 40% pure theory-disguised-as-dialogue.… (more)
  6. 61
    The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (bertilak)
  7. 51
    Embassytown by China Miéville (bertilak)
    bertilak: Miéville has written a philosophical science fiction novel that rocks and is not bloated: Stephenson please take note.
  8. 73
    The City & The City by China Miéville (chmod007)
    chmod007: Both novels depict coexisting-but-dissociated societies — drastically foreign to the world we live in — but help us reflect on it.
  9. 30
    Excession by Iain M. Banks (elenchus)
    elenchus: Banks also introduces the "out of context" problem central to Anathem, but in a wildly different plot, and universe. Banks is less ontology and more space opera, but I found both books very entertaining, and both Stephenson and Banks sensitive to political questions raised by their respective plots.… (more)
  10. 30
    The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand (bertilak)
  11. 20
    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (quartzite)
    quartzite: Both books deal with key groups of people preparing to meet alien cultures with a bit of theology and philosophy thrown in.
  12. 10
    Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (Mind_Booster_Noori)
  13. 43
    Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (SiSarah)
  14. 00
    Evolution's Shore by Ian McDonald (themulhern)
    themulhern: Another book in which the aliens appear with unknown motivations. Here, though, the context is a very contemporary Earth, and so the speculation is much more about the here and now. It spawned a series of which I have not read the rest.
  15. 00
    Finity by John Barnes (szarka)
  16. 11
    Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon (MarkYoung)
  17. 00
    Relativity, space time and geometrodynamics by John Archibald Wheeler (bertilak)
  18. 12
    Parallel Worlds : A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku (bertilak)
  19. 01
    Even Peons are People: Interplanetary Justice by D. Pak (philAbrams)
    philAbrams: Cleaver use of neologisms and author created futuristic expressions and terminology. Also philosophical undertones.
  20. 37
    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (SiSarah)
    SiSarah: While Anathem is science fiction and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is historical fantasy, they share many themes in common (the nature and value of knowledge and study, the responsibilities of those who possess such knowledge, contact with a strange yet familiar "other" civilization). They both stretch the bounds of their genres and have deceptively simple plots that unfold slowly, and have great depth to the writing.… (more)

(see all 20 recommendations)


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English (214)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (218)
Showing 1-5 of 214 (next | show all)
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) [b:Snow Crash|830|Snow Crash|Neal Stephenson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1157396730s/830.jpg|493634] 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 more 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 more--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. ( )
  Simeon.Berry | Aug 29, 2016 |
I listened to the audio book for this re-read, which was a lot of fun until the last four chapters, which really dragged on. I suppose I skimmed the physical minutiae of these chapters the first time and its hard to skim an audio recording? Anyway, I still love this book but I won't bother with it as a *listen* again - or take away a star (though really, it's a five star read and a four star recording). ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
re-reading... not sure this is a good idea but REAMDE has not yet arrived... ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
There aren't too many authors that can combine philosophy, mathematics and science fiction in a novel and pull it off. Stephenson manages to do exactly that here.

If you expect to read a fast moving story, you will be disappointed. It is a slow novel, more ideas than action (even when everyone goes on a big adventure or when the aliens show up). You do not need to understand the math or the philosophy but if you do, it is part of the pleasure to figure out what is the equivalent on our world. Because everything is named differently but the ideas are the same. The first 100 pages are hard to read - between the invented language, the terms and words meaning something different and the whole idea of the concents and people never seeing the world for a year, or ten, or a hundred, or a thousand, it is very hard to get into the story. But I am happy that I pushed through it - because once you get the hang of it, it is a fascinating story.

However - writing a review is actually not that easy. Part of the charm and the beauty of the story is figuring out the things on your own. There is a fascinating world that looks so parallel to ours but almost in reverse - scientists are locked down and hidden, anyone that seems to have a brain gets also locked into the concents (which are like the convents of Earth), there is a starship that shows up from somewhere, there is a huge adventure, there is a boy that does not know the world and learns the world. And that is one of the strong points of the story - we see the story through the eyes of Erasmas - a boy that had been cloistered when he was 9 and now sees the world again for the first time 10 years later. And through his eyes we learn about his life and the world and what really is going on. And for being so different, he is also so similar to any guy that age - full of friends, first love and curiosity.

At the end, the explanation of why everything is so similar and yet so different is handled nicely. It is such a clear science fictional concept, so cleanly executed and done that it made me really love the story.

It won't be for everyone - it is too long in places, the action is moving at a snail pace sometimes. But it is just the way of the story - the pace suits it; the long explanations feel right. By the end I wished that there is more - the sedate pace lures you into a story that makes you stop and think. And one that stays with you for a very long time - because it is just one of those novels - full of ideas and light; full of adventures and concepts. ( )
3 vote AnnieMod | Jun 13, 2016 |
Breathtakingly powerful and effective. Read it a while back, but it still pops up in my mind from time to time. Can't ask for more from a story than that. ( )
  dono421846 | May 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 214 (next | show all)
Seen through the eyes of a young ascetic named Erasmas, the universe of “Anathem” and its properties are revealed methodically over hundreds of pages, and at first, there is much joy to be found in watching this plausible other reality assemble itself and in observing how it parallels our own.

Too much of the book is dominated by lengthy dialectical debates, whose conclusions are hardly earth-shattering (if you are reading this review, I suspect you already know how to divide a rectangular cake into eight equal servings) and which do little to promote a reader’s engagement with the characters of ­“Anathem,” any more than one cares about the interior lives of Pausanias or Eryximachus while reading “The Symposium.” What’s worse, the book’s fixation on dialogue leads Erasmas (and Stephenson) to simply tell us what is happening or has happened in pivotal scenes, instead of allowing us to see the events for ourselves through descriptive action.
added by SimoneA | editNew York Times, Dave Itzkoff (Oct 17, 2008)
The only catch to reading a novel as imposingly magnificent as this is that for the next few months, everything else seems small and obvious by comparison.
Stephenson's world-building skills, honed by the exacting work he did on his recent Baroque Cycle trilogy, are at their best here. Anathem is that rarest of things: A stately novel of ideas packed with cool tech, terrific fight scenes, aliens, and even a little ESP.
added by PhoenixTerran | editio9, Annalee Newitz (Sep 4, 2008)

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dufris, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, TaviaMinor Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serrano, ErvinCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stutz, DavidComposersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyman, OliverMinor Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Do your neighbors burn one another alive?" was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.
"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said. "We have a protractor."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061474096, Hardcover)

For ten years Fraa Erasmas, a young avout, has lived in a cloistered sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside world. But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change—and Erasmas will become a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world, as he follows his destiny to the most inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:01 -0400)

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Raz, a mathematician, is among a cohort of secluded scientists and philosophers who are called upon to save the world from impending catastrophe.

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