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Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem (2008)

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,069222683 (4.2)1 / 338
  1. 180
    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. 130
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  3. 120
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Wova4)
  4. 80
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (vnovak, szarka)
  5. 70
    The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (bertilak)
  6. 70
    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)
  7. 40
    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)
  8. 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.
  9. 63
    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.
  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. 11
    Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon (MarkYoung)
  16. 00
    Finity by John Barnes (szarka)
  17. 00
    The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson (Mind_Booster_Noori)
  18. 00
    Relativity, space time and geometrodynamics by John Archibald Wheeler (bertilak)
  19. 12
    Parallel Worlds : A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku (bertilak)
  20. 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.

(see all 21 recommendations)


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English (222)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All (226)
Showing 1-5 of 222 (next | show all)
There's not much to say about this doorstopping monster that hasn't been said already, so I'll just call it the smartest and most entertaining brainjerk I had the pleasure to indulge in for a long, long time.

It's rare that I get into a world so deeply as I got into this one - not only because Stephenson is meticulous in his worldbuilding (that's something we're used to, and everyone should know by now how much time and many words he spends on this aspect), but because for once he took extraordinary diligence with his characters. To follow Raz, Orolo and all the others on their journey was a delectable treat of character development.

Anathem morphs from a coming-of-age-novel through the literary equivalent of a road movie into a space opera light, and during this tour de force he takes several detours into the depths of philosophical, linguistic and mathematical sciences - detours that take a lot of speed out of the plot, but are actually the foundation of premise, theme and world.

That he made up a lot of jargon was only a problem insofar that as a non-native speaker I more than once had difficulties to distinguish between invented words and missing vocabulary. But that's simply a sign how clever he construed his language, and that's exactly what a glossary is for. ( )
1 vote DeusXMachina | Aug 6, 2017 |
Breathtaking even 8 years later. Evident that it holds the seeds of Seveneves. ( )
  Mithril | Jul 27, 2017 |
Nine hundred some pages of mansplaining. ( )
  encephalical | Jun 20, 2017 |

Neal Stephenson's latest brick of a novel is both something of a departure for him, and carries on in what he has made his own inimitable style. The newness comes in the fact that this is the first 'real' science fiction novel he has written – in that it deals with space travel and alien worlds, although he of course began his career with cyberpunk in Snow Crash and the wonderful view of how technology shapes the mores of a future society in The Diamond Age. However, Anathem very much continues what he has made his own style over his previous four novels – Cryptonomicon, and the Baroque Cycle trilogy. Each of these volumes weighs in at around a thousand pages and combines high adventure with discussions and explanations of profound mathematical and philosophical concepts, including endnotes and diagrams, but are surprisingly easy reads, thanks largely to Stephenson's wonderful clarity and openness of style.

Anathem takes place on a world where the educated elite live apart from the general population in monastic-style communities which live with only basic technology and shut themselves off from the outside world for at least a year at a time – or ten, a hundred or a thousand years for parts of the communities, accepting new recruits rarely and not communicating with the outside world. This allows them to avoid 'contamination' from transient agencies such as popular culture or politics but is also, it becomes apparent, something that was enforced on them in the past when the general population became afraid of technologies these thinkers were developing. However, when an alien threat to the whole world appears, the old order becomes threatened and the monastic and 'secular' sides of the world have to cooperate.

The first thing that grabbed me about the novel is the way in which Stephenson uses language; there is a 'note to the reader' before the main text explaining the origin of the word Anathem – a pun on anthem (a piece of music) and anathema (an object of hatred) to mean a ritual enacted when a thinker is expelled – and that he derives much of the archaic-sounding language of the maths (as the 'monasteries' are called) in a similar way. Much speculative fiction uses strange words to demonstrate an alien culture, and this method is wonderful; the reader quickly becomes accustomed to the mode of speech, and when you can't figure out what the words mean from context and etymology there's a handy glossary.

There is a superb sense of the 7000 years of history and knowledge that the cloisters are protecting, in the language their and the traditions; the rituals for welcoming new entrants or expelling wrongdoers, songs in which the harmonics are the expression of mathematical equations. The author often explains ideas to the reader by the simple but effective method of having them explained to a character, in the manner of true Socratic dialogues, which is not nearly so clumsy as it sounds and is vital considering the weight of some of the ideas that he throws around. For instance, this book has left me intent on reading up on Phase Space and the in particular how it relates to parallel universes.

The one thing that lets the book down, and kept it from a five-star rating, is the adventure side. In his previous books these have been genuinely thrilling, but in Anathem there are a couple of frankly dull picaresque sections, notably the travel over the north pole. The only reason I can think that this is so is that both Crytonomicon and the Baroque Cycle were set in our own past (World War 2 and the late 17th/early 18th centuries respectively), and so more energy is spent on creating the imaginary world than the events of the journey.

Everything else, though, works. The relationships between knowledge, politics and religion; scientists responsibility to the wider world, and the world toward scientific endeavour; love, loss and the possibilities of multi-dimensional reality. As always, Neal Stephenson is a wonderful writer for expanding the horizons, inside and out.
( )
1 vote Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
For a retired mathematics and computer science professor this book was a perfect fit. I seek out references to mathematics in sci-fi, but this time I was immersed in a tale whose heroes and heroines were the experts on directed acyclic graphs, the Pythagorean Theorem, a pictorial proof of which actually appears in the book, symmetry groups and all things mathematical. As the story progresses, the references to computer science and quantum theory made it even better. Although these facts are woven into the story, it is apparent that Stephenson is not just fudging it, he knows his science well. The world he creates is an extremely interesting place to be during the telling of this tale. The only problem is that the details of monastic life, of cosmology, of mathematics, of logic, of philosophy, of physics, of space mechanics, all seemed somehow to have their own separate rooms in his world. ( )
1 vote drardavis | Jan 24, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 222 (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 (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dufris, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, TaviaMinor Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gräbener-Müller, JulianeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serrano, ErvinCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stingl, NikolausÜbersetzersecondary 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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