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Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem (2008)

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,616207762 (4.21)1 / 310
Recently added bymcclar, private library, thukpa, parsec-sff, brookingsbooks, MaureenCean, MisaBookworm
  1. 181
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (Jesse_wiedinmyer, vnovak, szarka)
  2. 151
    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)
  3. 120
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (BriarE)
  4. 110
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Wova4)
  5. 60
    The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (bertilak)
  6. 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.
  7. 40
    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)
  8. 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.
  9. 30
    Nightfall by Isaac Asimov (Jesse_wiedinmyer)
  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. 20
    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)
  13. 10
    Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (Mind_Booster_Noori)
  14. 43
    Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (SiSarah)
  15. 00
    Finity by John Barnes (szarka)
  16. 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.
  17. 11
    Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon (MarkYoung)
  18. 00
    Relativity, space time and geometrodynamics by John Archibald Wheeler (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. 12
    Parallel Worlds : A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku (bertilak)

(see all 21 recommendations)


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English (204)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (208)
Showing 1-5 of 204 (next | show all)
Stephenson's world pushes the novel of ideas...[in progress]
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Anathem is not for everyone.

You have to learn the jargon, by continually referencing a glossary until acclimatized. (A mind for classical etymology helps.)

Assuming you don't have explicit education in the corresponding philosophical and mathematical concepts here on Earth (configuration space, Platonic realism, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics), you have to reference appendices written as chapters from alternate-universe mathematics textbooks to familiarize yourself with these ideas, which are highly relevant to the plot.

You have to bear with a very linear storyline, that often feels like it's been written in one sitting. (In a way, though, this gives it realism, reinforcing that the narrator is on a journey of learning.)

Basically, in order to have the patience for this book's method, and besides that, feel any sympathy for the narrator and supporting cast, you have to be the sort of person that would, in Anathem's world, be called "avout."

But I was exactly that sort of person. And so for me, out of all of it came a brilliantly assembled universe with incredibly presented ideas about which I'll be daydreaming for a long time hence. ( )
  adlpr | Jan 14, 2016 |
I have been reading this book for 17 days, when you have lived with a single book this long there is inevitably separation pain, now that I have finished it I feel like I just woke up from a long weird dream. I had a lot of trepidation about reading this book, the reviews and comments from fellow sf readers (hello PrintSF dudes!) are generally positive but I gathered from them that this is a long hard one (ooh-er!) which is bit intimidating given my very average intelligence. Still, I am intrigued by what I have heard about it and so I consumed a copious amount of fish and cracked the book open...

The book is not easy to synopsize, though I am tempted to just write "Monks vs Aliens!" which will probably cause the numerous fans of the book to do the online equivalent of lobbing rotten tomatoes at me, in any case it would be a gross oversimplification and covers only a small part of the book. The story is set in a world where academics live monk-like in monasteries apart from the beer guzzling, pizza eating, TV watching, rest of the world. They devote their lives contemplating profound issues, philosophy, intellectual pursuits, and obscure disciplines. One “concent” (monastery) even specialize in kung-fu (sort of). When a spaceship is detected by one of the avouts (monk-like academics) everything change.

With Anathem Neal Stephenson has created “Abere” a world so rich in details it makes Middle-Earth look like two bedroom apartment. There is a lot of history which is gradually revealed to the reader and an almost overwhelming number of neologisms. I think the key to “getting” this book lies more with having enough patience to stick with it until you are eventually submerged in the world of the book. I definitely needed some help with the many strange new terms the author coined, but such help is easily found online (especially at the Anathem Wiki website). In any case after settling into the book there was no real need to look anything up, the book is not hard to follow once you are acclimatized to it.

Beside the online resources the book’s accessibility is helped by the normalcy the main characters, especially the narrator / protagonist. The “avouts” are not weird bastards, their behavior and motivation are generally understandable (aside from one or two hyper weird enigmatic figures).

A lot of people (including myself) have a “50 pages rule” whereby we will allow the book up to 50 pages to engage us or fling it across the room if at page 51 we are still not interested. With this book I’d recommend stretching it to 100 pages, in any case the first 50 pages are not horrible just a bit bewildering. There are still some pages or passages which are still not clear to me even now but the story itself is clear enough.

Apart from the superhuman feat of world building Stephenson has also created some very likable characters, sprinkled the book with humorous moments and even a smidgeon of romance. The book has everything really; the downside is that it may have more than you bargained for.

What impressed me the most is that the author respects his readers and give us a lot of credit to be able to follow his complex story and settings. He clearly made a tremendous effort in writing this book and expects some exertion and commitment from us in return. Seems fair, and it is well worth the effort.

Rating: 4.5 stars.


- Video: Neal Stephenson's introduction to Anathem, worth a look if you are interested in this book (don't worry, no spoilers).

- China Miéville's [b:Embassytown|9265453|Embassytown|China Miéville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320470326s/9265453.jpg|14146240] is the book that inspired me to read Anathem, not a lot in common in term of structure, plot or prose but Embassytown is chock-a-block full of neologisms which I normally find discouraging but I made the effort because I love his other books, and I am glad I did. The infamous neologisms of Anathem intimidated me also but after reading Embassytown I felt I was ready to tackle Anathem.
( )
  apatt | Dec 26, 2015 |
This third epic novel of Stephenson's that I've read is in some ways even more awesome than _Reamde_ and _Seveneves_. Allegorically set in an elaborately described parallel world, the story involves profound issues of physics/cosmology and philosophy I won't even try to summarize here. (Except to say that one thing it supports is what I would aphorize as "Abstract entities can be real; supernatural ones cannot.".) Prospective readers: you *must* not let the book's initial storm of coined words and names deter you from reading the whole 900+ pages.
1 vote fpagan | Nov 21, 2015 |
Another reviewer used the word intimidating to describe this book; another the word rewarding; I found both of these to be true, but it takes a lot of effort to read 973 pages, a fifty page glossary of terms and a couple of supplements. Is that amount of effort worthwhile? My answer is obviously yes, because I have given it a four star rating. The only book I couldn't finish in the last thirty years was written by Stephenson, so I approached this one with great trepidation. But it soon sucked me in, I cannot pretend to have understood it all but the story and the incredibly worked out background kept me interested during the philosophical dialogs. The language is amazing, unlike another reviewer, I did not find the "made-up" words a turn-off, but part of the novel's fascination. I hesitate to recommend it generally because of its length and complexity but would assure anyone who tries it that patience and persistence will bring rewards. ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 204 (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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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)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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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