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Anathem by Neal Stephenson
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Anathem (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Neal Stephenson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,315195828 (4.21)1 / 290
Member:leonardr
Title:Anathem
Authors:Neal Stephenson
Info:William Morrow (2008), Hardcover, 960 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:read

Work details

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (2008)

  1. 181
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (Jesse_wiedinmyer, vnovak, szarka)
  2. 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)
  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. 43
    Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (SiSarah)
  14. 00
    Finity by John Barnes (szarka)
  15. 11
    Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure by Michael Chabon (MarkYoung)
  16. 00
    Relativity, space time and geometrodynamics by John Archibald Wheeler (bertilak)
  17. 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.
  18. 12
    Parallel Worlds : A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku (bertilak)
  19. 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)
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English (193)  German (2)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (197)
Showing 1-5 of 193 (next | show all)
Stephenson's books are perhaps the best advertisements for e-readers. With Anathem, Stephenson is trying to do a few things at once-create a world in which mathematical theory becomes something akin to a religion, write a first-contact story, and explore the alternative universe-possibilities inherent in quantum physics. I enjoyed reading the book if for no other reason than to see Stephenson try to knit the various pieces together. But if you can't deal with stephenson's two flaws--his long windup, and his endings (which usually require re-reading)--then this book isn't for you. ( )
  kspence | May 19, 2015 |
Well, I finally finished reading this book. Meh. I think Neal Stephenson should stick to Earth. The book just read as a contract filler. We've read other books, better written with the hapless main character caught up in events. Not his best. ( )
  fabooj | Feb 3, 2015 |
There's some good stuff in this book, but you have to wade through many monotonous pages where nothing much happens in order to get to the good bits. In the end, I'm not sure that the plot itself nor the "big ideas" of the novel justify the immense boredom much of the book induces. However, I still give this book four stars because it is intricately crafted and full of clever references. If that's not enough to keep you going for 1000 pages, you're not missing too much if you decide to skip this book in favor of something a little better paced.

The first 60-80 pages, I struggled to get used to the irritating new vocabulary. As far as I can tell, this vocabulary accomplishes a few goals: remind the reader that the world in question is not Earth; lampoon academic jargon but ultimately justify it; and perhaps make a subtle Procian point that symbols don't have much meaning outside of a culture that gives meaning to them. I am not sure such trivial points justify the annoyance of having to learn new words for a variety of commonplace objects. Eventually, however, I got used to it.

Nothing happens at all until at least 150 pages into the novel. The action doesn't really get going until around 325, in the "Peregrin" section. Many of the most interesting events occur off-page while the main character is sitting in a cell copying pages out of a book or on a quest to find his mentor. The novel would have benefited from adding additional points of view so that the reader could witness these happenings first hand. I would have loved to hear the perspective of characters like Ala, Tulia, Jesry, and perhaps even Orolo or Jad. At the very least, I would have appreciated a window into the early days of the Convox. I can only guess why Stephenson chose to write the book from the point of view of a guy who is ultimately a rather minor character compared to his friends.

The emotional tone of the book was flat until the very end. The beginning of the narrator's relationship with Ala read as implausible to me, because there was little build-up and no apparent reason why they were suddenly interested in each other. Oh, your mentor died? Cry about it for a page or two and then forget about it. There's even one point in the novel where Stephenson has his main character saying to the reader that everything that happened was emotionally chaotic so he will give an arid, emotionless technical description instead of his first-person account. Uhhh, what? Why would you choose to leave out the kind of narrative that might have rendered the characters relatable and believable for a few pages? It's not as if the book was lacking in boring technical descriptions! I think part of the problem is that Stephenson thinks emotions are for women. He describes many of the female characters (Cord, Tulia, Ala) as emotionally competent, in contrast to the emotionally incompetent male characters (Raz, Barb, Lio). That kind of stupid stereotype has no place in a smart novel like this. Being a man is no excuse to refuse to learn how to write emotionally resonant scenes when the plot calls for it.

It's somewhat difficult for me to evaluate the novel's "big ideas." I didn't think anything that was proposed at the Concent of Saunt Edhar was all that interesting or new. It was fun to puzzle out the correspondences between Arbre's Saunts and Earth's intellectuals (e.g. Plato = Protas, Socrates = Thelenes, Adrakhones = Pythagoras, Ockham = Gardan, Husserl = Atamant, and so on). The interesting ideas come out mostly during the Convox and afterwards aboard the alien spaceship, when the characters discussed quantum physics and multiple worlds. As someone who studies philosophy, I rolled my eyes at the Platonism that was central to this novel. Or, in other words, I was nodding along with the Procians who ridiculed the Hylaean Theoric World. Stephenson's thoughts on the possibilities for re-integrating religious and secular studies and for forming alliances between the sciences and humanities were interesting, although they clearly came from the perspective of an author who sympathizes with the sciences over the humanities. That wouldn't have bothered me as much if it didn't appear to be Stephenson's rationale for steadfastly refusing to discuss anything humanistic or "Procian" in any detail, leading him to gloss over the political machinations of Arbre (which I thought could have been very interesting!).

So, despite these complaints, why do I give it four stars? Well, once the novel got going, it turned out to be a cool story. By the end, I enjoyed it. Plus, whatever I think of Platonism, it was a very clever book with a cool concept that was at least reasonably well-executed. I can't give something this smart a mere three stars. But honestly, this book is not for everyone and I'm not even really sure it was for me. I'm glad I finished it, but I'm not sure it was worth the opportunity cost since I could have read three or four other books in the time it took me to finish this one. ( )
1 vote brleach | Jan 26, 2015 |
I didn't want to put it down, and I didn't want it to end. ( )
  Noa.Tamir | Dec 28, 2014 |
I didn't want to put it down, and I didn't want it to end. ( )
1 vote Noa.Tamir | Dec 28, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 193 (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.
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"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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:58 -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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