Erasmas - Raz - is a young avout living in the Concent, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists and philosophers, protected from the corrupting ...Show synopsisErasmas - Raz - is a young avout living in the Concent, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside world by ancient stone, honoured traditions and complex rituals. Three times during history's darkest epochs, the cloistered community has been devastated by violence. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe. Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite, the avout prepare to open the concent's gates. Before the week is out, both worlds - the inner and the outer - will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change. Suddenly 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.Hide synopsis
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Neal Stephenson continues his uneven work in bringing together the worlds of pop science fiction and scientific theory. In Anathem, he uses a closed culture of monastic intelligentsia set in a world of technologically savvy "lay brothers", common laborers, artisans, poiticians, and other presumed philistines as a vehicle to play with ideas of general relativity and quantum mechanics.
Stephenson is better than anyone else I know in the art of lecturing on sophisticated scientific and philosophical ideas under the guise of long conversations among his characters -- and the characters themselves are believeable. But I found myself slogging toward the finish, as I did with two of the novels of the Baroque Cycle (I didn't try for three), rather than sprinting along, as I did with Cryptonomicon and his early work. In the end, I quit at the beginning of the last chapter, just checking the final page to see if there were to be a happy ending. Intellectually, the ending was pleasing, raising the question not of whether a happy ending was realistic, but whether reality was. But I no longer cared if THISending was going to be happy for THESE characters.
Creating a new culture in an unknown world also allowed Stephenson to play a few linguistic games -- inventing names for things that were similar to, but not the same as, the ones we use. A liturgical rite in the monastic culture, for example, is called an "aut": similar, I suppose, to the word for the burning of a heretic, "auto-da-fe": but it would have looked better in English as something like 'aute", I think, without losing the auditory pun. Likewise "vlor" as a contraction of "Vale lore" -- martial arts. English doesn't contract words made up of two single-syllable nouns (like "dog house" to "dgouse"). He just doesn't quite have the ear for this kind of thing that, say, Russell Hoban did in "Ridley Walker".
I will keep buying Neal Stephenson novels, hoping once more to be swept off my feet as I was by Cryptonomicon -- but for me, this one wasn't it.
I had anxiously awaited publication of a new novel since I finished "The Baroque Cycle" more than 2 years ago.
"Anathem" did not disappoint. Stephenson has continued his expansion of subject material
to another world. His craftsmanship in creating a separate [though parallel]universe was created from more "whole cloth" than previous novels which had starting off points rooted in this world's culture. And this is only the underpinnings of the actual storyline which is as absorbing as his previous work. Creating a cloistered class of "intelligentsia" separated from the dross of "pop" culture and the standard political landscape gives him a unique opportunity for histronifaction which yields much food for thought into our own situation.
I highly recommend this book .
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