Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Neal Stephenson's Anathem: Thinking Man's Sci-Fi

This summer I read Stephenson's Anathem on my iPhone using Amazon's Kindle App (side note, the Kindle is going to die now that this exists on phones). It's around a thousand pages - so consider the crazy 4000 finger swipes required to get through it. My wife was so annoyed with my time on the iPhone that she started calling it my, "robot girlfriend". I would be offended if she was not dating her phone on such a regular basis. I'm sure her phone does a better job of cleaning the house and paying the bills.

I've been a huge fan of Neal Stephenson since I read Snow Crash in the early nineties. I'm not sure if that book stands the test of time, but it was an awesome read back in the day. The book stirred many of the fears and wonders of the early Internet, and the oncoming doom represented by VIRTUAL REALITY - remember that storyline!?! Stephenson's other big hits, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are also classics. The former represents for me the birth of steam punk and the latter is an awesome adventure romp replete with WWII gold-hoarding fanaticism. Bobby Shaftoe is the bomb! Stephenson then went on to write a trilogy called the "Baroque Cycle", and I had a hard time following. They were brilliantly complex books, but I think they were difficult reads for even the most hardcore of readers - which I'm not.

Anathem is set in a oddly possible parallel universe. I lack the skills to summarize it, so here's a quote from Amazon - "Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world."

It's a rigorous read, but well worth the time. I highly recommend it.

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