Book Review, “Anathem,” by Neal Stephenson

It’s been a while since I enjoyed a novel as much as this one. I did recently finish Jack McDevitt’s Priscilla Hutchins novels, and they were quite enjoyable, but it didn’t move me to blog about it. The book is extremely well written with fantastic character development, has an intriguing plot, and comes to a satisfying resolution. Fraa Erasmas (Raz) is a young “monk” (avout) living the the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a cloister of science, mathematics and philosophy. The earth-like world has a complex society made up of the secular inhabitants (living outside the various Concents) and the avout (living within). This society has a history of several thousand years, punctuated by cycles of world-ravishing societal unrest and collapse – but the Concents, at least some, have maintained the flower of knowledge throughout. This part of the setting reminded me of A Canticle for Leibowitz. However, the world is much more richly described, and the Terrible Events have not as much scarred society, as built it up, though they do make the same mistakes over and over.

Fraa Erasmus is thrown from his sheltered life into the center of a world-spanning adventure, as the inhabitants of Arbre react first to the hint of, and the actualization of visitation from space. The book is replete with interesting characters having learned dialogs, adventure, intrigue, love and family. It makes you think as you follow the philosophical discourses of the avout as they place events into their own contex, based on their affiliation. The end game, with a polycosmic universe and non-linear time is fascinating. It’s 900+ pages of great entertainment, and I need to read it again to pick up nuances I missed the first time through.

However, first, I have a copy of Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, his most well known book, to read this weekend on the plane to Buffalo…

Good stuff. Pick it up, you’ll be glad you did.

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