IT Consultant and PLC/Automation Software Developer.
Mystical, captivating, and reinforcing! A must for any reader that loves epics like Dune, Star Wars, THHGTTG, etc. Science, Math, Physics, Astronomy, Love, Loss, Recollection Travel and Discovery all manifest in this uniquely developed society and the quest of the main characters...for truth. Details of the sciences do not drone out the story nor ablate the presentation and development of the characters...those things stay just outside the periphery providing a great ribbon of strength to support the story and like a fine ribbon of silk to not get in the way (unlike some story tellers that take an entire chapter to tell you enough detail about the Kalashnikov that you could basically carve your own 1:8 scale from a well used bar of soap with your eyes blindfolded and both hands tied behind your back).
Where this story fails is unfortunately were a lot of N.S. stories fail...their wrap-up, conclusion, ending...whatever you want to call it because they rarely are any of those. I am not sure if it is publisher fault, writer fault or if N.S. gets abducted by aliens when he gets close to finishing each story, but most fail to fully satisfy the reader's journey only to conclude with weak summaries, weird events that kick the reader in the back of the head, and generally leave the reader thinking that the publisher's deadline was more precious than reader's enjoyment or intellect (think that when reader's gets tired of it and move on to another author!) The equivalent of a Literature Guillotine generally awaits the reader in the final chapter(s) and this one is hardly any different.
Neal does a great job of reading his story as if it was the only story he knew and unlike a lot of authors that don't read / record well, that could never be said of Neal. Like other greats, its as if he has lived with these characters, knows their voices, hearts, appearance, and manners all so well and all so distinctive and is equally able to present them to the reader.
Like many other listeners, I took a chance on this book because of Stephenson's earlier and massively entertaining work "Snow Crash."
But in "Anathem" Stephenson seemed to embrace form and novelty and as you listen to this book you can feel what the author was going for: he invented a new vocabulary and used it to flesh out his poly-universe string theory-ish philosophy - with the thought - perhaps - that the book would transcend predictive or fantasy fiction leading future generations of big IQ uber fan boys to speak in Orth the way some might now use Kligon or Elvish or Jawaese.
But Stephenson did this all at the cost of plot and character. Honestly it's as though a truly great philosophy professor got together with a community college creative writing freshman and said "I'll handle the tough thinking, you take care of the plot."
It's not all bad. There were some really nice devices and reversals (the best of which is monk-like existence is reserved for those who have completely abandoned faith). And the plot wasn't completely vacuous - but there were hours (literally) of what seemed to be incredibly opaque fluff. When I reached the end of a diatribe I felt ripped off because it was as inconsequential as it was impenetrable.
The performance was good overall, but there was a flaw that could have been easily fixed. If you choose to listen to "Anathem" get used to this phrase: "The Dictionary, 4th Edition, A.R 3000" because it is spoken after every single definition that is given. And there are a lot of definitions. Ah - but remember that we are listeners and not readers so what we really need after a long definition of a word we've never heard before is the word again so we can remember it without having to hit rewind. As it stands, we get the obscure word, then a long multi-part definition and then when we've forgotten what was being defined instead of having the word repeated, we get the wildly unhelpful and meaningless dictionary edition information. Why? You might think that this was just the producer being faithful to the work but since Neil Stephenson was one of the readers it seems he could have corrected this during production.
As noted elsewhere, read this book first; then decide if it is worth 2 credits to listen. Very much enjoyed Stephenson's Snow Crash...it seems Stephenson delivers alternate worlds for quite different audiences.
This was amazing. I was sorry when it was over.
The characters and the world they inhabited was well-realized. Kudos to the narrator as well!
As a small corrective to the previous reviewer - the correct title of Stephenson's book before the Baroque Cycle is Cryptonomicon. The Necronomicon is an entirely different book.
This book blew me away, both with its heady ideas, and its rip-roaring story. This may be one of the books best suited to my personality, in that it required extraordinary concentration to keep up with the philosophy, but every time it seemed likely to lose me, Stephenson would throw in a fight, a flight, a disaster, or an emotional scene to keep me invested in the characters. Even the philosophical discussions have their intrigues, their personalities, and their excitements. This books is not for those who have little patience for long digressions into philosophy and the more abstract cul-de-sacs of science, but it is for those who love their ideas and their action in equal measure. This is heady stuff, make no mistake, but the rewards are great.
As a side note, and at the risk of misleading some who don't read carefully, this book reminded me in some places of Dickens, in the writer's obvious love of detail, and of Tolkien, in the way that the author created his world, imagining it as fully and as deeply as any I've ever read. In contrast to Tolkien, however, Stephenson has populated his world with real people, struggling with real emotions and human foibles. In that, this book might be closer than either of these to Herbert's Dune, with a better sense of humor, but no less a love of ideas and politics.
Like many of the other reviewers, I had a hard time at first following along to what was going on. I think I listened to the first 2 to 3 hours of the book 3 times before continuing with the story all the way through. Once I did, I found this to be one of my favorite Stephenson reads. Like many of his other books, the author throws a lot of scientific/philosophical/historical dialogue at the reader, and for many this is a bore. For me, however, this is where Stephenson shines. If you like Stephenson and are put off by the learning cure, push past it. If this is your first encounter with him, perhaps something more accessible from the get go (snowcrash or the diamond age) would be a better place to start.
I am the type of listener who prefers the longer epic tales. This book is complex, interesting and humorous with an invented vocabulary that you have to get use to. Once I got use to the flow, I realized how smart and funny the novel is. Quite a few of the dictionary definitions made me laugh out loud.
Anathem is a great listen. It's not perfect but is fun and stimulating. There are some themes that come from the current state of scientific thinking, you will recognize them. This is the "seven in one blow" story with deep thematic underpinnings. If you have no interest in science, history or philosophy, pass this up.