Over the centuries, cities, and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs, bloody violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet always the avout have managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. Erasmus, however, has no fear of the outside - the Extramuros - for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.
Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fras and suurs prepare to venture outside the concent's gates - opening them wide at the same time to welcome the curious "extras" in.
During his first Apert as a fra, Erasmus eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected". But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the perilous brink of cataclysmic change.
Powerful unforeseen forces threaten the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros - a threat that only an unsteady alliance of Saecular and avout can oppose - as, one by one, Raz's colleagues, teachers, and friends are all called forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster.
Suddenly burdened with a worlds-shattering responsibility, Erasmus finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of everything - as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of an unfamiliar planet...and far beyond.
©2008 Neal Stephenson; (P)2008 Macmillan Audio
I'm a politically conservative, technologically inclined, open-minded, all American citizen of this great terrestrial ball we call home. I keep my head in the clouds, I love Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels but I keep my feet on the ground, I stay informed on news and current events, and I love the fact that I can still form and express my own opinions in this great nation we call The Untied States.
I purchased this book as a recommendation from our friends at This Week in Tech. I found that the selection was kind of slow to start, with all of "The Dictionary, 4th edition, AR 3000" references. Once I got into the story line I found myself listening everyday to and from work, on lunch, and even when I laid down to sleep. The characters become very rich in the way that the narrator inflects his voice and describes the scenery. I found that many times I was almost there with the main character "Fra Eraz-mus". I cringed when he was hurt, laughed when he laughed, and felt a certain "kin-ship" with "Fra's Leo, Arcibalt, Oralow", and even the Millinarian, "Fra Jad". I will consider this book a great purchase for a long time to come.
If you like Neal Stephenson you'll love this book. If you don't know him and are interested in speculative fiction - you'll love this book. If you'd rather watch an action movie - stay away from this book. This is a story that causes you to think, speculate and ponder. It will put you in another world and make you feel comfortable there. More than a science fiction story - this is an exploration into the possibilities of now.
I've been a fan of sci-fi for thirty years now, I've read hundreds of books and listened to hundreds more here on audible. The vast majority of these books I find entertaining and enjoyable but from time to time I come across a book that feels like more than entertainment, its a book with a message, a work of real literature. In this short list are books such as The Hyperion Cantos, Armor, The Ender series, and a handful of others.
Anathem is now added to that list. I will admit, I usually like more action in my books than Anathem provides but it creates a world so rich in detail that I was three quarters through the book before I realized that no one had died...yet. Just because this book takes its time getting to the violence doesn't mean it doesn't have any.
"So you like it, I get that, but what kind of book is this?"
This is a hard question to answer and I don't want to spoil anything because much of this books strength lies in mystery and discovery. I can't really compare it to any other books because its not really like any other books, not even other books by this author except in his use of humor.
The best I can do is this: Imagine a world with nearly seven thousand years of technological history but one that has remained as at more or less current levels due to a series of wars, natural disasters and politics. In this world are a society of scientest-philospher-monks living inside sealed monastery like compounds. They have virtually no contact with the outside world and have been denied the tools of modern science by a larger world that is afraid of what they could create given their dedication to knowledge. Anathem is written from the point of view of one of these people, an eighteen year old apprentice working under the tutelage of an astronomer/theoretical physicist.
As a last note I will say that this is one of the best read audiobooks I have ever listened to and the brief musical clips at the begining of each chapter fit the story perfectly.
I think I've listened to this book a hundred times. It's VERY long and some parts are a little slow but it's very entertaining overall. The narration is very good and can keep me interested even when the plot does dip a little bit.
This story has a very interesting take on the history of an Earth-like planet regarding the relationship between science and religion (and politics to some extent). There's an interesting mixture of fantastic technology with ancient ritual. The logical debates / conversations are some high points in the story telling.. There is just enough detail and explanation to keep things interesting without bringing things to a halt. Several characters were developed well enough to make me really care what happened to them, which is rare for me.
The end gets a little crazy and some friends have said it's a bit too much, but i didn't mind.
Be forewarned that the history style timeline layout at the front of the book is fairly long and VERY boring to listen to. You have no idea what the events are that are being described. I think it would be safe to skip it and then listen to it later after you get a feel for the world in which the story takes place.
This book has everything I want in an audiobook: internal consistency, engaging ideas, good narration, and enough length to solidify the impression of being within another world. I wish I could find more like it - Lonesome Dove and Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series come to mind as similarly engaging works. (Suggestions? adhole5(at)yahoo)
Ignore the negative comments about Stephenson's neologisms - they are interesting in themselves and succeed in deepening the sense of a parallel world. Snow Crash was sometimes distracting with its incessant slang but the language here is solidly engaging.
Well worth the two credits.
Before buying this book I read the reviews and realized that the negative reviews were all complaints about vocabulary. Most great novels in this genre have their own language. Orson Scott Card uses roots that should be familiar to those who appreciate words. If as a child you read the dictionary for fun you shouldn't have a problem.
I found myself into part 4 before I realized it. The plot and story line are wonderful, exciting and stimulating to this old dreamer.
The only complaint comes from my wife trying to get my attention. If you liked his previous books you will love this. I can't wait for more.
I hate to post a review that is going to seem pretty similar to a few of those that came before me, but I have just finished the audiobook, after reading the novel twice.
Firstly, I felt more engaged in the story due to the audio version, although usually this is not the case for me, I think this is because I paid more attention to the more technical and philosophical parts of the novel that I was able to skip my eyes over if I felt confused or bored while reading, due to this I have come away with a better understanding of a lot of concepts Neal Stephenson has presented, or I guess RE-presented, due to this audiobook.
Secondly, I totally agree with the disappointment of the novel ending. Not that I disliked the ending, but that it *had* to end. I really loved the world, and the characters in the world. I felt attached to them, a fair amount of them, by the end for sure. The audiobook only helped to enforce these feelings.
Finally, those who say they are disappointed with the way the story actually ends, this is quite frankly one of the most... complete endings that Neal Stephenson has had to offer. Personally I've liked the way most of his books have ended, but some people just seem to want that neat little tie off. That's usually not how his writing works. This novel had one of the more.. developed endings to his stories.
But not so developed that there couldn't possibly be a next novel in this world-track? I don't actually think it will happen.. but I think I'd really like it if it did!
I enjoyed the main narrator mostly, although when it came to the character conveying grief or sadness, it seemed a bit off. But it's a minor quibble in such an overall great job. And it was a nice touch to have Neal read a good portion of the 'The Dictionary' quotes.
Despite the length, I'm almost tempted to listen all over again, since I enjoy the story as a whole so much.
I've listened to "Snow Crash" and "Diamond Age" before this, and despite the weird words thrown in, I'm finding Anathem to be Stephenson's most accessible work that I've ever read (as well as the funniest.) The idea of cloistering the scientists instead of the religious just tickles me, for some reason and Stephenson drops plenty of hints as to why this works best in the world he's creating.
If anyone is hesitant to try this due to the criticisms online of the jargon or made-up words, rest easy. Each chapter opens with an entry from the Dictionary, and they usually define any word that is going to have significance in the coming text. Through those entries and "Apert," I feel Stephenson has told me everything I need to know to make sense of the story. As part of the underlying theme appears to be a criticism of our "just Google it" mentality, I don't have a problem with needing to work for some of what I'm reading.
The reader's voice fits the first person point of view character very well, as does the author's deadpan delivery of the Dictionary entries. (I especially enjoyed the entry on "going Hundred.")
Not only am I looking forward to finishing this book, I'd dearly love for Stephenson to write the story of how that statue got to the Concent of Saunt Edhar--he can't just leave it at being a long and lively tale!
This was my first Neal Stephenson book, but definitely won't be the last. I just finished it and I am just amazed at the story that was told, an entire world was created, and you are taken on a journey of epic proportions.
The reading of this book is possibly the best I've ever heard, and I've had an Audible membership for over 5 years.
I highly, highly recommend this to anyone. It is a long book, and the first few chapters take a bit of work to get used to, but once you're in, wow...
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
If you're a nerd who delights in detailed speculation about technical subjects, philosophical questions, and the intersection between the two, and has a somewhat sarcastic sense of humor, chances are that Neal Stephenson is already high on your list of favorite novelists. If you don't fit this type, you might find that his doorstop-sized works leave you bored silly, feeling like you're watching an interminable lecture by an overly-caffeinated TED Talker.
Obviously, I belong to the former camp, so read accordingly.
Anathem definitely isn’t a reboot to Stephenson’s glib Snow Crash style (for which I’m thankful), but it is, after the Baroque Cycle, a welcome return to writing a self-contained novel with a manageable cast of characters. He imagines a planet called Arbe, home to an ancient, monkish order called the Avout. In the manner of classical Greek philosophers, the Avout have developed and maintained their “Mathic World’s” knowledge of mathematics, science, and philosophy, and have lived apart (or been segregated for mutual safety, depending on the point of view) from the rest of society and most technology, even as outside civilizations have risen, violently collapsed, and risen again over thousands of years. Naturally, there are many factions and suborders, with their own ideologies, rituals, and politics. It’s like the old “school of wizards who live outside the Muggle world” trope, but much nerdier.
Anathem is narrated from the perspective of a young, socially naive Avout named Erasmus, living in an era that’s roughly similar to present-day Earth terms of technology and social order. Erasmus has just spent the past decade of his life walled off from “the saecular” world, but briefly renewed contact with it reveals strange goings-on on Arbe, which set in motion a plot that I won’t give away, except to say that it takes a number of turns over the course of the novel, evolving from mystery to science fiction to adventure to a parallel-universe story that enlists some pretty mind-bending meta-quantum-physical ideas.
The first hundred pages or so of the novel are somewhat confusing, and readers might feel overwhelmed by all the invented names and terminology. But, if you’re patient and pay attention, it’ll all make sense. Fortunately, the story, once it comes to the fore, is interesting, and I grew to like the characters, particularly the brilliant, maddeningly roundabout teacher figure, Orolo; the martial-arts-obsessed oddball, Lio; the lovably irritating kid with Asperger’s Syndrome, Barb; and the humorously at-arms-length narration style of Erasmus himself. For me, watching different minds and philosophies play off each other through dialogue and cleverly-constructed scenes was the joy at the heart of the book, far more than “what happens”. Stephenson does a fine job of getting difficult concepts to make sense. I also enjoyed the intricately constructed action sequences, though these are fewer.
Criticisms? Mainly just the usual one for Stephenson -- i.e. that the geeking out takes precedence over everything else. If you're not onboard for all the idea construction and digressions, the plot doesn't offer any innovations or emotional experiences that haven't been done better in other science fiction novels. Also, I found the world-building a little skewed. We learn a lot about the Avout, but the rest of the cultural/political/geographical reality of Arbe remains vague until needed for the plot in some way -- e.g. "now I will explain the religion of Arbe (which is pretty interesting), so we can ponder that for a chapter before moving on".
Still, I think Anathem will stand as one of Neal Stephenson’s most ingenious novels, if you can embrace the challenge of reading it. It’s got the wit and intellect of Cryptonomicon combined with the humility to perceive the author’s own small place in a vast chain of human thought (even an imagined one). It also proves that he can do appealing characters, too. As both a thinker and a writer, he’s come a long way from the brash, callow cyberpunk who wrote Snow Crash.
On the audiobook experience, this is one of those rare books where I appreciated having both the audio and print editions. The character voices add some personality that doesn’t come across in the text and made the invented terminology less jarring to my brain, but the print edition provides a helpful glossary and is useful for parts that require several reads to make sense. Plus, the chants were a nice touch.
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