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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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...
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 very much enjoyed this book.
This novel plays with words and worlds. It is speculative fiction at its best in many ways.
I found myself wanting to join the residents of the Concent of Saunt Edhar in dialogue. I never knew exactly which way the story would turn, which is refreshing.
Don't let the history at the opening throw you, the rest of the book moves along well.
I am deeply wary of a particular aspect of this book which I will call a science fiction plot device (sorry to be cryptic; I do not want to spoil it) but by the end I genuinely bought in to it, which surprised me.
I enjoy surprise and learning new things. A novel novel is the cure for literary listlessness.
This novel does also have a few of the weaknesses of speculative fiction, such as characterizations weaker than usual (and weaker from what I have seen from Mr. Stephenson previously), and an inconsistent narrative voice. These are quibbles however.
I unhesitatingly recommend this work as an engaging venture.
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