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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stephenson Dazzles Again!, Sept. 30 2008
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
There is something really wonderful about picking up a new book
that's over 900 pages long and every one of them is worth reading slowly
- no skimming ahead - really reading and enjoying every word. Neal
Stephenson's new book is a masterpiece-and boy can I see a movie in this!

It has great writing, a fantastic creation of a world like ours yet not,
set in a future that is not very pretty - the secular world is a
post apocalyptic landscape wasted by years and years of war,
pollution, and rise and fall of societies, resulting in a general population
that lives to consume the latest in gadgets, fast food and entertainment.
Sound familiar?

There is another society, behind concent (or convent/monastic)
walls where the inhabitants are devoted to knowledge - to slowly and
carefully thinking through the big philosophical, mathematical and
scientific ideas, for both the preservation of their own society, but also
for the good of the outside world. In fact their society is allowed to
exist for this purpose. Yet they are viewed with suspicion by the world
outside their walls. What are they doing in there? They dress funny, they
speak funny and they just must be up to something. But enter an alien
threat to the secular world and these scholars are drafted into whatever
fight may come.

Our protagonist Fra Erasmus is 19 years old, and the story is
told from his point of view - which is truly wonderful. He's a teenager,
but he's also part of that scholarly world of ideas and these combine to
make a smart, older than his years,witty, engaging character whose
heroic journey makes a riveting read. One of my favourite lines, comes
when Erasmus or Raz as he's known to his friends, tries to sum up what
he is about to face. His sister Cord, who is from the secular world but
who is joining him to face whatever comes asks him what she can do to
help. Raz tells her, "Our opponent is an alien starship packed with
atomic bombs...We have a protractor." "OK" she replies, "I'll go home and see if
I can scrounge up a ruler and a piece of string."

Funny, and this book is funny as well as packed with great ideas
about what it means to exist, to be human, to think, and also about
quality of life. It's a timely book. We're facing the realities of global
warming, a world in which everthing fast is good. But the backlash has
begun and people are starting to think about what happens to our planet if
we don't stop, slow down and do more than just smell the roses.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new favorite, Sept. 26 2008
Alexander H. Tsang (Calgary, Alberta Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
This magnificent novel is now my favorite book of all time. Stephenson's storytelling is superb, with wonderful thought and attention to detail and many humorous touches. The world that he builds in this book is complex and imaginative, with its own vocabulary and some really staggering ideas as part of its lore. Some people might be put off by some of the philosophical dialogues, but to me this book is a masterpiece.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Plot Worth Sticking With, Feb. 16 2009
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
1. There is a complex and vibrant story being told between the covers of this book. It involves well-developed characters operating in a futuristic society that has encountered some internal threats - technology destroying the environment - to its continued existence and must undergo some drastic transformations in order to survive. The problem is that it is the government or Saecular Power that orders the changes that virtually shut down all intellectual activity on the planet Arbre, assigning the intellects to become monks. Their leader, Orolo, is exiled, in an anathem, to the farthest part of the planet in the hope that it will quash any further rebellion. It is against this tyrannical force that Erasmus and his band of monastics fight back in an effort to restore reason, creativity, and goodwill. The story moves from there at a break-neck speed.
2. Stephenson introduces, as usual, a lot of heavy language into this plot. Every scientific, political, and social action has its own special word. Don't feel shy about turning to the glossary at the back to consult the definition of a word.
3. The monks, led by the efforts of Erasmus, are attempting to break with this old regime by investigating scientific theories that open up the planet to some incredible possibilities like making contact with life from another planet or constellation. Stephenson has that ability to take old theories such as how the human mind works and turn them into some very imaginative inventions.
4. This book is meant to be read with a certain sense of reflection and anticipation. It is always wise with Stephenson to invest some time thinking about where you've come from and where you might be going with this fantastic intergalatical journey. There is a definite purpose to the whole saga that can be easily muddled if you lose the thread of the story.
5. Stephenson places a heavy emphasis on the marrying of both the humanistic and scientific aspects of man's existence. The first function allows mankind to realise their great potential to work within community as individuals; the second provides a sense of what awaits mankind when they have properly harnessed their true intellectual power for the greater good of all.
6. Be prepared to spend a couple of weeks going through this book. Count me in as a Stephenson fan. The man is a smooth writer and a complex, abstract thinker who looks for solutions to big problems.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight, Jan. 11 2009
Cristian Tibirna (Qc, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
Up there, with Dune and the Foundation or Rama series.

I made the unfortunate move to read some reviews of the book before being able to make my own opinion. A regretable breach of an ancient rule I always respected.

I try to remember when I read something as enthraling and captivating as Stephenson's last jem. And I always end up thinking of Dune.

What I like most about the Arbre world and its depictions is how much is rooted in one's personal phylosophic, mathematic and overall scientific culture.

Then there is the difficult to imagine exploit of depicting in exhilarrating narratives, a cosmological theory that just makes sense. This book is as much a work of scientific vulgarisation as it is a fascinating space opera.

Yes, there are some editing errors (like repeated words, wrong accords and tenses), yes, there is even a small but flagrant inconsistency (a character popping up in the middle of a space-walk with no reason of it to beeing elswhere than the planet's surface). Yes, the ending could be (perhaps too harshly) be viewed as cheesy, if one checks out her own imagination before reading the last chapter.

But on the whole, the author manages to capture the imagination, the thinking, the problem-solving skills of the reader in ways not often seen in today's literature.

Thanks, M. Stephenson, for this exceptional work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stephenson's best!, Nov. 14 2014
ronbc (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Anathem (Kindle Edition)
It’s hard to categorize Neal Stephenson, who’s written everything from cyberpunk (Snow Crash) to 3,000 pages on the science and economics that created the modern world (The Baroque Cycle). Stephenson’s wide range has its best effect in the most satisfying of all his works, the remarkable journey into the future, and the past, that is Anathem.

Anathem takes place on the planet Arbre, in a time that for us on Earth would be the far future. But the richest part of the world of Arbre is its riff on our past. Like all good sci-fi, Anathem gives Stephenson a stage for social commentary and criticism. He creates a society which has split literally in two, with scholars in unchanging monastic communities, called maths, living alongside but not along with the transient cultures of the secular world. The maths are populated by avouts, who are restricted by their 4,000 year-old discipline to purely theoretical learning. Advanced machines and technologies, known as praxis, are the provinces of the outside culture, which interacts with parts of the closed maths only for short, specified periods. Until, that is, an alien visitor brings them uneasily together and generates the central action of the novel.

Avouts belong to groups organized by the relative frequency of their contact with the secular. Worldly students commit themselves to isolation for one year at a time, while the permanent scholars participate in direct exchanges with the outside world during “openings,” called aperts, which occur at intervals of ten, one hundred, and one thousand years. In this way, parts of a math keep themselves and their lore “safe” from outside influence for periods long enough to ensure the endurance of Arbre’s intellectual culture, no matter how disrupted or corrupted the comparatively mercurial world outside becomes.

The culture of the maths is a close cousin of our own intellectual history. The names have been changed, but the history is ours. Stoics, Platoists, realists, fundamentalists — all of them and more exist in different but recognizable form on Arbre. Stephenson creates a clever history and partial language for this parallel world. For example, the maths are named after great scholars of the past, called Saunts (from the word savant, abbreviated St.). Scholars are avout; male avouts are fras and females surs. Savant, saint, brother, sister — the resonance with the language of our own medieval monasteries is clear, and meaningful. Avout evokes both avocation and devout. Anathem itself combines both anthem and anathema. Word games that are more than word games abound here, and erudite mind-play of this sort is a general characteristic of all of Stephenson’s work.

Like most of Stephenson’s books, Anathem has a long and complicated plot. Stephenson is a writer who’s never met a blank page he couldn’t fill, and if there is anything negative to be said about Anathem it’s that it requires some commitment and endurance — especially in the long, long adventure story which occupies the book’s second half.

But it’s quite a story. With considerable skill, Stephenson weaves into his futuristically medieval setting a thoroughly modern encounter with beings from a series of parallel universes, whose natures and fates are closely entwined with ours. Think of Eco’s The Name of the Rose blending with Hawking’s The Grand Design and you get some idea of the ambitious reach of Anathem.

Long passages of astronomy, physics, and philosophy spin through the novel, in an intellectual exercise that centres on the clash between two fundamental world views, which argue respectively that the world reflects ideal forms (thus, an Arbran version of Platonism) and that reality is a syntactic mental exercise (a view that is consistent with the multiple-universe model). The novel’s narrative outcome depends on the truth of quantum uncertainty, on the kinds of “temporal paradoxes” so popular on all of the Star Trek incarnations.

To help the reader (and, one suspects, just for the fun of it), Stephenson includes a glossary of Arbran terms and several math-based appendices.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story, July 27 2014
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This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read great stories. It's imaginative, and the reader is immersed in a rich and very different world.

Mr. Stephenson's stories, including this one, are 'fruitful' - after reading them, I go on to read books suggested by or related to the story. I consider this a very positive feature of a good book.

I also recommend all of this author's other books.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique Experience, March 1 2013
This review is from: Anathem (Mass Market Paperback)
This book was guaranteed to get mixed reviews. For me, at the onset, it was a slow start and I had to keep flipping to the glossary. Which I don't mind but it can be frustrating. But as I got deeper into the book, I went wow! The storytelling is amazing and I love Stephenson constantly used humor throughout the book. All too many SF writers forget humor works in SF. Lio obsession of vlor extending from ants to plants and weeds to re-enact a famous battle is priceless. The book is complex with Terran ideas adjusted. It delves into fascinating philological concepts. It takes time to get to know the planet, people, customs and language. The characters jump out of the page and when some die, it hurts. For me, it was well worth the effort. As I reached the end, I didn't want to close the book but I had to. I have reread it two times and am still picking things I missed the previous times.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-reading is recommended, March 14 2009
vrai (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
Having gone through this short novel (Stephenson short), I find myself all the more impressed with his sudden jumps in form and imagination, from 'Zodiac' to 'Cryptonomicon', through the historical novels, and now this.

In brief, if you enjoyed 'Snow Crash', but were rolling your eyes through the historical novels, this is his closest return to hard sci-fi... and it is very hard sci-fi. Be prepared for a difficult, but ultimately rewarding read. 'The Diamond Age' should prepare you better.

If you enjoyed the historical novels, then you should appreciate the detailed interactions between all the characters in Anathema, but it is harder to keep the 'minor' characters segregated. The plot is not as expansive, but then again, the book is only 900 pages long.

Therefore I strongly urge potential readers to actually read this book, knowing that it is not simple, nor simplistic, but as subtle as really good chocolate.

Neal Stephenson has likened himself to the mayor of Des Moines in terms of his relative fame (some 200,000 might recognize his name) and I consider myself a resident of his community. It gives me some annoyance to see excellent ratings from those who follow Stephenson for this, his most recent book, but, with all due respect, misinterpretating what they are reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stephenson at his most brilliant, Aug. 11 2010
Marc (New York, new York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Anathem (Mass Market Paperback)
This book is wonderful. Not his best IMO but yet another standout in the genre. This was the first book of his that I read and it let me to read all his others.

Some people find it a bit dry in the beginning, but sticking with it really really pays off. Once the tipping point happens in the storyline, things happen quickly and you won't be able to put it down.

The world that he creates is very creatize and incredibly original. It is packed full of science and great fiction. While not spoiling anything, it uses a theory in quantum mechanics in the book and twists it into something really fun.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, April 23 2012
This review is from: Anathem (Mass Market Paperback)
I finished reading this yesterday, and it's so good I immediately felt like reading it again. Even at 981 pages, it seems too short a time spent immersed in this world Stephenson has created. The characters are likeable, and despite the strange circumstances of their lives, are easy to relate to. I found myself wanting to converse with Erasmas at times, to contribute my own knowledge to a situation, or to learn, or just to know more about him and other characters.

Much like Snow Crash, this is a world that is different and exotic, yet in many ways very recognizably like our own.
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Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Hardcover - Sept. 9 2008)
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