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Stephenson Dazzles Again!
on September 30, 2008
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.
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.