Thursday, April 09, 2009

Enigmatic Anathem

After some 16,000 iPod Touch page-flicks, I have finished reading Neal Stephenson's Anathem (using Amazon's Kindle for iPhone application). While I bogged down in a few sections that seemed closer to Gödel, Escher, and Bach than to any "science fiction" novel I ever read, Anathem is an impressive feat of imaginative world-building. In spite of the length (960 paper pages), a lot of invented vocabulary, relatively weak character development, and the sometimes heavy philosophical side trips, it held my interest quite well.

If you decide to read Anathem, don't be discouraged by the first 100 pages or so which focus on the arcane concerns and ceremonies of the "Avout," people who live a monk-like existence in walled, isolated "concents" where they are allowed very limited contact with people and things of the "outside world." The Avout are generally not religious - they are devoted to mathematics, philosophy, and science (but they are not allowed access to most technology - long story). Their institutions have survived for thousands of years while governments and cities of the "saecular" world have come and gone.

I'm tired (it's after midnight in London, flying home Friday) so I won't say much more about Anathem except that it is as much an adventure-packed SF novel as it is a novel of philosophy and an exploration of the need for a "long now" perspective. There's a lot of strange and thought-provoking stuff too (even some orbital mechanics).

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