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Review: Anathem

Editorial Review - Bookreporter.com - Stephen Hubbard

ANATHEM, Neal Stephenson's new novel, centers on a young man named Fraa Erasmas, a monk, of sorts, residing within the walls of the Concent of Saunt Edhar. There, he and his fellow residents/students devote their lives to the understanding of math, science, cosmology, metaphysics and more. Everything must have reason and be provable, or it is invalid. In such a place, the residents are segregated ... Read full review

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This was a re-read, but apparently I didn't post the book the first time around in November 08. Remark from an email at the time: "Anathem would be a perfect follow-up to The Stuff of Thought as Stephenson -- whose imaginative versatility and intellectual power amazes more and more -- spends a great deal of time in this book examining the nature of pure ideas and consciousness, while assaying a fascinating and well-conceived alternate world." 

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The first 100 pages are an eye-watering slog, requiring a huge effort on the part of the reader to visualise Stephenson's world. But the pace picks up, and the book imperceptibly becomes breathtaking and quite spectacular, in the best Space Opera tradition. What I particularly liked was Stephenson's mordant humour throughout. The blending of info dumping, discussion and plain old narrative mechanics is deftly handled, with some Sense of Wonder to spare for a wonderfully enigmatic ending. Whoever said 'old-fashioned' SF is dead and buried hasn't read Anathem. 

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I was tempted to put the book down in the first 100 pages. I'm glad that I didn't. This book has so many fascinating ideas about our physical world. I'm a real believer in proof over faith, so the idea of monastery-as-univeristy is just awesome. Can't say enough. This book is now one of my absolute favourites. 

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From a geeky perspective, this is one of the best things I've ever read. I never imagined that, after almost 1,000 pages, I'd be so sad for a book to end. At least for me, Anathem is an absolute delight for the mind. I am sure I will return to it many times throughout my life.

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The more I read this book the better it gets. I still cannot believe the publishers allowed Neal to print a book that basically is a philosophy primer, with all the names changed.
It is brilliant
.
The world, the characters, the plot are all absolutely original. The fact that 'humans' actually turn up later in the book only adds to the power of the novel. The book begins focused on a tiny 'monestary' in the North, and ends encompassing the entire world within which it is based.
Their are moments of typical Neal Stpehenson 'geek' humour, and just as many challenging thoughts (you will need to read the book at least twice).
The language requires a bit of work, and I did not realise there was a glossary at the back of the book at first. This is a necessity if you are to being to follow the complex world.
One of the best things I have every read.
And amazingly for Neal Stephenson, probably the best ending for him since 'The Big U'.
Quality 5/5
Readibility 4.5/5
 

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This book is nothing short of brilliant and I would happily recommend it to anyone.

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He ended this one wonderfully! Stephenson has tied together head-clearing philosophy with a well-paced narrative. Full of wonderful ideas and imagination. Thoroughly enjoyable.

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Neal Stephenson is one of those rare writers who get better with each book. This book touches on themes of philosophy, religion and quantum physics all wrapped in a Science Fiction adventure story set in the future on another planet. Amazing!!

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