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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Independent author and amateur beefcake

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


A first on this blog and a new feature. I'll attempt to write reviews of the books I'm reading, as a goal to keep myself reading, about a book a week, as well as get me writing of this blog.

First up Anathem, by Neal Stephenson.

I'm not going to be one of those book reviewers that inadvertently, or intentionally, tells you the plot of the book in their review. My goal here isn't to recap each chapter of said book and then call it my review. Instead I'll cut and paste the publishers description, because if they think it's okay for you to know this information then I guess I do to, and then I'll give you my two cents too.

Anathem, the latest invention by the New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, is a magnificent creation: a work of great scope, intelligence, and imagination that ushers readers into a recognizable—yet strangely inverted—world.

Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent’s walls. Three times during history’s darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas 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 fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent’s gates—at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious “extras” in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas 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 brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize 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, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world—as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.

Now, my two cents, as promised....

I not the smartest man, barely passed a lot of my math courses, to be honest, but, somehow, I still found this book pretty riveting. I would assume that a basic knowledge of higher math would be key to enjoying this book a bit more but Stephenson does a great job of explaining it to even us hicks.

For me the little bit of pretentiousness that comes from only catering to the smart kids in class is overshadowed by the world and characters that Stephenson has created here. At the end of the day, it's still an ID4, The Day The Earth Stood Still or, even, War Of The Worlds type story, with a bit of originality thrown in.

I did think that, at a few points, in the book, Stephenson lost control of the narrative, to use one of his own words, from the book, and the characters were lost in the idea of what he was trying to convey. For me, however, this is a small complaint, I would rather the author be passionate about what he's trying to write than contrived about it.

I also found the ending to be a bit of a let down. You read a thousand pages you expect a better pay off's all I'm saying.

All in all, though, the book was good and I look forward to rereading it, at some point. The world building was solid and realistic and the characters and groups that live within that world also felt spot on. Nothing seemed forced, as sometimes happens in a lot of fantasy/sci-fi books.

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