Thursday, December 18, 2008

This morning I finished Anathem by Neal Stephenson.

In Anathem, Stephenson returns to the stand alone novels he used to write before his huge Baroque Cycle and it works very well. Unlike his last few books, Anathem focuses on one character and follows him throughout the novel. I enjoyed it from the start and it got better as it went along.

The beginning of the book will probably be offputing to some readers, in the same way that starting Patick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin novels is offputing. Stephenson does very little to set up, or give background, on the world he has created. Instead, he dives right in to the story. In addition, the story is very dialogue driven and uses a lot of terms that are specific to the history of this world. I spent the first hundred pages flipping back and forth to the glossary to keep all the different terms, historical personages and events straight. Once this information is mostly absorbed, the story starts to take off.

The story starts in a concent, kind of an intellectual monestary that is isolated from the outside world except for set periods every one, ten, hundred and thousand years. From there, it eventually ranges over the outside world, and above it. Along the way are a lot of intellectual discussions and a little bit of action. The novel is heavy on ideas, and light on action, which will turn off some science fiction fans, but those with a taste for philosophy and exploration of ideas will find a real treat.

Overall, Anathem is one of my favourite novels of the year.