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Beth Meacham, David Brin

Anathem

Anathem - Neal Stephenson I have been reading this book for 17 days, when you have lived with a single book this long there is inevitably separation pain, now that I have finished it I feel like I just woke up from a long weird dream. I had a lot of trepidation about reading this book, the reviews and comments from fellow sf readers (hello PrintSF dudes!) are generally positive but I gathered from them that this is a long hard one (ooh-er!) which is bit intimidating given my very average intelligence. Still, I am intrigued by what I have heard about it and so I consumed a copious amount of fish and cracked the book open...

The book is not easy to synopsize, though I am tempted to just write "Monks vs Aliens!" which will probably cause the numerous fans of the book to do the online equivalent of lobbing rotten tomatoes at me, in any case it would be a gross oversimplification and covers only a small part of the book. The story is set in a world where academics live monk-like in monasteries apart from the beer guzzling, pizza eating, TV watching, rest of the world. They devote their lives contemplating profound issues, philosophy, intellectual pursuits, and obscure disciplines. One “concent” (monastery) even specialize in kung-fu (sort of). When a spaceship is detected by one of the avouts (monk-like academics) everything change.

With Anathem Neal Stephenson has created “Abere” a world so rich in details it makes Middle-Earth look like two bedroom apartment. There is a lot of history which is gradually revealed to the reader and an almost overwhelming number of neologisms. I think the key to “getting” this book lies more with having enough patience to stick with it until you are eventually submerged in the world of the book. I definitely needed some help with the many strange new terms the author coined, but such help is easily found online (especially at the Anathem Wiki website). In any case after settling into the book there was no real need to look anything up, the book is not hard to follow once you are acclimatized to it.

Beside the online resources the book’s accessibility is helped by the normalcy the main characters, especially the narrator / protagonist. The “avouts” are not weird bastards, their behavior and motivation are generally understandable (aside from one or two hyper weird enigmatic figures).

A lot of people (including myself) have a “50 pages rule” whereby we will allow the book up to 50 pages to engage us or fling it across the room if at page 51 we are still not interested. With this book I’d recommend stretching it to 100 pages, in any case the first 50 pages are not horrible just a bit bewildering. There are still some pages or passages which are still not clear to me even now but the story itself is clear enough.

Apart from the superhuman feat of world building Stephenson has also created some very likable characters, sprinkled the book with humorous moments and even a smidgeon of romance. The book has everything really; the downside is that it may have more than you bargained for.

What impressed me the most is that the author respects his readers and give us a lot of credit to be able to follow his complex story and settings. He clearly made a tremendous effort in writing this book and expects some exertion and commitment from us in return. Seems fair, and it is well worth the effort.

Rating: 4.5 stars.

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Notes:

- Video: Neal Stephenson's introduction to Anathem, worth a look if you are interested in this book (don't worry, no spoilers).

- China Miéville's [b:Embassytown|9265453|Embassytown|China Miéville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320470326s/9265453.jpg|14146240] is the book that inspired me to read Anathem, not a lot in common in term of structure, plot or prose but Embassytown is chock-a-block full of neologisms which I normally find discouraging but I made the effort because I love his other books, and I am glad I did. The infamous neologisms of Anathem intimidated me also but after reading Embassytown I felt I was ready to tackle Anathem.