I have a sneaking suspicion that hanging out on Twitter is causing my attention span to grow shorter and shorter and … wait, what was I talking about? Oh, short attention span, right.
So as penance for all that microblogging, I decided to set myself a thick book to read. I chose Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. I’ve read all of Stephenson’s early work, but the Baroque Cycle didn’t grab me. Then I saw that fellow Googler Riona MacNamara had downloaded it to her Kindle, so I decided to take a whack at it.
I ended up liking Anathem a lot, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a simple test to help:
If you like to read: add 1 point.
If you like other Neal Stephenson books or Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series: add 3 points.
If you liked A Canticle for Leibowitz: add 4 points.
If you were a math, computer science, or philosophy major: add 5 points.
If you have ever considered becoming a monk: add 6 points
Add up all the point values and if you tally over 10 points or so, you’d probably enjoy this book.
At 937 pages, Anathem is a hefty read. For the first six pages, I was kind of annoyed because Stephenson seemed to be making up new words like “Saunt” for “Saint” or “upsight” for “insight.” But after a few hundred pages you realize the reason for that and it’s a good one. Plus anyone that can slip words like “sere” and “tarn” into the story smoothly clearly knows what they’re doing with language.
Overall, I really enjoyed it. There were heart-pounding action scenes interspersed with some very approachable philosophical discussions, a sprinkling of actual physics, and some extrapolation of technology into the future. I also love that Stephenson has invented a whole world, even a whole cosmology. The scope of the book is pretty breathtaking, and Stephenson takes the hero of the story on a much bigger journey than you would expect.
I do hope Stephenson keeps building in this world. It will take you several days of serious reading, but assuming you meet the criteria above, I think you’ll enjoy the book. Especially if you were able to make it to the end of this review without checking back on Twitter or Facebook.