Geek Book You Should’t Miss: Anathem

By Jimmy Rogers
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Far be it for me to suggest anyone read anything offline, but if one were were to do so, I would definitely have to suggest Neal Stephenson’s newest creation: Anathem.

Just from the title it sounds imposing.  In a way it is, because it’s a tome of 900-plus pages.  That being said, if you’ve ever had any experience with Stephenson’s other novels, such as Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, you know that he makes every page worth the time you take to read it.  I’ll be honest, when I was just over 250 pages into the book, I swore that I’d already had one book’s worth of story and it was still unraveling the central plot.

So what is Anathem about?  Well it’s something best described over a hundred pages or so, but to summarize, it is a speculative fiction novel that explores the potential future of a world where religion and science took on different cultural roles early in society.  For instance, where in our history the religions of the world were largely cloistered and science was discussed in an open forum, the Anathem world (called “Arbre”) placed scientists and philosophers in special monasteries called “maths” or “concents” while religious people took a more direct role in human affairs.  This is of course a gross abbreviation of Stephenson’s incredible alternate world, but hopefully you’ll take a chance and get the book.

If you need more evidence that Anathem is a landmark book, check out Sword and Laser this month.  The book club has chosen it for their read this time around and has allotted more time than normal so they can make it through the whole thing.  I can tell you that personally I’m flying through this book like I did the Harry Potter novels.  The writing style is fluid and unlike many speculative fantasies, his decision to use a new vernacular is both well reasoned and fairly readable after about the first hundred pages.

Are you reading it?  If so, share your thoughts!

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