Anathem

Anathem

4.3 242
by Neal Stephenson
     
 

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A #1 New York Times Bestseller, Anathem is perhaps the most brilliant literary invention to date from the incomparable Neal Stephenson, who rocked the world with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and The Baroque Cycle. Now he imagines an alternate universe where scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians live in seclusion behind

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Overview

A #1 New York Times Bestseller, Anathem is perhaps the most brilliant literary invention to date from the incomparable Neal Stephenson, who rocked the world with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and The Baroque Cycle. Now he imagines an alternate universe where scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians live in seclusion behind ancient monastery walls until they are called back into the world to deal with a crisis of astronomical proportions.

 

Anathem won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the reviews for have been dazzling: “Brilliant” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel), “Daring” (Boston Globe), “Immensely entertaining” (New York Times Book Review), “A tour de force” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), while Time magazine proclaims, “The great novel of ideas…has morphed into science fiction, and Neal Stephenson is its foremost practitioner.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This audiobook goes the extra mile, giving listeners something the printed page-turner can not. Fans of the cult author will enjoy his vocal cameo appearances when he calmly reads definitions from a non-Earth dictionary at the start of many chapters. Another added bonus is the music between chapters that was composed specifically for this production; working with Stephenson and early drafts of the novel, David Stutz beautifully captures the complex traditional, coded choral music described therein. Moreover, the extras do not obscure the remarkable performance by William Dufris, who reads as if he knows the 900+-page text by heart. The story is told by a monastic scholar, and Dufris-with a twinkle in his proverbial eye and a sense of awe in his voice-is the perfect match. His intelligent rendering of the cast of characters is a delight for the ears. A Morrow hardcover (Reviews, July 28). (Oct.)

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Library Journal

On the world called Arbre, time runs in counterpoint: the ponderous flow of ritual and study behind the doors of the great "maths," or monasteries, against the constant flux of cultural change in the world outside. Devoted to scientific rather than religious practice, these sanctuaries maintain an austere and ceremonial cloistered existence for decades, even centuries, before opening briefly to see what has changed. Every so often, major outside events break the great cycle and force the maths to change. Fraa Erasmas, a not especially distinguished member of one of these cloisters, finds himself at the center of one of these events and, as so often happens, ends up trying to save the world. Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) is not afraid to spend as much time as it takes to explore everything that interests him, whether it's the geometry of cake cutting or the particulars of a 1000-year-old collection of assorted garden furniture. In less skilled hands this might be tedious, but here the layers of world building are the foundation for an enthralling tale that, even at over 900 pages, is over almost too soon. For some fans, this may be a welcome return to sf after his epic historical trilogy, "The Baroque Cycle," but readers with an interest in science and philosophy will also enjoy it-there are dozens of famous ideas and theorems half-hidden throughout the novel. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/08; includes a bonus CD with music composed for Anathem.]
—Jenne Bergstrom

Kirkus Reviews
A sprawling disquisition on "the higher harmonics of the sloshing" and other "polycosmic theories" that occupy the residents of a distant-future world much like our own. Stephenson (The System of the World, 2004, etc.), an old hand at dystopian visions, offers a world that will be familiar, and welcome, to readers of A Canticle for Leibowitz and Dune-and, for that matter, The Glass Bead Game. The narrator, a youngish acolyte, lives in a monastery-like fortress inhabited by intellectuals in retreat from a gross outer world littered by box stores, developments and discarded military hardware. Saunt Edhar is a place devoted not just to learning, but also to singing, specifically of the "anathem," a portmanteau of anthem and anathema. Polyphony can afford only so much solace against the vulgar world beyond the walls. It's a barbaric place that, to all appearances, is post-postapocalyptic, if not still dumbed-down and reeling from the great period of global warming that followed "the Terrible Events" of a thousand-odd years past. Our hero is set to an epic task, but it's no Tolkienesque battle against orcs and sorcerers; more of the battling is done with words than with swords or their moral equivalents. The hero's quest affords Stephenson the opportunity to engage in some pleasing wordplay a la Riddley Walker, with talk of "late Praxic Age commercial bulshytt" and "Artificial Inanity systems still active in the Rampant Orphan Botnet Ecologies," and the like, and to level barrel on barrel of scattershot against our own time: "In some families, it's not entirely clear how people are related"; "Quasi-literate Saeculars went to stores and bought prefabricated letters, machine-printed on heavystock with nice pictures, and sent them to each other as emotional gestures"; and much more. Light on adventure, but a logophilic treat for those who like their alternate worlds big, parodic and ironic.
From the Publisher
"This audiobook goes the extra mile, giving listeners something the printed page-turner can not. Fans of the cult author will enjoy his vocal cameo appearances…[and] the music between chapters that was composed specifically for this production… [William Dufris's] intelligent rendering of the cast of characters is a delight for the ears."—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Dufris is stalwart in his engagement with the characters, the plot, and the development of the cosmology. He brings out the characters' personalities and creates a sense of wonder as the complexities unfold."—AudioFile

"Given its complexity of its language, Anathem poses a real challenge to audiobook producers. Fortunately, the narrators are up to the task. William Dufris performs the bulk of the novel, and he shifts easily from the erudite jargon of the book’s dialogues to its memorable emotional climaxes.... Dufris brings every character to life as if they were in a speely, the Arbre equivalent of film."—SFFAudio.com

Booklist on ANATHEM
“A magnificent achievement. ”
Grand Rapids Press
“Stephenson writes in twists and turns, double-backs and cul-de-sacs, winding tunnels and fast-moving tracks. It’s a Rube Goldberg sort of book: intricate, sometimes difficult to follow but always fascinating to read.”
Sunday Sun (UK)
“Stephenson displays his ingenuity when it comes to mixing science, sociology and satire with swashbuckling adventure. Anathem marries extensive scientific and philosophical dialogues to cliffhangers, hi-tech warfare and derring-do.”
Leicester Mercury
“Anathem duly marries extensive dialogues on quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness to literal cliffhangers, hi-tech warfare and derring-do.”
Details
“[R]iveting idea porn.”
Orlando Sentinel
“[R]avishingly brilliant, outrageously ambitious…ANATHEM is thought-provoking fun, at turns a post-graduate seminar of philosophy and physics, and a rousing yarn with characters you care about.”
London Times
“Anathem is a brilliant, playful tour of the terrain where logic, mathematics, philosophy and quantum physics intersect, a novel of ideas par excellence, melding wordplay and mathematical theory with a gripping, human adventure.”
Columbus Dispatch
“[O]ne of Stephenson’s best novels…a captivating blend of culture clash, deductive reasoning and pure action.”
Washington Post
“Reading Anathem is a humbling experience.”
Popular Mechanics
“The cult legend’s newest book, Anathem, [is] destined to be an instant sci-fi classic.”
Austin American-Statesman
“In Anathem, Stephenson creates a religion for skeptics and nerds.”
The Examiner (Ireland)
“Anyone who has read Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle will be familiar with his ingenuity when it comes to mixing science, sociology and satire with swashbuckling adventure, and ANATHEM duly marries extensive dialogues on quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness to literal cliffhangers, high-tech warfare and general derring-do.”
Edmonton Journal (Alberta)
“Learned, witty, weirdly torqued, emotionally complex, politically astute, and often darkly comic…ANATHEM is an audacious work by a highly intelligent imagination, a delightfully learned text.”
Eugene Weekly
“Anathem is a challenge: Make yourself one of the avout. Make yourself a scholar, and try to understand the world a little differently.”
Time magazine
“What ever happened to the great novel of ideas? It has morphed into science fiction, and Stephenson is its foremost practitioner. A-”
San Francisco Chronicle
“It’s almost impossible to not be impressed by Anathem; there’s simply too much erudition, wit, craft and risk-taking.”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“Blending quantum physics, phenomenological philosophy and various other fun hobbies...Stephenson’s enthusiasm to share his theories and explanations is infectious...think “The Name of the Rose” crossed with “Dune”...genuinely fascinating brain food.”
Boston Globe
“A daring feat of speculative fiction…ANATHEM offers the reader a luscious arrangement of words, jokes, and speculations.”
Time Out London
“This is a book about science and philosophy which demands the full concentration of the reader -a worthwhile, smart, exciting read.”
Word (UK)
“As with Stephenson’s previous work, plot and character are wrought to the highest standards of literary fiction but they’re scarcely as fascinating as the worlds he conjures up. If there’s anything more readable than ANATHEM it should probably be banned.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A tour-de-force of world building and high-concept speculation, wrapped around a page-turning plot.”
South Florida Sun Sentinel
[R]avishingly brilliant, outrageously ambitious…Stephenson embarks on a mission of world-building, and he is thoroughly successful at it.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“He mashes up genres with the flair of Thomas Pynchon and the intellect of William Gibson.”
Booklist (starred review) on ANATHEM
“A magnificent achievement. ”
Booklist (starred review)
“A magnificent achievement. ”
San Francisco Chronicle on ANATHEM
“It’s almost impossible to not be impressed by Anathem; there’s simply too much erudition, wit, craft and risk-taking.”
The Oregonian (Portland) on ANATHEM
“Blending quantum physics, phenomenological philosophy and various other fun hobbies...Stephenson’s enthusiasm to share his theories and explanations is infectious...think “The Name of the Rose” crossed with “Dune”...genuinely fascinating brain food.”
io9
“Suddenly, novels of ideas are cool again.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch on ANATHEM
“A tour-de-force of world building and high-concept speculation, wrapped around a page-turning plot.”
South Florida Sun Sentinel on ANATHEM
[R]avishingly brilliant, outrageously ambitious…Stephenson embarks on a mission of world-building, and he is thoroughly successful at it.”
Popular Mechanics on ANATHEM
“The cult legend’s newest book, Anathem, [is] destined to be an instant sci-fi classic.”
Edmonton Journal (Alberta) on ANATHEM
“Learned, witty, weirdly torqued, emotionally complex, politically astute, and often darkly comic…ANATHEM is an audacious work by a highly intelligent imagination, a delightfully learned text.”
Grand Rapids Press on ANATHEM
“Stephenson writes in twists and turns, double-backs and cul-de-sacs, winding tunnels and fast-moving tracks. It’s a Rube Goldberg sort of book: intricate, sometimes difficult to follow but always fascinating to read.”
Austin American-Statesman on ANATHEM
“In Anathem, Stephenson creates a religion for skeptics and nerds.”
Eugene Weekly on ANATHEM
“Anathem is a challenge: Make yourself one of the avout. Make yourself a scholar, and try to understand the world a little differently.”
Details on ANATHEM
“[R]iveting idea porn.”
Orlando Sentinel on ANATHEM
“[R]avishingly brilliant, outrageously ambitious…ANATHEM is thought-provoking fun, at turns a post-graduate seminar of philosophy and physics, and a rousing yarn with characters you care about.”
io9 on ANATHEM
“Suddenly, novels of ideas are cool again.”
Leicester Mercury on ANATHEM
“Anathem duly marries extensive dialogues on quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness to literal cliffhangers, hi-tech warfare and derring-do.”
Sunday Sun (UK) on ANATHEM
“Stephenson displays his ingenuity when it comes to mixing science, sociology and satire with swashbuckling adventure. Anathem marries extensive scientific and philosophical dialogues to cliffhangers, hi-tech warfare and derring-do.”
Washington Post on ANATHEM
“Reading Anathem is a humbling experience.”
Time magazine on ANATHEM
“What ever happened to the great novel of ideas? It has morphed into science fiction, and Stephenson is its foremost practitioner. A-”
The Examiner (Ireland) on ANATHEM
“Anyone who has read Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle will be familiar with his ingenuity when it comes to mixing science, sociology and satire with swashbuckling adventure, and ANATHEM duly marries extensive dialogues on quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness to literal cliffhangers, high-tech warfare and general derring-do.”
London Times on ANATHEM
“Anathem is a brilliant, playful tour of the terrain where logic, mathematics, philosophy and quantum physics intersect, a novel of ideas par excellence, melding wordplay and mathematical theory with a gripping, human adventure.”
Columbus Dispatch on ANATHEM
“[O]ne of Stephenson’s best novels…a captivating blend of culture clash, deductive reasoning and pure action.”
Word (UK) on ANATHEM
“As with Stephenson’s previous work, plot and character are wrought to the highest standards of literary fiction but they’re scarcely as fascinating as the worlds he conjures up. If there’s anything more readable than ANATHEM it should probably be banned.”
Winnipeg Free Press on ANATHEM
“He mashes up genres with the flair of Thomas Pynchon and the intellect of William Gibson.”
Locus
“A masterpiece...mind-bogglingly ambitious...readers will delight in puzzling out the historical antecedents in philosophy, science, mathematics, and art that Stephenson riffs on with his customary quicklsilver genius...it’s one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read, and also one of the most engaging.”
Best of 2008 List - Slate
"The world Stephenson builds is richly visual, its complicated social politics are convincingly detailed, and its cool and conflicted heroes struggle with thrilling intellectual puzzles while they are tested in epic physical adventures."
Gary K. Wolfe on ANATHEM Locus
“Clever and intricate...truly ingenious...it’s brilliance is undeniable.”
Paul Witcover Locus
“A masterpiece...mind-bogglingly ambitious...readers will delight in puzzling out the historical antecedents in philosophy, science, mathematics, and art that Stephenson riffs on with his customary quicklsilver genius...it’s one of the most thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read, and also one of the most engaging.”
Best of 2008 List Slate
“The world Stephenson builds is richly visual, its complicated social politics are convincingly detailed, and its cool and conflicted heroes struggle with thrilling intellectual puzzles while they are tested in epic physical adventures.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061982484
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/06/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
1008
Sales rank:
18,563
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Anathem

Chapter One

Do your neighbors burn one another alive?" was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.

Embarrassment befell me. Embarrassment is something I can feel in my flesh, like a handful of sun-warmed mud clapped on my head.

"Do your shamans walk around on stilts?" Fraa Orolo asked, reading from a leaf that, judging by its brownness, was at least five centuries old. Then he looked up and added helpfully, "You might call them pastors or witch doctors."

The embarrassment had turned runny. It was horrifying my scalp along a spreading frontier.

"When a child gets sick, do you pray? Sacrifice to a painted stick? Or blame it on an old lady?"

Now it was sheeting warm down my face, clogging my ears and sanding my eyes. I could barely hear Fraa Orolo's questions: "Do you fancy you will see your dead dogs and cats in some sort of afterlife?"

Orolo had asked me along to serve as amanuensis. It was an impressive word, so I'd said yes.

He had heard that an artisan from extramuros had been allowed into the New Library to fix a rotted rafter that we could not reach with our ladders; it had only just been noticed, and we didn't have time to erect proper scaffolding before Apert. Orolo meant to interview that artisan, and he wanted me to write down what happened.

Through drizzly eyes, I looked at the leaf in front of me. It was as blank as my brain. I was failing.

But it was more important to take notes of what the artisan said. So far, nothing. When the interview had begun, he had been dragging an insufficiently sharp thing over a flat rock. Now he was just staring at Orolo.

"Has anyoneyou know ever been ritually mutilated because they were seen reading a book?"

Artisan Flec closed his mouth for the first time in quite a while. I could tell that the next time he opened it, he'd have something to say. I scratched at the edge of the leaf just to prove that my quill had not dried up. Fraa Orolo had gone quiet, and was looking at the artisan as if he were a new-found nebula in the eyepiece of a telescope.

Artisan Flec asked, "Why don't you just speel in?"

"Speel in," Fraa Orolo repeated to me, a few times, as I was writing it down.

I spoke in bursts because I was trying to write and talk at the same time: "When I came...that is, before I was Collected...we...I mean, they...had a thing called a speely?.?.?.?We didn't say 'speel in'...we said 'cruise the speely.'?" Out of consideration for the artisan, I chose to speak in Fluccish, and so this staggering drunk of a sentence only sounded half as bad as if I'd said it in Orth. "It was a sort of..."

"Moving picture," Orolo guessed. He looked to the artisan, and switched to Fluccish. "We have guessed that 'to speel in' means to partake of some moving picture praxis...what you would call technology...that prevails out there."

"Moving picture, that's a funny way to say it," said the artisan. He stared out a window, as if it were a speely showing a historical documentary. He quivered with a silent laugh.

"It is Praxic Orth and so it sounds quaint to your ears," Fraa Orolo admitted.

"Why don't you just call it by its real name?"

"Speeling in?"

"Yeah."

"Because when Fraa Erasmas, here, came into the math ten years ago, it was called 'cruising the speely' and when I came in almost thirty years ago we called it 'Farspark.' The avout who live on the other side of yonder wall, who celebrate Apert only once every hundred years, would know it by some other name. I would not be able to talk to them."

Artisan Flec had not taken in a word after Farspark. "Farspark is completely different!" he said. "You can't watch Farspark content on a speely, you have to up-convert it and re-parse the format.?.?.?."

Fraa Orolo was as bored by that as the artisan was by talk of the Hundreders, and so conversation thudded to a stop long enough for me to scratch it down. My embarrassment had gone away without my noticing it, as with hiccups. Artisan Flec, believing that the conversation was finally over, turned to look at the scaffolding that his men had erected beneath the bad rafter.

"To answer your question," Fraa Orolo began.

"What question?"

"The one you posed just a minute ago...if I want to know what things are like extramuros, why don't I just speel in?"

"Oh," said the artisan, a little confounded by the length of Fra Orolo's attention span. I suffer from attention surplus disorder, Fraa Orolo liked to say, as if it were funny.

"First of all," Fraa Orolo said, "we don't have a speely-device."

"Speely-device?"

Waving his hand as if this would dispel clouds of linguistic confusion, Orolo said, "Whatever artifact you use to speel in."

"If you have an old Farspark resonator, I could bring you a down-converter that's been sitting in my junk pile..."

"We don't have a Farspark resonator either," said Fraa Orolo.

"Why don't you just buy one?"

This gave Orolo pause. I could sense a new set of embarrassing questions stacking up in his mind: "do you believe that we have money? That the reason we are protected by the Sæcular Power is because we are sitting on a treasure hoard? That our Millenarians know how to convert base metals to gold?" But Fraa Orolo mastered the urge. "Living as we do under the Cartasian Discipline, our only media are chalk, ink, and stone," he said. "But there is another reason too."

"Yeah, what is it?" demanded Artisan Flec, very provoked by Fraa Orolo's freakish habit of announcing what he was about to say instead of just coming out and saying it.

"It's hard to explain, but, for me, just aiming a speely input device, or a Farspark chambre, or whatever you call it?.?.?."

Anathem. Copyright © by Neal Stephenson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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