Anathem by Neal Stephenson

19 01 2009

anathemI’ve never been the biggest fan of sci-fi and fantasy.  Okay, except for Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.  Oh, and Tolkien.  And, of course I loved the Harry Potter books, but do those really count?  But, no other than all of that, plus some Philip K. Dick and a few other things, sci-fi/fantasy was never my thing…or at least that’s what I believed.  Then a friend told me to read Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.  And, oh my goodness, I loved it.  So, I decided to give this incredibly broad genre a little more credit.  Which is how I found myself buried in Neal Stephenson’s Anathem these past weeks.

I’ve tried to read over other reviews to gather my thoughts on this one, because I don’t know how to feel about it.  There were parts I definitely loved, and I’d find myself completely engrossed for hours as this other world unfolded before me.  I’d have to tear myself away because I can’t actually function on less than 4 hours of sleep, only to realize the my forehead hurt from creasing my eyebrows and my mind was racing and twisting so much I wasn’t anywhere close to sleep.  But, by the end, I just wanted to be done.  I raced through the last 30 pages, so excited that the end was in sight that I stopped really caring about the conclusion.  So, now, I don’t know what to say – if I was writing this a week ago, or even a few days ago, I would have raved about Stephenson’s genius and the beauty and intelligence of this book.  Now – I’m just ready to move on with my life.

I guess all I can say is be prepared for the long haul.  This book has a fairly simple, straight-forward story – alternate world similar to ours, alien spaceship shows up, world goes crazy trying to not get destroyed – as its framework.  However, the real book is an in-depth study of language, philosophy, science and mathematics – and that was actually my favorite part.  Stephenson writes the action well, the characters are good if fairly generic, but he shines when the characters have conversations breaking down a religion or school of thought.  Then again, I love Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder and have had to repurchase it twice.  And that’s really the best comparison I can draw for this book – if you liked Sophie’s World, you should like Anathem.  If you’re trying to wade into the sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction pool – this really isn’t the best place to start.




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