Anathem, Neal Stephenson
I finally broke down and read this 900-page monster. Of course, it was worth it.
One of my first impressions was that the book reminds me of nothing so much as James Clavell’s Shogun, where the enjoyment is partly the sense of accomplishment from learning a heap of Japanese words (just checking Wikipedia I was surprised to find that Anathem doesn’t just share its excessive page count and foreign vocabulary with Shogun, but also the name Erasmus, the protagonist in Anathem and the hero’s ship in Shogun). Stephenson got to make up his own language to pick out some indicative vocabulary words to salt his book with. So we get “saunts” (instead of saints) living in “concents” (instead of convents) and the variations in the words do tell you something about the world where the action is played out, and give a feeling of richness to the imaginary world.
Certainly the action is a bit abstruse, and spread rather thin through those 900 pages. It would be fair to say the book is unbalanced, favoring world-building above character and plot development. But Stephenson’s genius is that he can make a story about a bunch of monkish philosophers sitting around a table discussing the fine points of Platonic Idealism (excuse me, “the Hylaean Theoric World”; luckily there’s a glossary so I don’t have to look far to get the spelling of these things) into a page-turner. This book is probably 60% infodump, but I didn’t resent it.
Other reviews of Anathem:
- The Washington Post
- Scribbles and Dreams
- Jo Walton at Tor.com
- /usr/share/morlock: three different posts