DavidTate wrote:FWIW, I have embarked on reading Stephenson's tome Anathem.
OK, I've finished Anathem
. I'm not quite certain what to say about it.
Let's go with Eric's 4 categories:
1. Language use
This one is a mixed score. The first-person narration is competent but not remarkable. However, the vocabulary of the book is (in my opinion) a major achievement. The setting of the work involves a cloistered subculture within a larger secular culture. Stephenson has coined original terms based on Latin and Greek roots to give the flavor of (say) modern monastics speaking Latin. As a secondary goal, he has somewhat disguised mathematical and philosophical concepts from our own past in order to help them appear 'new' to the reader. I think this part of the novel is a tour-de-force, with only one or two minor mis-steps. The title itself is related to both 'anthem' and 'anathema'.
The overall arc of the plot is excellent. There are a couple of dry spells, and some unnecessary (to my eye) wanderings, but overall the story is interesting and involving. The reader's final impression will probably be more influenced by the philosophical content than the story, but that's not because the story is particularly weak. There are some fantastical events that might border on the incredible, but they are sufficiently set up by the story that I'm willing to give them a pass.
This is clearly the weakest aspect of the novel. Our Protagonist is engaging enough, in a Young Adult sort of way, but he is neither complicated nor compelling in himself. That's not necessarily a problem, if he serves primarily as our eyes on the world, but the rest of the cast is not much more interesting as characters. The villains, saints, spear-carriers, boffins, bureaucrats, and [redacted to avoid spoilers] are pretty 2-dimensional across the board.
Wow. What a fascinating world we are shown, and it only gets more interesting as the book progresses -- until the final sections, which will either thrill or annoy readers, depending on their predilections. I haven't read all of Mr. Stephenson's website related to the book (http://www.nealstephenson.com/anathem/
), but I suspect that the novel arose through a confluence of a setting he had in mind and some ideas in the philosophy of science that he wanted to explore. My degrees are in Philosophy and Applied Math, so I fall in the very center of his (presumed) target audience, and I can't be objective on this point.
Using Nero Wolfe's criteria: it gave me pleasure, it informed me, it stimulated my mental processes. That makes it a good book, at least for me.
I suspect this will be a polarizing work, with people who find the physics, philosophy, and geopolitics intriguing rating this book quite highly. Those who don't care about math or philosophy or physics will generally be bored. Those who object strongly to the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics will probably hate it, unless they are students of the History of Science, in which case the pleasure of spotting many different historical figures/schools under different names will provide some puzzle-type enjoyment.
For me... I think one or two stars, on Eric's scale. I need to let it settle for a while to be sure.
Disclaimer of sorts: I experienced most of this book as Macmillan Audio audiobook, read by Oliver Wyman (primarily) with other voice characterizations. The reading was generally very well done (with a few odd exceptions), and the snippets of music between sections added a nice atmosphere. I finished the book in print edition, but I'm sure the immersive audio contributed to my appreciation of the book. Checking the Audible.com website page for this book (http://www.audible.com/pd?productID=BK_AREN_000841
), I see that the listener reviews of the audiobook are strongly bipolar -- either "awful" or "great". I'm not surprised, and I have to side with the 'pro' contingent.