|Anathem - thursday 2008-09-18 2135||last modified 2008-09-24 2007|
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The ending is not abrupt, lest you have legitimate concerns based on all preceding Stephenson novels. Also unlike prior work, this is a first-person account from the hand of the hero and protagonist, Raz, and as such the story doesn't come from the author, per se, but the author-as-first person, and so it ends in-character. You never enter a story arc without him or from another character's perspective, a major divergence from past works. The linearity is a bit jarring; I miss the context switching, though it is far simpler to follow.
At 900 pages - not his longest - Anathem moves up a ladder of sorts from the specific implementations of computation, like nanomachines or cryptography, and the hints of the math behind them, straight into math and its underlying theory and philosophy. Computers are relegated to the minor and somewhat derogatory role of "syntactic devices," mere unthinking hardware following prerecorded decision trees and fundamentally uninteresting. There is some hint of The Big U ("domain shear"), revisited, embellished, and better written, several novels later. If philosophy bears no interest to you, this is probably not the right novel. Much of the key goings-on come out in didactic or investigative conversation, less in action. Add in an entirely new terminology based in but not the same as English usage - an interesting move to stand on and also get beyond our own cultural associations with those words - and there's a lot of thought involved in enjoying the flow. This is wordsmithing at a different level, not whole cloth invention of a meaningless jumble of letters as some genre authors use, rather a philological touch of adding invented history and morphing English words into something related, neither new nor status quo. There's a universe to be inhabited, and even at more than 900 pages, it still feels too limited an exploration.
Stephenson favorites make their appearances - especially the main feminine hero with traditionally masculine pursuits and expertise, some understated but highly amusing deus ex machina - and, once again, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
Also, I read it while sitting by a lake in the mountains. That helps.
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