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90 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding reading if you persevere with it
Anathem was a complete surprise to me. I had deliberately avoided reading anything about the book before I bought it, willing to trust the author to come up with another excellent novel comparable to Snow Crash, The Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon.

After reading the first 50 or 60 pages, I was wondering if I'd wasted my money. I don't know what I was expecting,...
Published on 12 Oct 2008 by wedge

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anathem Anathema Anthem
I really enjoyed Snow Crash which is still paint fresh after 20 years, despite the incredible changes in IT in the interim. The story starts with blazing action, and doesn't let up until the end, despite a stream of ideas spilling out like flares from a firework along the way.

I bought this expecting another/different/better version of Snow Crash. If that's...
Published 20 months ago by Dudleian


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90 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding reading if you persevere with it, 12 Oct 2008
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This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
Anathem was a complete surprise to me. I had deliberately avoided reading anything about the book before I bought it, willing to trust the author to come up with another excellent novel comparable to Snow Crash, The Diamond Age or Cryptonomicon.

After reading the first 50 or 60 pages, I was wondering if I'd wasted my money. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. The many invented words peppered throughout the text didn't help either - you can immediately decipher many of them from context they're used in, but it is annoying to do it as often as Anathem requires.

However, I kept going, and by the time I'd gotten through the first 100 pages or so I found myself quite enjoying it. After another couple of hundred pages I was reluctant to put it down, and eventually ended up reading the last third of the book in a single session.

What I would say is that once you become familiar with the dialect used by the characters and get past the relatively slow opening chapters, Anathem becomes a far more engaging and interesting book. Sci-fi action sequences are interspersed with frequent philosophical or metaphysical discussions between various characters, which may of course not be to the liking of every reader, but I found it both interesting and entertaining.

Now that I've finished the book I am planning to wait a few weeks and then read it again, as I suspect that reading the opening chapters will be a far better experience the second time around.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Polycosmic Genius, 18 Nov 2009
By 
Quicksilver (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anathem (Paperback)
Neal Stephenson's house-brick size novels are always constructed in meticulous detail, and 'Anathem' is no exception. Unfortunately, his painstaking (laborious?) attention to detail can, for some, make his novels impenetrable, but if you enjoyed Cryptonomicon or The Baroque Cycle, then you will almost certainly like 'Anathem' too. If you are new to Stephenson, then I wouldn't start here - he seems to be becoming increasingly less accessible. Go back at least as far as Cryptonomicon and begin there.

In addition to his usual information-overload, 'Anathem' sees Stephenson add yet another layer of confusion. Set in the far future, in a parallel world, much of the language used by the novel's characters, has been invented by the author. These new words are logical and consistent, deriving from Greek and Latin, but they take a little while to bed in, and I found 'Anathem's' opening fragmented and hard to follow. But like subtitles to a good film, I soon stopped noticing, and became wholly immersed in this magnificent novel.

The novel's central character is Erasmas, a member of intellectual brethren, cut off from normal secular society. The brothers (and sisters) remain exiled from the real world, for one, ten, a hundred or even a thousand years depending how committed they are to their calling. As the novel opens, Erasmas is about to complete the first decade of his seclusion. Considering much of the early parts of the novel revolve around the philosophical discussions between members of this cloistered community, 'Anathem' is surprisingly readable. With great vigour, Stephenson takes on maths, physics, astronomy and quantum mechanics, and I found these chapters fascinating. The richness of the author's prose makes potentially dry subjects alive and thought provoking.

The flip-side to this, is that once the action hots up, Stephenson's need to explain everything in the minutest detail, dissipates the drama. Set pieces that should be exciting, become fragmented by long digressions and observations. 'Anathem' rarely builds up a head of steam, and offers little relief from the hi-concept science, but this is a small gripe when set against the magnificence and scope of the novel as a whole.

As 'Anathem' approached its conclusion, I felt it was close to being the best novel I have ever read. Unfortunately, the ending is somewhat baffling, and unsatisfactory - Stephenson had so many balls in the air, it was inevitable that he would drop some. The closer I came to the novel's end, the more sure I was that it would disappoint. There are so many strands to the story, it would have been impossible for the author to tie off all his ideas in a pleasing fashion. Much like a quantum physics experiment, whilst I was reading there were still an infinite number of possibilities, but on completing the book they all collapsed to a single outcome. 'Anathem' is one of those books that you don't ever want to finish.

So not quite the best book I've ever read, but at last I have found the book I would take with me, in the unlikely event that I find myself on 'Desert Island Discs.' Huge in scope, with an entertaining storyline, and plenty of brain-food too, I can't think of a better novel to read should I ever be marooned. With Stephenson devoting so many pages to the idea of multiple universes, I can live out my solitary existence happy in the knowledge that somewhere, in some other narrative, my luckier self was safe and sound, enjoying 'Anathem' in the comfort of his own home...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Apert, auts and theorics, 26 Dec 2008
By 
S. Bentley "stuarthoratiobentley" (North Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
The opening to this book is an odd way of doing things. Stephenson overwhelms the reader with neologisms and ceremonial details that could be off-putting. It's worth fighting your way through though because after 50 or so pages, the talk of auts, apert, theorics and itas, dies into the background and the real story begins.

Erasmas is part of a concent, a place that holds scientists and mathematicians known as the avout in perfect isolation from the Saecular world, until Apert, when the two worlds can intermingle. The intermingling does not always go well but ends after ten days allowing the avout to go back to their reputedly better world. But something else is happening, there's a rogue star in the sky that may represent the need for a massive paradigm shift in how the universe is seen and soon Erasmas has to leave the concent, perhaps forever, in order to save his world.

Along the way ideas are discussed that you'll probably recognise if you've read any Plato, Kant or Philip K. Dick. If you already have an interest in the nature of reality you probably won't find anything new, but that's okay, because Erasmas is a fine protagonist to travel with and there are enough ambiguities and incidental ideas to keep you interested. As ever with Stephenson the kitchen sink is in there, too, but he does it all with a light touch and a sense of humour that allows you to get comfortable.

At the end is where it all goes a little wonky. I can't give away too much but there is an application of thought experiment to reality that undercuts the story rather than illustrating its points. I think it was an effort to create a bigger pay-off, but in the end it feels a tad too mystical in the face of all that has gone before. Had it been brought in a little earlier in the narrative it might have felt less forced.

Despite this flaw, I still think it a fine book, but those new to Stephenson should try his earlier works first.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is a universe where..., 24 July 2009
By 
Allan Murphy "Big Fish Soup" (Kingston, London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
.. this book gets started a lot more quickly than it does in our universe.

I'm an unashamed Stephenson fan, but he tried my patience at the start of this book, and you can see from other reviewers that this is a common experience.

I did get to the point where I was thinking 'ok Neal, where is this going' but I had faith, and that faith was rewarded. The slow part at the start is exposition that I feel is ultimately necessary and a part of his literary creation. He describes a world with some similarities and many differences to our own; the exposition serves as backdrop and 'control' for the reader (and main character) on a journey through adventures and concepts that are startlingly at odds with what went before. In the end this made sense to me, like the chaotic writing in the London part of Gravity's Rainbow made sense as a representation of how the city was for people. In the end, there is a point to having an alternate world to compare with, too. Not just 'I made this stuff up for a laugh'.

I don't want to get all high-falutin though - if you liked the pirate story part of the Baroque Cycle like I did, the first part will test you a bit.

Like Stephenson's other works, this has some serious underpinnings, in this case really based around the collision of maths, philosophy and physics. Stephenson presents these topics in a coherent way with his story, without snapping the reader out of the world (well not too much, sometimes you stop to say 'ok what is the equivalent of this in my world').

I disagree that this book is some kind of exercise in snobbery because it tackles difficult subjects and it's a lengthy book. The theory parts are properly part of the story, not some stuck on exercise in showing off; you aren't required to have studied Godel or Husserl for 10 years to understand the story or the concepts.

The jargon issue is a red herring in my opinion - this is part of the flavour of the alternate world, well integrated, and not confusing. Not when there's a glossary and a ton of context to help you. But if you hated The Clockwork Orange for this reason, you won't like this book.

If you've never read any Stephenson, start with Cryptonomicon or The Diamond Age before this. That and the slow start cause me to give this 4 stars, not 5. And also no Jack Shaftoe or distant relative. But I still think it's an excellent book, and very thought provoking.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should you read it? It depends..., 22 Jun 2009
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
If you haven't read other Neal Stephenson books, whether you like this or not will depend on your definition of good sci-fi. If you're looking for lasers and warp drives, chances are you'll find this wordy, dull and unpleasantly mediaeval in tone (at least the first two thirds of it). If, like me, you want your sci-fi to challenge your assumptions about the real world by presenting you with a detailed alternative reality, then you'll enjoy it.

The best aspects:
- well thought-out large-scale, long-view alternative 'earth' history
- detailed and evocative picture of a kind of 'science monastery' system (you need to read it to see quite how amazing the realization of this is)
- fascinating overview of the history of science and philosophy, in accessible and often humorous chunks of dialogue
- pretty solid main narrative adventure and coming of age story that keeps you going till the end

The worst aspects:
- slightly cheesy teen romance moments (fortunately only sporadic as the plot separates the protagonists)
- a fairly major lurch into hard SF many-universe-space-adventure towards the end, which takes a bit of getting to grips with

All in all, if you're interested in the ideas and the alternative reality that's portrayed (and its implications for our reality), the weaknesses are easily forgiven. I've reread it a couple of times already and am still enjoying it.

For people who've read everything else Stephenson's written, I'd say this is one of the best. There's always a balance in his writing between elucidating ideas and getting on with telling the story, and I think he gets this right in Anathem and it reads more smoothly than some of the others. (I must confess after the first reading I've always skipped the sections on ancient Summeria in Snow Crash.) It combines the alternative social structures elements that work so well in SC and the Diamond Age with some of the broader sweep of ideas you get in the System of the World.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!, 23 Sep 2008
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
I got the same feeling reading Anathem that I got reading Cryptonomicon - that is, after reading 100 pages, I was thrilled that there were 800 more. It's a ripping yarn peppered with mathematical, mechanical, and linguistic nuggets. There's a little odd vocabulary, but it doesn't take long to get used to, and it's fun to look up terms in the glossary, which is interesting in itself. If you are daunted by the fact that there's a glossary and few appendices, then don't bother. This isn't a book to be idly flicked through. But that's not to say it's difficult or tedious; it's driven by an intricate and enthralling plot, and I found myself completely immersed. Stephenson is a freak of a writer, and this book is wholly impressive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth persevering with, 30 April 2009
By 
P. Fox (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
It's an odd one, this book, as the many previous reviews will attest.

A lot seems to have been made about the author's use of a made-up language and how 'difficult' it makes the book to get into, but I didn't find this to be a significant issue after the first few pages.

It's true, however, that the book takes a while to get going. For the first fifty pages or so I was wondering what the book was about and was dubious as to whether it was going to be worth the effort. By page 100 I was becoming mildly curious, but by page 200 I was completely hooked.

In fact (possible spoilers ahead!) I become so engrossed in and enamoured of the world inside the concent that the final third of the book, which takes place outside in the so-called 'Saecular' world and resembles a more traditional sci-fi novel, was slightly disappointing.

The ending in particular I found rather rushed, especially after the leisurely pace of the opening third of the book, almost as if Stephenson had done the bit he was interested in -- constructing the rich and detailed world of the maths -- and after that just wanted to wind the story up.

So as an exercise in building a believable (and appealing) alternate reality, this book gets a big thumbs-up. On the other hand as a story, it turns out to be really rather ordinary. But on balance, Stephenson is such a capable writer I'd still say it's well worth a read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anathem Anathema Anthem, 2 April 2013
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This review is from: Anathem (Kindle Edition)
I really enjoyed Snow Crash which is still paint fresh after 20 years, despite the incredible changes in IT in the interim. The story starts with blazing action, and doesn't let up until the end, despite a stream of ideas spilling out like flares from a firework along the way.

I bought this expecting another/different/better version of Snow Crash. If that's what you are looking for, walk away now. I've read a lot of Sci Fi and fantasy and I'm not allergic to opaque terminology, unfamiliar history, invented societies, and mind-boggling mores. I'm willing to work my way through a fair bit of that if there are rewards on offer, but after the seventy page info dump (and I use the word advisedly) at the start of this book, I just gave up. I'm sure things getter better if you make the effort to trudge on through the wilderness, and this book is adored by a lot of people. But I'm just a bit too near the exit door to want to struggle so hard for so long for so little reward.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Long slow intro that repays the investment, 9 Oct 2009
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
Those of you who read the Baroque cycle will be familiar with Stephenson's meticulous love of science. In Anathem he smuggles this into the plot wrapped in a cloak of abstract philosophy , woven from super-strings.

It's hard to pin down analogies but if you can imagine a cross between A Canticle for Leibowitz and a university physics text book as written by Gene Wolfe then you're probably on the right track.

Again, like earlier works, Stephenson takes his time, building up the world that his characters inhabit and introducing us to their strange dialect and vocabulary. As a consequence the first hundred pages or so seem to last forever and only a trust in the author's skill tempted me to invest my time until the pace quickened and the real drama started to unfold.
Fortunately once the drama starts the book becomes a real page turner and the language, the science and the philosophy serve the plot, driving the characters in honest and believable ways.

The ending, when it came was again consistent with the internal logical of the story but somehow didn't quite satisfy. Perhaps I was just sad that it had to end at all.

All in all, not the easiest read but Stephenson has a singular talent and is consistently thought provoking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting... for a while., 6 April 2009
By 
Karim Rashad (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
Anathem's main issue is that it seems an exercise in world-building, and pedagogical lecturing on subjects that interest the author. This means that the characters and plot suffer somewhat. This world-building and lecturing are done very well; the amount of research that's gone into it are amazing, and I fairly rattled through the first half. But soon after the initial 'sensawunda' had worn off, the young adult fiction tone of the main protoganist began to grate, and I found myself not caring much at all about how the plot would be resolved.
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Anathem by Neal Stephenson
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