4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A banquet, not a snack,
This review is from: Anathem (Hardcover)
Neal Stephenson doesn't do short books - at least not any more, since Snow Crash blew my mind a few years back - but that's OK as long as you don't expect light and fluffy sci-fi. This is hard stuff, with a depth of research and thought that rarely makes it into print in popular fiction these days. It makes you think, demands focus and rewards those who comply with a riveting read.
The language will stymie some, as Stephenson makes liberal use of neologisms to create the sense of a recognisable but distinctly alien culture. Accept that as a legitimate tactic, and it gets easier as you go along.
His characters are typically well-wrought. As with the Baroque Cycle and its distant cousin Cryptonomicon, the characters grow rapidly from mere sketches into carefully constructed, richly illustrated people. From that emerges wry humour and clever dialogue.
And the plot he weaves is as byzantine, sophisticated and clever but also ridiculous and barely believable - unmistakably the man who sent Jack Shaftoe careening about the world in the Baroque Cycle.
Ultimately, this is a book that will reward the determined reader with philosophical insights, intelligent humour and some rip-snorting moments of drama and danger.
Are there flaws? Yes, of course. Stephenson has a penchant for getting carried away with his set-piece demonstrations of scientific principles (remember Waterhouse and parabolas, Newton and the calculus in Cambridge, etc), which makes some scenes feel like necessary reading. But his deft creation of The Book as a punishment suggests he is well aware of this and isn't above a little gentle self-mockery.
All in all, I'd say give this book a go if you want to be challenged and engaged by some serious but highly entertaining hard sci-fi. Lasers and spaceships and aliens with tentacles this is not, but it does what great sci-fi should do: takes deeply significant issues such as the nature consciousness, the role of science and cultural snobbery, and throws a strange new light on them by casting them into an unexpected, semi-alien setting.