Book Review: Anathem

I just finished Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, Anathem, and find myself deeply conflicted. On the one hand, it was a satisfying read. On the other hand, it was not in the same league as Stephenson’s other speculative fiction, so I can’t help but feeling just a *little* bit disappointed.

First, the good: Stephenson has gone to great pains to create a consistent, believable, and interesting future world in an alternate cosmos, in which cloistered monks called Avout keep the study of math and philosophy alive through the eons. Erasmas, the main character, is interesting and well-developed as a character. The description of life in the concent is compelling. The events that trigger the main drama of the story, which I won’t give away here, are meaningful.

So what goes wrong? In the first place, the drama is not what we’re used to, especially in comparison to the Baroque Cycle. Both are thinking-person’s adventures, but Anathem suffers in comparison by being a bit *too* thoughtful and contemplative. Many pages are spent in detailed discussion of “theorics” (metaphysics to you and me).

Second, Stephenson relies on the ass-pull a little too often. There is a scene midway through the novel, set in the fictional city of Mahsht, in which a troupe of badass kung-fu monks show up out of nowhere to save Erasmas from certain death. Total ass-pull.

I really love Stephenson as a writer and congratulate him on spending a lot of time on crafting such a great world. Unfortunately, the drama – the story – failed to keep pace with the setting. This is still a good read, just not a great one.


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