Saturday, June 13, 2009

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

This book happens in a world where the scientists of the world live in kind of monasteries which have several levels. They come out of them to ”secular” world only once a year, decade, century or millennia according to level where they live. The sciences they practice are mainly mathematics and other "pure" sciences, and they have (and they are not allowed to have) practically no machines of any sort. Their outlook on the life is for very long term - e.g. as a paper is used (gene modified?) leaves of a certain tree, which are useful only after a hundred years of storage. Apparently they used to have technology, but those scientific monasteries or ”concents” got "sacked" when they grew too powerful, and later re-established with even stricter restrictions. But now something unprecedented and unforeseen seem to be happening, the ancient knowledge of higher sciences might be needed more than ever, and old ways might not be valid any more. I am not going to the plot in any real detail, as the real plot really starts only about 200-250 pages to the book.

Well written but very slow moving book. It contains a lot of description and discussion of mathematical and philosophical matters, but those discussions are more interesting than you could think beforehand. The slowness of events seems to be done purposefully - and it must be admitted that it suit for world of the book, as the lives of the characters who live in concents is supposed to be slow and calm. And when finally something seems be starting to happen, the events seem to freeze totally a few pages later. At worst it even takes about ten pages for a few people decide who goes to which car with whom when they are starting a journey. The language of the book is fairly hard to read and it contains enormous amount of made up words, most with no good reason. Why call a mobile phone jeejah or a video camera speelycaptor, if they are exactly similar in function compared to their familiar counter parts from this our earth? Also, book is far too long. Over 900 tightly crammed pages is a LOT. Content is interesting, but it might have been a bit condensed. Taking away 300 pages would have left still hefty 600+ pages. Rereading this might be interesting and clarify some murkier bits of fairly complicated plot, but 900 pages...

This book is a Hugo nominee. It is fairly hard to say where this will go on my voting. The nominees this year are all very different and I'll probably decide the order after reading all the books (and probably will have trouble even after that).

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