On My Bookshelf: Anathem

Science Fiction fans and critics love Neal Stephenson. His recent novels are expansive, epic, and bold. The premise of his latest, Anathem, caught my attention four weeks ago. What if monasteries existed not for religious people, but for scientists and philosophers? Nine hundred pages later, I’m a believer.

Anathem was sf site’s reader’s choice and critic’s choice for best novel of 2008. I haven’t read enough of the competition to agree, but Anathem is the best adult novel I’ve read in a year or two.

And yet, I can’t quite jump on the bandwagon of unqualified gushing. True, Stephenson writes a complex and engaging work. True, his plot twists leave a reader roller-coaster-dizzy. True, excellent ideas and true, excellent characters–even romantic ones. It might be that I’m not engaged by long philosophical discussions. When I read a novel, I want to be told a story, not receive a lecture in philosophy.

It’s probably the mark of a great writer that he can spend ten to twenty percent of a book in dense discussions on very, very deep material and overall, I still like it. Good thing the action sequences are snappy, exciting, and engaging.

A hard-core sf reader probably needs to read a Neal Stephenson book to get introduced. A novice sf reader would get a skewed view of sf authors reading this book. You’d get an author much more skilled than average, and more ideas that you would usually find in the most imaginative fiction.

Here’s a question: how many books have a video trailer?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to On My Bookshelf: Anathem

  1. Bill says:

    I am through two books of Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, and am enjoying it immensely. However, I am puzzled by his depiction of Catholics. Does anyone have any insight into Stephenson’s theological leanings and why Catholics are consistently portrayed as villains in his work?

  2. Todd says:

    From what I read in Anathem, I don’t think Stephenson has a favorable view of religion. Your observation of villain Catholics doesn’t surprise me. Plus his Baroque cycle took place when, the 1600’s? The institutional Church wasn’t terribly virtuous in those days, so voila! Ready-made antagonists.

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