Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Anathem

I've just finished reading Neal Stephenson's new novel, Anathem. Previous works by Stephenson have varied from the raw but entertaining Zodiac, through the hilarious Snowcrash (the best opening scenes of a novel ever?) and on into the labyrinthine and erudite yet readable, funny, sexy, gripping 'System of the World' trilogy. In this latest book we are transported to the world of Arbre, fairly similar to Earth but a world where mathematicians/scientists/philosophers live and work in monastery-like buildings, separated from the 'saecular' world. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is because of unspeakable things that happened when scientists were able to get their hands on technology.

As the book unfolds it changes nature many times, keeping you fascinated through it's 800+ pages. It's a book about philosophy and you can try matching the famous 'saunts' of Arbre to the philosophers we are familiar with. It's about quantum mechanics and the many universes problem. And it's about meeting aliens. Only the twist here is that it's seen from the Alien's perspective. And I suppose it's a love story, an adventure novel and a lot else besides.

I am amazed at how much Stephenson can get inside a subject like QM or philosophy and produce a stunning novel which incorporates so much of its principles. The last set of novels were all about computing, finance, history and piracy for goodness sake. How much research does he do?

Put it on your Christmas list. A novel for those who enjoy reading, enjoy learning, enjoy thinking.