Anathem by Neal Stephenson

cvrsml_anathemAnathem, by Neal Stephenson, is an incredible book.  It examines an alternate world in which two societies have developed coexisting, but apart from, one another.  In one society – the Saecular – politics and culture is very similar to our own.  In the other – the Avout – live in seclusion and division from the mainstream society, but have devoted themselves to the perfection of thought by examining different philosophies, arts, technology and more.  The avout live in seclusion, divided by the order to which they belong.  The main character of the story is a young man named Fraa Erasmus.  Through a richly developed story, Erasmus becomes involved in saving his world from the arrival of aliens.  Rather than simply borrowing themes from previous science fiction classics, Stephenson develops his story around the changes brought to each society by their preexisting and currently altered philosophies of existence and reality.  Stephenson develops his own history, philosophy, sociology, and language (even of mathematics and logic) into his story.

According to Publisher’s Weekly:

In this follow-up to his historical Baroque Cycle trilogy, which fictionalized the early-18th century scientific revolution, Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world. Stephenson’s expansive storytelling echoes Walter Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, the space operas of Larry Niven and the cultural meditations Douglas Hofstadter—a heady mix of antecedents that makes for long stretches of dazzling entertainment occasionally interrupted by pages of numbing colloquy.

Neal Stephenson’s webpage explains much of the thought that went into writing the book in his Acknowledgments section, but there is a movie trailer, video of the author reading the book, excerpts and more.  It’s definitely worth checking out.   There is also a wiki to the book as well.

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