Whirr2009-04-03
Anathem (no spoilers)

Here's an email I sent to my friend about how I felt about Neal Stephenson's book.

1) Dude has not figured out narrative. At all. The book stops and starts like a fourteen-year-old trying to shift gears. It coasts along slowly, discussing complicated ideas about consciousness and orbital geometry, and then you turn the page and your are right in the middle of what the hell just happened!? I was never sure if that was deliberate or not (and he does talk, dismissively, about "foreshadowing" early in the book) but I don't really think it was successful.

2) This does count as one of his "novels with endings", the second one, I guess, where he does anything better than, "Er... and then the army of mouse-children show up and magically defeat the bad guys or something".

Just like the Baroque Cycle, though, it's kind of a, "Oh, and I'll write a final chapter: 'Everyone suddenly became happy. The End.'" sort of thing. And he does some weirdness at the end... which I kind of like, but I'm just not sure I buy.

I think that the BC is one of the greatest novels I've ever read. For all that it had an awful lot of problems and may not quite be "literature" (like Rushdie, or David Foster Wallace, or Danielewski &c.).

3) Anathem is certainly more coherent than the BC, in that he sticks to one character and one thought at a time. Zodiac, Snowcrash, and Diamond Age were, I feel, pretty minor novels... Well, Zodiac, certainly, and Snowcrash I'd argue was only important historically. There are really fantastic and very enjoyable, but not as Important as the BC, and I think I'd say that about Cryptonomicon as well (although it's been a long time since I've read it). Anathem is a pretty big deal, though.

Nothing to add, really, except that for a while, at least, I'll be saying upsight all the time, and referring to Diax's Rake and Gardan's Steelyard.

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