Anathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Upon re-reading, I am constantly amazed at how much enjoyment I get from this. It's not just the absolute love of learning, of knowledge, or rather, LIVING knowledge it encapsulates and breathes upon its pages. I'm actually in awe of the storytelling structure, the way it leads us down certain paths that we naturally dismiss, only to have new forms come back and slap us in the face.
Philosophy is wielded like a weapon in this novel.
Saying more than that will likely spoil too much. So much fantastic SF comes out in this novel.
I'm reminded of early Heinlein if he were encouraged to take it much further with the real science, update it with modern quantum understanding, go through rigorous, if still easy to follow and delightfully presented, mathematical logic systems, and give us a fully fleshed out worldbuilding that is absolutely enormous in scale.
It's an IMPORTANT work of SF. And it just gets better every time I read it. Indeed, the awesome reveals are even more awesome in the early Easter eggs. :)
That being said, I won't say what I really want to say because it would reveal way too much... but if I were to say it, it'd say, (view spoiler)
Oh my lord, this is still one of my top ten favorite works of literature. Like. Ever.
Not only has this seminal masterwork of fiction withstood a second read with flying colors, but it continues to define and defy both Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction categories. Heck, I think we can say it belongs on any Philosophy shelf, too, and I defy anyone to not laugh their heads off at the haircuts or Rakes or so many beautiful easter-eggs of ideas studded through the opening couple hundred pages.
What? It's just a bunch of monks talking philosophy and science in an alien world? How the heck could that be fun?
Ahh, this book moves on from that soon enough, especially when mysteries both small and really large start piling up, and the high-tech history of the world with it's truly awesome advances is only *part* of the reveals in store for us.
The world building is probably the most fantastic and excellent that I've ever read in any novel, and I'm even including masterworks like Dune and Foundation in this category. More than anything, it's the history and the alternate progressions of thought and development that is so close to our own history that is so amazing. And funny. Screw Occam's Razor. We've got a Rake. ;)
Little easter eggs abound in the opening that make so much more sense later in the novel, and on the second read, they're even better because we know what to expect. Causal Domain Shear? What's that? A haircut? OMG.
Do *not* expect this to remain a sleepy monk community that has remained cloistered with a few exceptions for 5 thousand years.
*Do* expect some truly wonderful and crazy science, philosophy, action and adventure, aliens, space-travel, time and space hacking, immortality, shaolin monks kicking all sorts of ass, horrible world killers, and multiple dimensions.
Holy crap, right?
It's a damn near perfect story, including great characters, pacing, reveals, science, politics, philosophy, and even religion and poetry. It also continues to blow my mind. How can something this complicated in its entirety read so easily, so effortlessly? But it does, and it's funny as hell, too.
I remember my first reading of this getting under my skin and confounding me at the same time. I kept wanting to categorize and pigeonhole it, and with every new hint that came along to tell me that I was going to fail miserably, I slowly got the hint that I just needed to go with the flow, trust the author, and just get fully immersed. There's no other way around it.
And there has never been a book quite like this in my life, ever before or ever since.
I can't even say that my love of this novel is a case of right place, right time, because with the second read almost eight years after the first, you'd think that I'd have grown as a person. I've certainly read a lot of new books, too. But, alas, this one still packs one hell of a punch.
The total-action scenes at the climax had me gasping for air, literally. I actually started crying from just how freaking awesome it all was. :)
Don't ever let any tell you that there is nothing new under the sun, or that SF or literature is dumbing down. This is one of the smartest pieces of fiction I've ever read. I am in awe.
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