Friday, March 27, 2009

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Mathematicians as monks, monasteries as think tanks, an unsophisticated and somewhat hostile outside world and an unknown menace. Who do you think will save the day?

If you don’t already like Neal Stephenson’s sprawling novels, Anathem will not endear you to his style. It is crazy long, full of asides and borderline-annoying lingo and the main character suffers from the same two conditions of many of Stephenson’s protagonists—everymanism and right-place-right-timeitis. And while it does get a little irksome to read follow the actions of a character ruled by other people’s actions and beset by “quirky” supporting characters. There is a bit of superficial commentary on government, race and religion but where Stephenson’s dedication to research really shines is his masterful transformation of geometry theory into a workable religious concept. The time travel element in the book was a nice surprise and an important addition to stories on the topic.

I was worried that it wouldn’t come together, but I was really pleased at the result of the author’s creative sweating. You can really tell that he is having fun with his writing and the joy that comes through in his books goes a long way to ameliorate his in-your-face zeal for nerdy intricacies. There are footnotes, my friends.

The only times I start to get exasperated with his style is when he insists on adding love story plotlines. They are awful, and the ground he gained with writing believable female characters in the Baroque Cycle seems to have been reclaimed by the dark side of geekdom. He practically trips over himself to show that the ladies are powerful, tough and in control, especially in romance. It’s condescending and annoying. Whenever characters start making eyes at each other I start to skim and there are two major instances of this in Anathem. Luckily in a book this long there are plenty of other things to focus on.

1 comment:

looka said...