I left for a two month trip to Europe, taking only Neal Stephenson’s Anathem with me. As Cryptonomicon had taken me two months, I figured I’d be fine with just Anathem. I was in for a rather large surprise when I finished it in two weeks (it’s all that train time and decompressing after museums).
Anathem is more easily categorized as science-fiction than many of Stephenson’s other books- and this can only be seen as a compliment. Like Stephenson’s other books, Anathem uses religion, philosophy, and mathematics as an integral part of the novel. His exploration of such concepts is common in science-fiction, but Stephenson makes philosophic conversation more important than most other authors. But where this novel moves away from his others into the realm of sci-fi is his inclusion of aliens. Aliens? Do these not sound a bit strange for a Stephenson? Yes, they do. But his characterization of them is so perfect for the world he creates, there is no need to suspend disbelief, for by the time the aliens appear we have already questioned so much of the world through philosophical passages that we are ready to accept, question and learn. Not wanting to take away from the experience of reading, I will not say more, except that this is a wonderful introduction to Stephenson for sci-fi readers, and an interesting new novel for those already following his work.