Mid-book review: Anathem

I know it’s a bit unconventional, but I am about halfway through Neil Stephenson’s Anathem and I though I would post a few thoughts so far.  The book is after all more than 900 pages.  If I waited until I was finished with it, I might forget what I though about the first sections.
Anathem takes place on a fictional world called Arbre, that the author takes pains in the introduction to explain to the novice reader is NOT earth.  It’s somewhere else.  On Arbre the people are divided into two primary groups: Avout who practice “the Discipline” as part of an order within a  “math”.  An avout’s order is much like the orders of religions on earth, in that it describes the particular focus of the group and the background from which it stems.  An avout’s math however determines when then get to have contact with the other group (the Saeculars) and the other maths.  If you are in a Unarian mat, you get to see to the world outside others in your math once a year, Decnarian math, once every ten years.  It goes on up to once every thousand years.  There are even rumors of 10,000 year maths…maybe they will turn out to be important??
The book is well written and a little ‘tighter’ than the last Stephenson book I read (Cryptonomicon) – meaning that there are fewer side tracks and lengthy dialogues that don’t seem to advance to story.  There are also many interesting observations that the main character (Fraa Erasmus) makes as he ventures out into the Saecular world for the first time in 10 years (can you guess which math he is in?).  One that struck me as I was reading last night was about the nature of work and how over the millennium (on Arbre remember) it was standardized and specialized to the point that a man had no interesting stories left to tell from their workday.  The “powers that be” would read it as a failure if one of their workers came home and anything interesting to say about their day at work- it would mean there was a riot, a catastrophe or a tragedy.  All things to be avoided.  Fraa Erasmus also observes that that’s why sports and speelys (something that sounds an awful lot like TV) had become so important to the Saecular’s: to give them something remarkable to talk about.
Makes me think…how many interesting stories do I ever come home with about what I did at work?  How about you?






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