Anathem by Neal Stephenson


9 Critic Reviews

Light on adventure, but a logophilic treat for those who like their alternate worlds big, parodic and ironic.


Anathem, the latest invention by the New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, is a magnificent creation: a work of great scope, intelligence, and imagination that ushers readers into a recognizable -- yet strangely inverted -- world.

Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside "saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside -- the Extramuros -- for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent's gates -- at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros -- a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose -- as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world -- as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.


About Neal Stephenson

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Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde; Anathem; the three-volume historical epic The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World); as well as Cryptonomicon; The Diamond Age; Snow Crash, which was named one of Time magazine's top one hundred all-time best English-language novels; and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
Published January 1, 2008 by MORROW.. 935 pages
Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Children's Books, Action & Adventure. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Anathem
All: 9 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 4


Above average
Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on May 20 2010

Light on adventure, but a logophilic treat for those who like their alternate worlds big, parodic and ironic.

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Reviewed by Christopher Brookmyre on Sep 27 2008

The only catch to reading a novel as imposingly magnificent as this is that for the next few months, everything else seems small and obvious by comparison.

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Book Reporter

Above average
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on Dec 22 2010

Even so, paragraph upon paragraph of intellectual infighting amongst scholars, page upon page of metatheoric argument and scientific regurgitation make the reading of ANATHEM a true slog.

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The Telegraph

Above average
Reviewed by Andrew McKie on Oct 08 2008

Reading it will, however, involve developing an interest in the history and content of all of geometry, physics, mathematics, philosophy and quantum mechanics...without being willing to grapple with those things, you won't get far.

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Reviewed by Jo Walton on Mar 02 2011

It’s a huge ambitious book of the kind that only science fiction can produce. It’s a whole world of funny words and nifty ideas to sink into. It is also unquestionably one of the most important books of the last ten years...

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The Seattle Times

Above average
Reviewed by Nisi Shawl on Sep 12 2008

This doesn't mean it's a dull read; "Anathem" is an absorbing book and features plenty of action: a first kiss, a volcanic eruption, a spacewalk and several Hong Kong cinema-like fight scenes.

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SF Site

Above average
Reviewed by Jakob Schmidt on Feb 22 2013

Anathem convincingly sells something far more outrageous than all its quantum-mechanical epistemology: the notion that things might turn out quite alright in the end.

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Deseret News

Above average
Reviewed by Chauncey Mabe on Dec 21 2008

Much as I enjoyed Neal Stephenson's ravishingly brilliant, outrageously ambitious "Anathem," I can't help but think it would be a better novel with a lot less intellectualizing, and, oh — let me do the math, here — about 300 fewer pages.

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Above average
Reviewed by Brian Bethune on Nov 18 2008

There’s a space-opera mystery, aliens, kung-fu fighting and even romance, not to mention the revenge of the prime-believers over the cultural relativists. It’s all engrossing, witty, and very readable.

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John Munro 19 Feb 2013

Rated the book as 5 out of 5