“Anathem” by Neal Stephenson

A good book overall. I enjoyed the ambiance, the characters, the plot, and the arc. Neal really nailed the “monk” ambiance, and the general parallels with academia and closed societies in general.

He had a lot of interesting quantum mechanic parallels and in-universe magic. Unfortunately, I either misunderstand quantum mechanics, or the in-story logic is botched. Either way, it was a sticking point for me. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I knew less about quantum physics. Most of the technical explanations were spot on, so it’s forgivable either way. Lots of conceptual ideaspace stuff going on. I had hoped for a bit more detail, but the discussion remained philosophically vague. Probably for the best really.

Of course, with the “monk” vibe there was a lot of religious imagery and context either referred to or induced. That’s fine with me, but nearly all of the underlying philosophy and hope of the sources was left out, leaving the symbols and references hollow. Neal gave the “religious” people a much better rap than in his previous books, and you can tell he is trying to be even-handed, but it’s still clearly written by an atheist. Which is fine, but the monastic setting just didn’t resonate well with the author’s philosophy. Other than that dissonanace, I enjoyed the tone immensely. Anathem is a long way from CyberPunk and Diamond Age (also an interesting book), and a refreshing angle.

Overall, a good read. Solid science fiction by a seasoned author. Give it a try. You’ll know in the first few pages.

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