rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anathem is the latest of Stephenson's books after his mega-massive System-Of-The-World trilogy (I don't know *anyone* who finished all three).
A couple of things make Anathem daunting and mildly annoying (to begin with):
1. 900+ pages. Ouch.
2. It is based on the planet Arbre where people speak Orth. Yes. Its got its own language. And the language is annoying as heck. To begin with.
The first quarter of the book is the hardest. He is setting things up and taking his time to do so. The language is really, really annoying at this point. Its like someone speaking some wierd dialect of English. A lot of the major concepts in science and philosophy are thrown in, but you have to determine what those are - everything from Darwin to String Theory to Occam's Razor exist somewhere in the book, but they're probably called something Saunt Edhaar's Rake. Go figure.
However by mid-book, things are flowing. You get used to the language, even start liking it to some extent. I was always trying to map Arbre's history / philosophy to well known concepts and its sort of fun. He builds almost everything from the ground up, so its a treatise on Philosophy (to the extent that a work of fiction involving, uhm, many concepts can be). I'm trying really hard not to give away the surprise that gets built up - not really a gotcha per se, but more like, "hrm.. what the heck is going on" sort of deal.
The last 75% is impossible to put down. If you've made it so far, then you're completely hooked. Last week was hell, with three nights of reading until 3am, then waking up and going into work with a nasty mood primarily because of lack of sleep (work colleagues are awesome and put up with my grumpiness). Finally, it gets down to blowing off everything, including girlfriend, so you can really just finish the book and see what happens.
Ending is wierd, but hey, its Stephenson, if you expected a normal ending, you're the sort that believes in Unicorns.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book to a *particular* set of friends I have. I'm not sure what that particular set is, but I can picture a whole bunch of my friends who would *not* like this book (Yes, K, I'm looking at you). Thankfully that set (the unrecommendeds) are not exactly waiting with baited breath to read this review or the book for that matter. How about the following: If you like cryptonomicon, if you liked *any* of his previous work, if you like science fiction mixed with real science, mixed with philosophical questions about Life, the Universe and Everything, there is a reasonable chance that you'd like this book. Just plough your way through the first 25% and then you're good to go.
View all my reviews.