Cautiously Optimistic About 'Anathem'

The next book on my fiction reading list is Neal Stephenson's Anathem. I have greatly enjoyed his other books, and based on that alone, I'm looking forward to reading this new one. However, in reading the description of the book, I started to wonder...

Excerpted from the Amazon description:
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... 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... 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. [bold added]
Oy. That's a whole lotta made up words and craziness there. Now, I have enjoyed the Dune series, and The Lord of the Rings, so I'm not averse to made up words and craziness, but the description of Anathem gave me pause. Then I saw the following cartoon from xkcd.com:
If you roll over the image, you should see the note that was included with the comic on the site. It says, "Except for anything by Lewis Carroll or Tolkien, you get five made-up words per story. I'm looking at you, Anathem." The probability curve above demonstrates my concern.

I do remember seeing a comment from Kyle Haight somewhere, and I think he said he liked Anathem. Kyle, if you read this, post a comment and let me know what you thought of the book.

In the meantime, I will continue to read and greatly enjoy The Fountainhead. I can't remember the last time I read it, but it was at least 5 years ago. Damn, what an amazing book.

See also: Book Review: The Baroque Cycle (04/08/08)


Kyle Haight said...

I enjoyed it, but I have a fairly high tolerance for Stephenson's writing. As with much of his work, it could have used some more editing.

The made-up words just served to move me into the world of the story. The aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the way Stephenson set up a whole parallel "intellectual tradition" that was grappling with the same issues facing philosophers in reality, without just doing a simple one-to-one mapping. It's an impressive accomplishment from that standpoint, even though his perspective on the philosophical issues is a fairly conventional one.

C. August said...

Thanks Kyle. I have a high tolerance for Stephenson too, and I was definitely intrigued by the philosophical aspects of what it sounds like he's trying with Anathem. I was mildly concerned that he had gone off the deep end, but it sounds like he didn't.

And I think your assessment of this book covers the Baroque trilogy also:

"It's an impressive accomplishment from that standpoint, even though his perspective on the philosophical issues is a fairly conventional one."

That was one of my issues with the trilogy. I was very happy that he acknowledged the importance of ideas in shaping the world, but his actual view of philosophy itself is conventional (i.e. wrong).