Wednesday, February 11

So I finished Anathem the other night. It's the first of Stephenson's novels I've read in its entirety since somewhere around the first volume of The Baroque Cycle.

I don't want to get very far into spoiler-land, but I think this is an important book. It can almost be read as Stephenson's answer to The Dispossessed, or at any rate to many of the problems that animate it — both are about gifted people in a tradition-bound, deliberately constrained social order which is at once admirable and deeply flawed, and both ask questions about science, research, intellectual progress, and the individual's place in a communal order.

I don't mean to say that Anathem has quite the emotional depth or power of The Dispossessed; it doesn't. In part this is just because Le Guin is very good at what she does, and it doesn't mean a whole lot to say that a book affected me less than The Dispossessed. Most books do. That said, I think it's also because so much of Anathem is concerned directly with transcribing its characters' dialogs (frequently in the formal sense) about various facets of reality, and with situating a whole bunch of real-world ideas in a kind of coded and moderately shuffled other-world history.1 Which is generally fascinating.

If you've read the book, it's worth checking out the web-based acknowledgments, which aren't the detailed footnotes I'd really like, but do point in all kinds of interesting directions.

1 Of course, I guess Le Guin does this too, but it's generally more Bakunin / Proudhon / Kropotkin than Archimedes / Socrates / Gödel.