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
which aren't the detailed footnotes I'd really like, but do point in all
kinds of interesting directions.