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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Department of Book Reports: Anathem

This week, we present a Special Guest Book Report, from Jackson Street Books' own resident Sci-fi expert. Andy's job has become full time as he helped move the bookstore to Hoquiam and in the on-going reconstruction until we re-open. "Aerik" is the name you might recognize from Second Life.

Anathem, by Neal Stephenson (HarperCollins, $29.95)

Anathem establishes a unique and complex history divided between The
Saecular World; what we refer to as Pop Culture and Religous Theology,
and The Mathic Concents; Scientific Advancement and Theoretical Proof. A
history in which scientific development outstripped the pace society
grudgingly set, resulting in a series of "Terrible Events" that almost
destroyed humanity.

From these events a spectrum of "Iconographies", or characteristics that
the Avout, those of mathic theoric mental discipline, are seen as
having, became a predominant form of stereotyping used to disturbing
ends in some cases. From a God like love of, to a Satanic hatred for,
the avout are fish out of water in a sea of human chaos.

On to the history of Mathic Concents, where those of scientific aptitude
are segregated from the Saecular tides of humanity washing against the
walls of their fortress-like monastaries. Neal Stephenson introduces our
Mathic protagonist, Fraa Erasmas or Raz for short, who proceeds to take
the reader along as his life of ordered rote ceremony and contemplation
in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, is shattered by events beyond either
mathic or saecular control that threatens all of Abre. Raz finds out
just how much both sides of the Mathic divide knows or doesn't, about
each other, themselves or the rest of the universe.

On first blush Anathem is a daunting task, thick at 935 pages it
presents the reader with the sometimes difficult task of interpreting
the language and formulaic ways of Abre, consulting the glossary in the
back will help this phase passes very quickly. An intricate clockwork
arrangement showcasing, in my opinion, awe inspiring skill by
Stephenson. In most cases the names and concepts are not very difficult,
I do however recommend that when the narrative refers to a Calca do take
the extra moments to read the included short story Calca in the
glossary. Each chapter has a helpful definition from the glossary often
pertaining to the coming chapter at the beginning, while maintaining a
sometimes steep but fulfilling acculturation curve.

There really is so much going on in this book with plot lines
masterfully woven that trying to encapsulating the essence of Anathem is
difficult. Neal Stephenson leads the reader down detailed Theoric paths
of logic that are adventures unto themselves, while maintaining
consistant and detailed human interactions. Using formulaic interactions
as a strong cultural element in the Mathic Concent generates a very
pronounced feeling for me that rides the line between theological
refugee and prisoner. Where the gates to the various maths of the
concent associated with one, ten, one hundred and one thousand year
intervals, only open each cycle for ten days. (I.E. Erasmas's Decenarian
Maths gate opens to outside contact every decade.) In opposing contrast
is The Saecular World outside the walls, where government, religion and
ever refined familiar and unfamiliar technologies wage war on the
allegiance of the human slines, derogatory for baseline, meaning average
in every way with no hope of anything more. In this sea of humanity
laced with mega stores, casinos and just about anything a sline could
possibly want, are flung Raz and avout who are tasked with preventing a
mysterious disaster to Abre itself.

Underneath the hood of this wonderfully engaging narrative lies the
structure consisting of a detailed history allowing the author and
readers to easily access details of 6989 years of history. Spanning
-3400 to +3689 is a timeline giving rough date ranges for the history of
Abre that helps to tie the intricate glossary and storycraft into a
thought provoking excersize in mental gymnastics.

----Nerd 21.4.8 rev9.5......................../off
----logout: Aerik...................................../off

This exclusive book report is brought to you to give you an early heads up. Anathem will be available from Jackson Street Books and Fine Independent Bookstores everywhere on Sept. 9th.

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.