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Science Fiction Fantasy Blog

Our discussion of Anathem by Neal Stephenson

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 by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside—the Extramuros—for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

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—at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

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. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world—as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond. Goodreads.

Below are a sampling of our comments:

  • The world-building was very good, but an editor may have helped…
  • This is an entertaining philosophy text
  • The first half is philosophy and then it turns into a travel adventure
  • Monks in space!
  • It was slow going at first, but I enjoyed the order of geek monks
  • The super spacesuits were from a 2600 year old design – novel concept
  • Diagrams! Diagrams would have helped explain the concepts so much faster
  • I liked it a lot – Erasmus was able to adapt when he went out into the world. It was funny, too
  • I loved it – it could have been shorter
  • This was a fantasy set on a sort of earth, like Tolkien’s books where the continents are different, but the moon is the same. Here, Stephenson explains what he’s doing
  • How could the oxygen be different on other worlds? The food being indigestible makes more sense
  • What happened to Fra Jad? Did he die or was he just dead in some realities?
  • Favorite quote: "Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs … We have a protractor."

Please add any additional thoughts or comments you may have about Anathem. We gave this title the codes LEL, PHI, AGE, REL, HAA & QUE with an average rating of 4.38.

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