Saturday, January 15, 2011

anathem i

I just past the halfway point of Anathem, by Neal Stephenson (509/937). I'm sure I've read some similar things--when I was younger I read a lot more fantasy and sci fi--but I don't recall anything quite like this. Speculative Fiction is probably the best description I can come up with and 500+ pages in, I'm still not sure what exactly is going on. Anathem is built around a mystery, of sorts, and surrounded by more mystery. Sounds complex, but it isn't really. Stephenson takes the time to allow the story to unfold, and allow his readers to catch up.

This idea of allowing the reader to catch up is actually an integral part of the story arc, and the writer-reader relationship in this book; maybe dialog is a better word. The frontmatter includes a note to the reader, along with a timeline. The backmatter includes a glossary, and an appendix which I thought was helpful. The chapters, and many of the scene changes in the text are punctuated by glossary entries that either explain a term that was just used, or, more often, explains a term the reader will need in the coming scene, which acts as a foreshadowing tool, and fortunately, is not as clunky as it seems.

Anathem seems to take place on a world very much like Earth. So similar that we could be related to its inhabitants somehow. Are they descendants? A parallel universe? I'm not sure, but a lot of their habits, and lifestyles are similar to ours, if only exaggerated or simplified. As is there language. Many of the terms included in the glossary entries are very similar to English words, and seems as though they could have evolved from a common root language. I love the language related stuff: etymology, definition drift. But what does it all mean?

Not sure, yet.

By the way, aren't these cover images weirdly similar? Thanks for the book Dad!

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