From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Cover of the hardcover first edition, featuring an analemma behind the author's name
Author Neal Stephenson
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Publisher William Morrow and Company
Publication date 2008-09-09
Media type print (hardback)
Pages 928 pp
ISBN ISBN 9780061474095 (first edition, hardback)

Anathem is a 2008 speculative fiction novel by Neal Stephenson.


[edit] Plot summary

Anathem is set on the planet Arbre. Thousands of years prior to the events in the novel, society was on the verge of collapse. Intellectuals entered concents, much like monastic communities but without the religious elements. Here, the avout—a term for intellectuals, fraa for monk and suur for nun—are given limited access to tools and are watched over by officials answering to the outside world (known as the Sæcular Power). The concents are therefore slow to change, unlike the rest of Arbre, which goes through many cycles of booms and busts.

The narrator and protagonist Erasmas is a fraa at the concent of Saunt Edhar. His primary teacher, Orolo, discovers that alien beings are orbiting Arbre, which the Sæcular Power is attempting to cover up. Orolo secretly observes the aliens with an illegally obtained (according to concent law) camera, and enlists Erasmas to help collect this data. Erasmas is unaware of the content of the research until he deciphers it after Orolo is banished in the rite of "Anathem".

Several months pass, and Erasmas falls in love with suur Ala, another avout at Saunt Edhar. Immediately after this, the Sæcular Power removes her along with several other avout, requiring their help with a secret project. Erasmas, still upset about Orolo’s banishment, throws himself into his work. The presence of the alien ship soon becomes an open secret among many of the avout. Several weeks later, a laser shines down from the ship and illuminates part of Saunt Edhar. Now that the aliens have shown themselves openly, the Sæcular Power removes many avout from Saunt Edhar, this time including Erasmas.

Erasmas and the rest of the avout are told to travel to Saunt Tredegarh, another concent several thousand miles away. Erasmas instead desires to find Orolo, who had recently travelled to the isolated concent of Orithena, on the other side of Arbre. A mysterious fraa named Jad, who is seemingly hundreds of years old, tells Erasmas to find Orolo, suggesting that he has valuable information about the aliens, which by this time have come to be known as the Geometers because of graphical proof of Pythagoras' Theorem seen on the side of their ship.

After a dangerous journey, Erasmas arrives at Orithena. Orolo teaches Erasmas about mystic traditions among the avout, and how he believes that the Geometers are not simply from another planet, but from another cosmos which is influenced by Arbre. Orolo had signaled the Geometers using lasers, and a small spacecraft lands on Orithena. The female Geometer on board is dead of a recent gunshot wound. She brings with her four vials of blood—presumably that of the Geometers—and much evidence about their technology. Shortly thereafter, the Geometers propel a massive metal rod at a nearby volcano, destroying Orithena. Orolo sacrifices his life to rescue the dead Geometer's remains and the vials of blood.

Erasmas soon arrives at Saunt Tredegarh, which is home to a joint conference of the avout and the Sæcular Power. This is one of the secret projects of the Sæcular Power, where many of the avout of Saunt Edhar (including suur Ala), have been taken. Much research is done on the Geometers, who come from four planets in four distinct cosmi: Urnud, Tro, Fthos, and Laterre (later revealed to be Earth). The conference is infiltrated by a Laterran linguist, Jules Verne Durand. He explains that the Geometers are experiencing internal conflict, but that the ruling faction intends to attack and raid Arbre for its resources. Durand offers to assist the avout in resisting the Geometers, believing that they can bring the situation to a peaceful conclusion.

Erasmas along with many others are given the training needed to board the Geometers' ship, the Daban Urnud, and disable its weaponry. They unknowingly bring with them small nuclear bombs, which the Sæcular Power intends to use as a bargaining chip should part of their mission fail.

The avout board the ship and the narrative of the novel splits several ways, in keeping with the book's theory of multiple parallel universes. Several avout trained in martial arts destroy the ship's main weapon, perishing in the attack. Jad, meanwhile, leads Erasmas into the command center of the "Daban Urnud", where it is revealed that the avout of one thousand years in the past used their incanting powers to summon the ship to their cosmos from another, parallel one. Later, Erasmas awakes in a hospital and is told that Jad died during their launch, despite his presence throughout the trip. It is unclear which (or how many) of these contradictory narratives is real and what may have happened in different world lines that have crossed and overlapped. However, Jad hints that the Incanters and Rhetors (avout skilled in a mysterious art of moving between parallel universes) were able to change records and memories, so that Jad may have survived in some world lines.

A funeral forms part of the signing of peace between the races, but with sæcular and avout now as equal powers. The avout inaugurate a "reconstitution", revising many of the rules restricting their work and lifestyle. The closing scene has Erasmas marrying Ala.

[edit] Philosophical and scientific content and influences

Large portions of the book are devoted to detailed discussions of mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Most of these discussions use fictional Arbran terminology, but treat ideas from actual science and philosophy. Stephenson acknowledges the work of author Julian Barbour as the source for much of this material.[1]

A major theme of the novel is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which accounts for the various "worldtracks" and "narratives" explored by Fraa Orolo and manipulated by Fraa Jad.[1] Another major theme is the recurring philosophical debate between characters espousing mathematical Platonic realism (in the novel called "Halikaarnians") and characters espousing mathematical formalism (in the novel called "Procians").

Stephenson cites the work of Roger Penrose as a major influence on the novel. Specific ideas from Penrose's work include: the idea that the human mind operates in certain fundamental ways as a quantum computer, espoused in Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind; Platonic realism as a philosophical basis for works of fiction, as in stories from Penrose's The Road to Reality; and the theory of aperiodic tilings, which appear in the Teglon puzzle in the novel.[1] Stephenson also cites the work of Kurt Gödel as an influence, whom the character Durand mentions by name in the novel.[1]

Much of the Geometers' technology seen in the novel is based on existing scientific concepts. The alien ship moves by means of nuclear pulse propulsion, a technique developed by ARPA.

As an appendix to the novel, Stephenson includes three "Calca", discussions among the avout of purely philosophical or mathematical content. The first is a discussion of a cake cutting procedure similar to classical geometric compass and straightedge constructions. The second is a description of configuration spaces (in the novel called "Hemn spaces") as a way of represented three dimensional motion. The third is a discussion of a "complex" Platonic realism, in which several realms of Platonic ideal forms (in the novel called the "Hylaean Theoric Worlds") exist independently of the physical world (in the novel called the "Arbran Causal Domain"). The mathematical structure of a directed acyclic graph is used to describe the way in which the various realms can influence one other, and even the physical world can function as part of the realm of ideal forms for some worlds "downstream" in the graph.

[edit] Vocabulary

Anathem uses many created terms. The following terms are used in the list of characters:

Aut: Both the performance of art and the action that the performance represents. Graduation is a real-world example of an Aut.

Bazian: A member of an extramurous religious order, which is roughly equivalent to the Roman Catholic Church. There are also Counter-Bazians which are similar to Protestants.

Burger: A member of the upper-class, outside the Concent.

Concent: A walled compound (similar to a convent or monastery) where the isolated inhabitants are devoted to the study of logic, mathematics, cosmology, or philosophy rather than religion. Inhabitants may be Unarians (who have contact with the outside world once a year), Decenarians (contact every ten years), Centenarians (contact every hundred years), or Millenarians (contact every thousand years).

Convox: A large gathering of representatives from throughout the Mathic world. Conducted every thousand years, or in very unusual circumstances at the request of the Saecular Power.

Diax's rake: A philosophical maxim, meaning that things are not true simply because one wishes them to be so. In Anathem the term originates from the early days of the Mathic world when Saunt Diax used a rake to chase intellectual pretenders from a temple.

Evocation or Voco: An aut performed when the Saecular Power summons a Suur or a Fraa from a Concent. The person summoned never returns to their Concent of origin.

Extramuros: The world outside of a Concent.

Fraa: A male member of a Concent.

Ita: A technician class that lives inside the walls of a Concent. The Ita and the Scholar inhabitants of a Concent are not allowed to mingle with one another.

Mathic: Devoted to the study of mathematics and sciences.

Saecular Power: The governing authority of the non-mathic world.

Saunt: Savant, applies to historical figures in the Mathic world who have contributed a theory judged to be of exceptional merit. (Compare to saint).

Sline: Short for "baseline", a person without education or prospects of same. Derogatory term.

Suur: A female member of a Concent.

Thrown back: To be kicked out of a Concent.

Vale lore or vlor: Martial arts

[edit] Characters

Erasmas: The protagonist of Anathem; a Decenarian of the Edharian chapter at the Concent of Saunt Edhar. The son of slines, he was Collected by the Concent of Saunt Edhar at the age of eight.

Arsibalt: A Decenarian fraa from the Concent of Saunt Edhar, and one of Erasmas' friends. The estranged son of a Bazian prelate, he seeks to reconcile religion with science.

Jesry: A Decenarian fraa from the Concent of Saunt Edhar, and one of Erasmas' friends. Unlike Erasmas, Jesry is from a burger family, and is bored with the routine Mathic life leading up to his evocation. He becomes famous for going into space with the Warden of Heaven, ruler of the Saecular Power, to investigate the Geometers' ship.

Lio: A Decenarian fraa from the Concent of Saunt Edhar, and one of Erasmas' friends. He shows great interest in vale lore (martial arts) and in the history of weaponry and warfare.

Ala: A Decenarian suur from the Concent of Saunt Edhar, and later a major organizer of the Convox. Though they do not like each other initially, she and Erasmas develop a relationship throughout the book.

Jad: A Millenarian fraa from the Concent of Saunt Edhar. Jad is evoked in the same aut as Erasmas, and accompanies him to Bly's Butte in search of Orolo. Later reappears at the Convox.

Orolo: A Decenarian fraa and member of the Edharian Order at the Concent of Saunt Edhar. Orolo is a cosmographer, and is one of Erasmas's main teachers and mentors at Saunt Edhar. He recruits Erasmas into the Edharian Order, but is later Thrown Back for attempting to observe the Geometers long before their existence was confirmed.

Sammann: An Ita of the Concent of Saunt Edhar, who accompanies Erasmas to Ecba after his evocation.

Cord: Erasmas' half-sister, who lives Extramurous of Saunt Edhar. She accompanies Erasmas to Ecba after his evocation.

[edit] Production

The novel was partly inspired by Stephenson's involvement with The Clock of the Long Now project, to which he contributed three pages of sketches and notes.[2][3] A separate compact disc, entitled IOLET: Music from the World of Anathem, containing eight experimental vocal compositions by David Stutz, will be sold separately through CD Baby and the Long Now Foundation, with profits going to The Clock of the Long Now project .[4][5]

To create the world of Arbre, Stephenson created an entirely new vocabulary. In order to familiarize the reader with the new words, many of which are analogous to English words and ideas, he put a glossary at the end of the book. Each chapter begins with a definition of one of these words, which usually relates to the chapter in some way. In addition, the Orth language spoken by the characters has been documented[6]. The title of the book takes its name from anathem, a mathic ritual by which one is expelled from the mathic world. The word is a portmanteau of "anthem" and "anathema."

[edit] Reception

Anathem received mostly positive reviews. Paul Boutin wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "the lasting satisfaction of Anathem derives … from Mr. Stephenson's wry contempt for today's just-Google-it mindset. His prose is dense, but his worldview contagious."[7] On, Andrew Leonard described the book as "a page turner and a philosophical argument, an adventure novel and an extended existential meditation, a physics lesson, sermon and ripping good yarn."[8]

Michael Dirda of the Washington Post disagreed, remarking that "Anathem will certainly be admired for its intelligence, ambition, control and ingenuity", but describing it as "fundamentally unoriginal", "grandiose, overwrought and pretty damn dull."[9]

The novel entered the The New York Times Best Seller list for Hardcover Fiction at number one.[10]

Anathem also achieved the rare distinction for a novel of being reviewed in Nature.[11]

[edit] References

[edit] Concordance

[edit] External links

Personal tools