Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Anathem-Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson
Morrow, Sep 2008, $29.95
ISBN 9780061474095

In the future on the planet Arbre, great thinkers are clustered behind the “Concent” walls where they control knowledge from the illogical thinking “Saecular” masses. Preadolescents who show a strong logical ability for rational thought are taken away from the masses to be educated as logical scientists or pragmatic mathematicians inside the cloisters. They learn early on their responsibilities as knowledge is power and knowledge used unwisely is dangerous; thus must be coveted and protected.

Nineteen year old Raz showed signs of brilliance when he was eight, he was collected to be trained as a muse. He has become a “Tenner” over his decade plus of intense learning. Thus his time to go outside amongst the low life Saecular is coming; an event he is allowed once every ten years hence a Tenner. However, the cloistered soon realizes a pandemic catastrophe from outer space is coming soon. Much of the older Concent members feel strongly that physical intervention is prohibited as they debate what to do. However, teens like Raz and those he associates with have not lost their need for adventure. Foolishly perhaps without adult supervision and some would say in violation of their elders, they set forth to save Arbre.

This is a fascinating tale mindful of Gulliver’s Travels to Laputa, the flying island of scientists and mathematicians. The debates and discussions on history and the upcoming calamity are enjoyable to follow, but can turn tedious as long stretches purposely lack action; those behind the walls are reflective thinkers not necessarily doers except perhaps the teens. Fans who appreciate a cerebral science fiction thriller with as much philosophizing as action will want to read Neal Stephenson’s brillian, interesting but different ANATHEM.

Harriet Klausner

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