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Sneak Peek At Neal Stephenson's "Anathem"

timothy posted about 6 years ago | from the canticle-for-leibowitz-comes-to-mind dept.

Sci-Fi 140

Shawn M. Smith writes "Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle) has a new novel coming out in just a couple weeks — Anathem. Boing Boing has an excerpt from the amazing glossary (including a definition for 'bulshytt') so take a peek at a copy of an abridged glossary of neologisms and language-bending goodies from the book."

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I think you made a typo there... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24710959)

There's an extra "a". It should be "Nathem." Thank you.

Different excerpt on Amazon (4, Informative)

SputnikPanic (927985) | about 6 years ago | (#24711025)

Amazon has a 12-page preview and a short video segment with Neal Stephenson here []

Re:Different excerpt on Amazon (4, Funny)

iplayfast (166447) | about 6 years ago | (#24711265)

They also claim to have used copies available!

Re:Different excerpt on Amazon (0)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | about 6 years ago | (#24711345)

They also claim to have used copies available!

No they don't. Or maybe you didn't read the two words that follow "used" (you know, the "and new" part). If you click that, you'll see that both listings are for new copies (one is Amazon themselves) and specifically state that they won't be available until September 9.

Re:Different excerpt on Amazon (1)

ikono (1180291) | about 6 years ago | (#24711477)


Uhhhh (1, Insightful)

malkir (1031750) | about 6 years ago | (#24711031)

This guy used way too much energy

Hope (2, Funny)

spykemail (983593) | about 6 years ago | (#24711041)

I hope it's as good as Snow Crash!

Re:Hope (1)

nog_lorp (896553) | about 6 years ago | (#24711283)

I was wondering where Snow Crash was in the summary :(

Re:Hope (1)

Random BedHead Ed (602081) | about 6 years ago | (#24711723)

I'm a little ways into reading Snow Crash right now and am lukewarm about it. It may be because I've encountered some of the concepts in the book before, and encountering them in print 16 years too late is making them seem more dated than they would have been in 1992. I haven't read any of Stephenson's books before and was wondering, does it get better? How does it compare with his other books, like the ones mentioned in the summary?

Re:Hope (4, Informative)

FiloEleven (602040) | about 6 years ago | (#24712015)

Depends on who you talk to. Since I'm responding, I'll say that Snow Crash is a fun romp with some cool ideas. I like it, but I know lots of people who are very "meh" about it, and after 3 readings the shine is wearing off for me. For a book with a somewhat similar flavor but a much, much more interesting world, check out The Diamond Age. That is my favorite Stephenson book.

Cryptonomicon is probably his best book, a must-read for geeks, and the best place to start if you're not afraid of 800+ pages. Where else will you find modular arithmetic explained in the narrative through a bent spoke and dented chain link forcing Alan Turing (who is keeping track in his head) to stop every X*Y pedal cycles to adjust it and keep the chain from falling off? You'll get a pretty polarized set of opinions on that one, and the usual non-endings (which you have yet to experience!) apply. Still a mighty fine slice of culture, if I do say so myself.

Re:Hope (1)

Bashae (1250564) | about 6 years ago | (#24712155)

Snow Crash was good because its main characters kicked ass. Comparing it to most other geek literature, I found it a relaxing, easy read. I think it's good to read books like Snow Crash regularly to keep your brain from exploding. Alas, I have not yet read the Cryptonomicon, a book so universally praised. I keep a huge queue of books I want to read and the Cryptonomicon is still in it (it will be in my very next Amazon order, sometime during September).

Re:Hope (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 years ago | (#24713777)

Alas, I have not yet read the Cryptonomicon, a book so universally praised. I keep a huge queue of books I want to read and the Cryptonomicon is still in it (it will be in my very next Amazon order, sometime during September).

Cryptonomicon is starting to date because it is set partly in the present. Don't wait too long before reading it.

Re:Hope (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | about 6 years ago | (#24712275)

Snow Crash is fun, but it's a bit on the immature side. Both The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are superior.

The Baroque Cycle is more ambitious than any of these, but has serious issues.

Re:Hope (1)

Walkingshark (711886) | about 6 years ago | (#24712819)

Snow Crash is fun, but it's a bit on the immature side. Both The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are superior.

The Baroque Cycle is more ambitious than any of these, but has serious issues.

Pretty much agreed. I actually liked Zodiac too. In fact, I liked everything except the Baroque Cycle books, which I found boring. About 300 pages into the first book I realized that nothing had happened, and there are only so many times that hearing about how scientists back in the day used to drink quicksilver can amuse.

Re:Hope (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | about 6 years ago | (#24712967)

I forgot Zodiac. It was great fun, but not exactly deep.

Re:Hope (1)

Drongo14 (77786) | about 6 years ago | (#24712851)

I found the idea that somebody was opposed to his employees 'owning' IP because it was in their heads quite interesting. In the real world I'm seeing more and more legislation trying to get around this issue.

Re:Hope (1)

Mike610544 (578872) | about 6 years ago | (#24714725)

You'll get a pretty polarized set of opinions on that one

Stephenson's going to be pretty polarizing in general. Personally, I can't think of any other author who can write an 800 page book where there's something on just about every page that makes me stop and say "Wow, that was awesome." On the other hand (as you stated) when you start to see the pages dwindling, you wonder how he's going to wrap it all up, and even being familiar with his style, it's always surprising how much the story "stops" rather than "ends."

Re:Hope (1)

Yokaze (70883) | about 6 years ago | (#24712633)

My personal view:
Snow Crash - Fun, when Matrix wasn't a movie (or at least had no sequel) and computers weren't so mainstream, that you could identify yourself with hacker-rebel / cyberpunk attitude.

The Diamond Age - In some way the anti-thesis to Snow Crash (no more cyber-rebels), in other ways the continuation (fragmented society). In my eyes a better depiction of what globalisation and nanotechnology can mean (E.g. Socially, not locally separated societies, a reevaluation of the worth of resources (like diamonds) and production). The end seemed a bit rushed to me which, in my eyes, applies to practically all of Neal Stephenson's books, regardless of their length.

Cryptonomicon - read it, but fail to make a call on it, because I simply can't remember it so clearly. But maybe that says enough.

The Baroque Cycle - A great insight on Neal Stephenson's view on evolution of economics or more specific currency. I think, it greatly depends on the historical knowledge of the reader, otherwise you won't get several historical references. I loved the first half (or first two books) of the first volume, which was very funny to me and had me laughing out loud. The latter parts were okay, but had me a bit disappointed after such a great beginning. Maybe it also was a lack of historical knowledge on my part. To me, it felt a bit dragging on: I think the main reason, why it is a 3 Volume (6 book cycle) is not because it is an story, which takes time to be told (like, say, Dune), but because the author wanted to make a epic book cycle and take his time to tell some (for some reason) intertwined stories.

Personally, I liked "The Diamond Age" best, but maybe it is dated again. It is about what I like most about SciFi: The impact of technology on society.

Re:Hope (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 6 years ago | (#24713921)

My personal view: Snow Crash - Fun, when Matrix wasn't a movie (or at least had no sequel) and computers weren't so mainstream, that you could identify yourself with hacker-rebel / cyberpunk attitude.

There is a page in snow crash where Stephenson describes the feds in detail. Anonymous guys in suits with secret service style ear pieces. I reckon the agents in the matrix are derived from the feds.

Compare the experience of YT's Mother being interrogated by the feds with Neo being interrogated by agent smith.

Re:Hope (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24712635)


Re:Hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24714031)

Snow Crash is the reason I'm never touching this book.

Plain old English anyone? (3, Funny)

ilovesymbian (1341639) | about 6 years ago | (#24711051)

Maybe I cannot understand this, but why can't people just speak regular plain old English? Doesn't the adage "Caesar cannot change English" apply anymore? This is bulshytt!

Re:Plain old English anyone? (4, Funny)

TornCityVenz (1123185) | about 6 years ago | (#24711083)

I for one am just glad he did not decide to write his newest novel in "leetspeak" or "lolcat".

Re:Plain old English anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24712803)

Re:Plain old English anyone? (3, Informative)

ucblockhead (63650) | about 6 years ago | (#24711543)

Stephenson is hardly the first [] SF [] writer [] to use esoteric language styles for effect.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (3, Informative)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 years ago | (#24711707)

You forgot the perhaps best known example, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.

Stephenson is, alas, no Heinlein.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (1)

fuzzix (700457) | about 6 years ago | (#24712141)

You forgot the perhaps best known example, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.

GP did link A Clockwork Orange... I reckon that's better known.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 years ago | (#24712647)

GP did link A Clockwork Orange... I reckon that's better known.

As a movie, probably. I bet fewer people can't tell who wrote "A Clockwork Orange" than those who remember the author of TANSTAAFL.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (1)

gzunk (242371) | about 6 years ago | (#24713743)

Anthony Burgess. Did you actually know? And I suspect that RAH inventing TANSTAAFL is somewhat exagerrated.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (0)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 years ago | (#24714029)

Anthony Burgess. Did you actually know?

I'm a reading man, owning at least ten full book cases, so yes.
I just feel that I'm not representative, and am becoming a relic in a society where people neither have the patience for books, nor the imagination to provide your own special effects in your mind.

I think that more often than not these days, if people read a book it's because they've seen a filmatisation. Lord of the Rings is a prime example, plus tonnes of Philip K. Dick:

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" -> "Blade Runner"
"Second Variety" -> "Screamers"
"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" -> "Total Recall"
"The Golden Man" -> "Next"

Re:Plain old English anyone? (1)

againjj (1132651) | about 6 years ago | (#24712961)

Actually, I would say that 1984 is a much better known example.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 years ago | (#24713687)

Indeed. But I uncourage that many people think 1984 is about John Hurt having sex crimes with Annie Lennox.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24713117)

Stephenson is, alas, no Heinlein.

I don't see what's alas about it.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24713705)

I don't see what's alas about it.

Well, if he had been Heinlein, he would have been dead...

Re:Plain old English anyone? (1)

Goaway (82658) | about 6 years ago | (#24714353)

Man, the zingers are flying in here!

Re:Plain old English anyone? (3, Funny)

fumblebruschi (831320) | about 6 years ago | (#24713831)

Or to put it another way:

Stephenson is, thank God, no Heinlein.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (2, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#24712029)

For what it's worth, Gene Wolfe didn't make up any of the weird words in The Book of the New Sun. Instead, he trawled through the Oxford English Dictionary and wove his text out of authentic English lexical items that for some reason or another fell out of use. If you are interested, there's an essay entitled, IIRC, "Words Weird and Wonderful" in Wolfe's collection Castle of Days [] /cite, which has plenty of other interesting tidbits about the writing of that science fiction masterpiece.

Bulshytt (1)

twmcneil (942300) | about 6 years ago | (#24712001)

Your use of this "offensive" word has deemed you to be a disagreeable person and as such you should be excluded from polite discourse.

Re:Plain old English anyone? (1)

againjj (1132651) | about 6 years ago | (#24712949)

Bulshytt! New words in books are doubleplusgood!

Hmmm.... (4, Interesting)

Otter (3800) | about 6 years ago | (#24711059)

For people wondering whether this book was going to be breathtaking like Snow Crash or excruciating like the Baroque books -- apparently it's going to be more like Quicksilver-meets-The Silmarillion. I'm thinking this is at best a "Wait to get it from the library" book.

Re:Hmmm.... (2, Interesting)

SputnikPanic (927985) | about 6 years ago | (#24711213)

I've got my hold placed already and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it. I'm re-reading Cryptonomicon right now and I very much hope that Anathem represents a returning to form for Stephenson.

I slogged through most of Quicksilver before a busy time at work gave me the excuse I needed to put the book down. There was some particular quality to the writing in Cryptonomicon -- I can't quite put my finger on it, but it seemed to be missing from Quicksilver. For instance, there's this passage in Crypto that I absolutely loved:

[Shaftoe] gets [Glory] to the apartment, which is usually in a state of hysterical uproar even when the nation is not under military assault by the Empire of Nippon. Despite this, the appearance of Glory, shortly after the outbreak of war, borne in the arms of a United States Marine, is received by the Altamiras in much the same way as if Christ were to materialize in the center of their living room with the Virgin Mary slung over his back.

Nothing in my 500 pages of Quicksilver seemed to sparkle like that.

Re:Hmmm.... (5, Insightful)

samkass (174571) | about 6 years ago | (#24711313)

I read all 3 Baroque books, and I don't know why but I found them immensely entertaining while everyone else I know stopped somewhere in the first book (which in subsequent publications was itself turned into 3 books). They were like a kid's serial novel from the 1800's or something. Like reading an entire narrative based on all the "150 years ago in Scientific American" sections. The only thing that frustrated me about the books at all was not knowing whether I actually knew any accurate history after reading them, since large portions of the events and characters are fiction with enough reality thrown in to make it interesting. (Kind of like some of the Illuminatus Trilogy that way.)

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | about 6 years ago | (#24711433)

Agreed. I loved the Baroque Cycle. I'm hoping that I'll find another 6 months to read through them all again someday.

Re:Hmmm.... (4, Interesting)

radarsat1 (786772) | about 6 years ago | (#24711471)

I felt the same way. I absolutely loved reading the Baroque Cycle books, I couldn't put them down. Now I'm reading that lots of people didn't enjoy them, which is too bad, but I really found them, if not profound, then really fun to read.

Particularly the last book, when he got into the history of economics, which I found both fascinating and entertaining. It felt like I learned a lot, maybe not about factual history, but about the history of how people have thought about things like money and politics, and how this history might have affected how we currently think about these things.

I loved them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24712099)

Wonderful read, and you learn a bit about 18th century french economics to boot!

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

VoidEngineer (633446) | about 6 years ago | (#24712837)

I totally agree. The trilogy really didn't pick up until the second book, and then it got really great. And I too went away wondering if I knew any accurate history after reading them.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

kochsr (144988) | about 6 years ago | (#24713453)

i am reading the baroque cycle right now (in the middle of the confusion) and i am finding it very intruiguing.

Re:Hmmm.... (5, Interesting)

iplayfast (166447) | about 6 years ago | (#24711429)

While I agree that the Baroque Cycle trilogy was a more difficult read then Cryptonomicon I felt that it stood on it's own as a good and accurate historical fiction.

I thought that describing the diseases available at the time was interesting. We get kidney stones, they get bladder stones, which do not pass and will kill you.

The scene where Westinghouse is going through the flea infected rooms during the plague in order to pick up some experiment for Robert Hook was really creepy. (You could hear them ticking off your boots...)

Yes there was more to digest, and didn't have as much action/adventure it did have a fair share.

How about the intelligence test, where they were trying to get through a country. They were taken to the side one by one and shown a gun. If they knew what the gun was, they were immediately drafted into that countries army. If you were intelligent you would feign ignorance and be rejected for use in the armed forces.

There was a lot of good stuff in those books. You just can't read them over a weekend.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | about 6 years ago | (#24711615)

There was a lot of good stuff. Unfortunately, it was intermixed with about 750 pages of completely tedious stuff.

Re:Hmmm.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24711573)

If that's 'sparkling', this man has the Bulwer-Lytton prize in the bag.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

hal9000(jr) (316943) | about 6 years ago | (#24711649)

There was some particular quality to the writing in Cryptonomicon

What worked on Cryptonomicon is that you got to know and feel for the characters. I too slogged through Quicksilver that had all the life of a card board box. I didn't bother with the rest.

I have read most of his other work and Cryptonomicon is his best work.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

maxume (22995) | about 6 years ago | (#24711897)

The next two move along a little faster. A little.

Re:Hmmm.... (4, Insightful)

VoidEngineer (633446) | about 6 years ago | (#24712825)

You didn't get to the Confusion, where Jack sails around the world and gets all the gold. That's the heart of the story and where the plot really starts to pick up and get interesting. The Baroque Cycle is one of those rare trilogies where the second book is probably better than the first. And without doubt, Quicksilver is merely a setup so everybody can get to where they need to be.

You just didn't read enough into it.

p.s. There was soooo much going on in those first 500 pages that you have no idea about because you didn't finish the trilogy. If you get to System of the World, you'll be going back-and-forth between all three books, cross-referencing journal entries and passages, trying to figure out where all the gold is. I won't give spoilers, but there's a lot of hidden information in those first 500 pages, which is part of why it's so dry. Most encrypted messages require some additional material to obfuscate with. :)

That being said, Baroque Cycle is definitely his most sophisticated and challenging read. It may well be his War and Peace.

Re:Hmmm.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24711285)

excruciating like the Baroque books

Interesting.In no way did I find the Baroque Cycle "excruciating". But then, I'm on the far side of 50, and I possess a well-developed attention span. Something sadly lacking in the current generation it seems...IMO, the Baroque Cycle is the best historical fiction written in the last 20 years.

Re:Hmmm.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24711421)

Oh yes, because someone doesn't like something you approve of, he certainly MUST be deficient.

Fuck you.

Btw, I like the Baroque books.

The current generation.

Re:Hmmm.... (2, Interesting)

Maximalist (949682) | about 6 years ago | (#24711323)

Well, I for one happened to like the whole of the Baroque Cycle... but then again I'm from that strangest faction of geeks, the historians of science.

If history of science doesn't do it for you, then I can see not loving the Baroque as much as Crypto, which covers the whole '90s boom startup thing, which may be more familiar to most /. readers.

Re:Hmmm.... (5, Insightful)

red_dragon (1761) | about 6 years ago | (#24711445)

My belief is that Stephenson still hasn't found a way to finish a novel properly, so he keeps writing them longer and longer, trying to find the ending.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

cavehamster (457176) | about 6 years ago | (#24712243)

HAHAHA exactly. Nothing messes up a good 300 page tome like the feeling of a missing last page.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

fuzzix (700457) | about 6 years ago | (#24712273)

My belief is that Stephenson still hasn't found a way to finish a novel properly, so he keeps writing them longer and longer, trying to find the ending.

I don't think Cryptonomicon would have worked if any shorter but then, I preferred the longer version of Stranger In a Strange Land simply because there was more of it...

..but I did once think that about Stephen King's stuff (until I just stopped reading it). Pretty compelling, edge of the seat stuff until the last 30-40 pages where it all winds down with a tedious predictability.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

Buzz_Litebeer (539463) | about 6 years ago | (#24712555)

Actually Anathem has an ending. 3 of them actually!

I know, i know, totally unexpected, but it actually has a real ending.

Of course the FIRST 300 pages of the book are hard to get through but then the story takes off (literally lol) and comes to an interesting conclusion and makes you really think about long term projects.

Re:Hmmm.... (2, Funny)

7Prime (871679) | about 6 years ago | (#24714157)

I get the feeling that, as a small child, Neal Stephenson was once raped by a falling action, and therefor refuses to aknowledge the existance of this litterary device.

Re:Hmmm.... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24711487)

Quicksilver-meets-The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion proved that Tolkien would unforunately never have enough time on earth to record the complete history of his fantastic world. The Baroque Cycle proved that Stephenson unfortunately had plenty of time to record the complete history of his.

Re:Hmmm.... (4, Interesting)

solinari (69433) | about 6 years ago | (#24711647)

I was able to pick up an advanced reader copy and I've already read it cover to cover 3 times. I was asked not to relate any spoilers, so I'll stay away from any specifics. However if you're holding out for a return of Reason or hoping to find thugs with implanted skull guns ... I'm afraid you'll be a little disappointed.

There is a definite break from the action style of the Baroque cycle (which I also enjoyed). While Anathem is quite heavy compared to Stephenson's early works, the areas of hard theory transition smoothly into action and character development (rather than, say, having a chapter break and switching off Waterhouse with Half-@%^* Jack ;))

If I was going to compare it to any of his other books, I think it's the closest a rewrite of the Cryptonomicon with a focus on linguistics and philosophy rather than cryptography. Instead of a dissertation on quantom physics, you may simply find that Raz is both alive and dead ...

Oops, I may have said too much! ;)

So if you are into philosophy or linguistics or you liked Cryptonomicon without being a cryptography geek, you will definitely enjoy Anathem. Oh and don't forget the CD full of monk chants ... I highly recommend having them ripped and ready to queue up for the appropriate spots of the story because you won't want to leave your chair to go find them.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about 6 years ago | (#24711671)

I miss my hometown library so much. They got such huge endowments for acquisitions that they bought multiple copies of almost any author that sold more than 12 copies of anything. They will have these ready to go 3 days after release.

Crap. Of course, they didn't have any money for staff, but that just means we volunteer some, and wait in line a bit.

Re:Hmmm.... (3, Interesting)

ideonode (163753) | about 6 years ago | (#24712585)

I can provide a quick review. I read my copy (a pre-release ARC) a month or two ago.

First things first - the accompanying CD isn't brilliant. If you want some atmospheric music to listen to while reading the book, then get some Gregorian chant.

The book is a departure from both the post-cyberpunk sci-fi of Snow Crash and the historical counter-factuals of the Baroque Cycle. If nothing else, at least Neal Stephenson is keeping fresh in his narrative direction.

I'm not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that my guess is that it will disappoint a lot of geeks. The book is actually very heavily based around philosophical concepts, with not a great deal of action, and technology itself playing an ancilliary role to experiments of the mind.

Does Stephenson end this novel well? Yes, far more cleverly than in previous novels. Note: I didn't say "more satisfactorily". How the narrative strands of the novel tie up at the end is well thought out.

I think it was Umberto Eco who said that the first 100 pages of his novel, The Name of the Rose was a challenge, and only dedicated readers who persevered would be rewarded. I think that this applies equally to Anathem. The comparisons to Eco don't end there - this is very much a novel of ideas. Not all of them original, but certainly originally executed.

  If it were a drink, it'd be a complicated whisky. Not to everyon'e taste, and certainly needing to be appreciated in small doses with adequate contemplation. But ultimately rewarding.

Re:Hmmm.... (1)

Mobkey (1086895) | about 6 years ago | (#24714189)

Ya I just started the second Baroque book and I'm already bored again. I don't know I don't see the point of it. But I'll finish it and the third just because I'm like that. Snow Crash was good, the other ones I don't like nearly as much. So I'm in no hurry to buy this, in hardcover at least.

Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (1, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | about 6 years ago | (#24711079)

Please. Please. Make it stop.

It was a lot of fun in Cryptonomicon.
It was my first clue to not even bother starting to read the Baroque Cycle, and opinion reinforced by pretty much everything I later heard about the books.

Re:Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (5, Insightful)

olclops (591840) | about 6 years ago | (#24711363)

Here's an opinion to add to your dissenting column:

The Baroque Cycle is brilliant. Well worth the read. The philosophical argument that the differences between Leibnitz's worldview and Newton's still infect the discourse of modern american politics and religious thought - that alone is brilliant enough to make it worthwhile. On top of that, it's also damn fun.

Re:Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (1)

argent (18001) | about 6 years ago | (#24711691)

I had to force myself to finish the first volume. It read like a "swiss family robinson" renaissance-punk alternate history, with "Mary Sue" characters that would have seemed unlikely even in 1632 fanfic.

Re:Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (3, Interesting)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | about 6 years ago | (#24711981)

That whole Baroque Cycle thing is extremely strange. Some people really enjoy it and some people really don't, and I can't figure out what makes the difference.

I'm in the "really don't enjoy it" column. I'm a big Stephenson fan. I loved Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, and even Zodiac. I even found a copy of The Big U, although I realized my mistake relatively quickly.

So of course when Quicksilver came out I got a copy immediately, hardcover, and started reading.

Well, it was a real slog. I finished it, but I wasn't real happy with it. I kind of gave up on the rest of the series.

Of course later on I read about how The Confusion was better, so I picked up a copy. Same story. Now I was really discouraged with the whole thing.

But the story had enough grip on me that I couldn't just let it go. So finally, not too long ago, I got a copy of The System of the World out of the library and set about finishing the series.

I got about halfway through that book before I decided that there was absolutely no way I was going to finish, I couldn't possibly care what happened to any of these people, and I was done.

And here we are today.

So I'm cautious about this whole Anathem thing. I really hope it's a return to form, but if it's anything like the Baroque Cycle then I'm going to let it go.

Re:Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (1)

dargaud (518470) | about 6 years ago | (#24712455)

I did like the Baroque cycle a lot, although something escapes me entirely in the dynamics between the 3 main characters. Shaftoe/Eliza relationship is a complex impossible love story, but it makes sense. But I don't understand why those two seem to be friend with Waterhouse the few times they meet him (something like 3 times) while everything should oppose them. And the denouement, albeit satisfying, is... weird.

Re:Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (2, Insightful)

Ra Zen (924419) | about 6 years ago | (#24711419)

Funny, I couldn't get through Snow Crash after trying several times. But the Baroque Cycle is one of favorite series (an experience much enhanced by the language). In any case, whether you like Stephenson's earlier books or his later books, he is inarguably one of the more daring speculative fiction writers out there. If authors don't experiment then literature goes nowhere. I am very much looking forward to this book.

Re:Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 6 years ago | (#24711641)

I read the first two of the Baroque Cycle. The first one was bearable, although way too long-winded. The second one was dreary. The third one was never opened. I'd rather read the European Union's directives on rabbit farming.

Cryptonomicon started out fine, and was at times a hell of a read, but the deus ex machina ending left a lot to be desired. Like a proper ending.

I still prefer The Diamond Age -- despite the also somewhat unsatisfactory ending, at least there are no Waterhouse(brain) and Shaftoe(brawn) personae.

Yes, Shaftoe and Waterhouse must die. And, and I say this with quite some conviction, separately.

Re:Please, no Shaftoe/Waterhouse (1)

dpilot (134227) | about 6 years ago | (#24712713)

Shaftoe and Waterhouse were a lot of fun in Cryptonomicon, and I liked the way they recurred and interacted in the two-era setting. It's just when you put them both in what is temporally, if not thematically, a prequel that I had a problem.

Anathem(a)? (1)

joeflies (529536) | about 6 years ago | (#24711155)

I thought Jake Sisko wrote that.

Re:An(a)them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24711339)

I thought Ayn Rand wrote that.

"Extramuros" (1) (653730) | about 6 years ago | (#24711239)

"Extramuros" is a spanish word, so i guess there's not a lot of "bending" in it...

Re:"Extramuros" (1)

Buzz_Litebeer (539463) | about 6 years ago | (#24711485)

In the book Extramuros means outside of the cloister. Or "concent" as the book describes it.

Dictionary for the lazy (4, Informative)

Spy der Mann (805235) | about 6 years ago | (#24711249)

Here's a textual copy of the PDF.

Anathem: (1) In Proto- Orth, a poetic or musical invocation of Our
Mother Hylaea, which since the time of Adrakhones has been the
climax of the daily liturgy (hence the Fluccish word Anthem meaning
a song of great emotional resonance, esp. one that inspires listeners
to sing along). Note: this sense is archaic, and used only in a
ritual context where it is unlikely to be confused with the much
more commonly used sense 2. (2) In New Orth, an aut by which an
incorrigible fraa or suur is ejected from the math and his or her
work sequestered (hence the Fluccish word Anathema meaning intolerable
statements or ideas). See Throwback.
â"the dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Extramuros: (1) In Old Orth, literally âoeoutside the walls.â Often used
in reference to the walled city- states of that age. (2) In Middle Orth,
the non- mathic world; the turbulent and violent state of aff airs that
prevailed after the Fall of Baz. (3) In Praxic Orth, geo graph i cal regions
or social classes not yet enlightened by the resurgent wisdom
of the mathic world. (4) In New Orth, similar to sense 2 above, but
often used to denote those settlements immediately surrounding
the walls of a math, implying comparative prosperity, stability, etc.
â"the dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Saunt: (1) In New Orth, a term of veneration applied to great thinkers,
almost always posthumously. Note: this word was accepted only
in the Millennial Orth Convox of A.R. 3000. Prior to then it was considered
a misspelling of Savant. In stone, where only upper- case
letters are used, this is rendered SAVANT (or ST. if the stonecarver
is running out of space). During the decline of standards in the decades
that followed the Third Sack, a confusion between the letters
U and V grew commonplace (the âoelazy stonecarver problemâ), and
many began to mistake the word for SAUANT. This soon degenerated
to saunt (now accepted) and even sant (still deprecated). In written
form, St. may be used as an abbreviation for any of these. Within
some traditional orders it is still pronounced âoeSavantâ and obviously
the same is probably true among Millenarians.
â"the dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Bulshytt: (1) In Fluccish of the late Praxic Age and early Reconstitution,
a derogatory term for false speech in general, esp. knowing
and deliberate falsehood or obfuscation. (2) In Orth, a more technical
and clinical term denoting speech (typically but not necessarily
commercial or po liti cal) that employs euphemism, con ve nient
vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges
to create the impression that something has been said. (3)
According to the Knights of Saunt Halikaarn, a radical order of the
2nd Millennium A.R., all speech and writings of the ancient Sphenics;
the Mystagogues of the Old Mathic Age; Praxic Age commercial
and po liti cal institutions; and, since the Reconstitution, anyone
they deemed to have been infected by Procian thinking. Their frequent
and loud use of this word to interrupt lectures, dialogs, private
conversations, etc., exacerbated the divide between Procian
and Halikaarnian orders that characterized the mathic world in
the years leading up to the Third Sack. Shortly before the Third
Sack, all of the Knights of Saunt Halikaarn were Thrown Back, so
little more is known about them (their frequent appearance in
Sæcular entertainments results from confusion between them and
the Incanters).

Usage note: In the mathic world, if the word is suddenly shouted
out in a chalk hall or refectory it brings to mind the events associated
with sense (3) and is therefore to be avoided. Spoken in a moderate
tone of voice, it takes on sense (2), which long ago lost any vulgar
connotations it may once have had. In the Sæculum it is easily confused
with sense (1) and deemed a vulgarity or even an obscenity. It
is inherent in the mentality of extramuros bulshytt- talkers that
they are more prone than anyone else to taking off ense (or pretending
to) when their bulshytt is pointed out to them. This places
the mathic observer in a nearly impossible position. One is forced
either to use this âoeoff ensiveâ word and be deemed a disagreeable
person and as such excluded from polite discourse, or to say the
same thing in a diff erent way, which means becoming a purveyor
of bulshytt oneself and thereby lending strength to what one is trying
to attack. The latter quality probably explains the uncanny
stability and resiliency of bulshytt. Resolving this dilemma is
beyond the scope of this Dictionary and is probably best left to hierarchs
who make it their business to interact with the Sæculum.
â"the dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

to go Hundred: (Derogatory slang) To lose oneâ(TM)s mind, to become
mentally unsound, to stray irredeemably from the path of theorics.
The expression can be traced to the Third Centennial Apert, when
the gates of several Hundreder maths opened to reveal startling outcomes,
e.g.: at Saunt Rambalfâ(TM)s, a mass suicide that had taken place
only moments earlier. At Saunt Terramoreâ(TM)s, nothing at allâ"not
even human remains. At Saunt Byadinâ(TM)s, a previously unheard- of religious
sect calling themselves the Matarrhites (still in existence). At
Saunt Lesperâ(TM)s, no humans, but a previously undiscovered species of
tree- dwelling higher primates. At Saunt Phendraâ(TM)s, a crude nuclear
reactor in a system of subterranean catacombs. These and other mishaps
prompted the creation of the Inquisition and the institution of
hierarchs in their modern forms, including Wardens Regulant with
power to inspect and impose discipline in all maths.
â"the dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Requiem: The aut celebrated to mark the death of an avout.
â"the dictionary, 4th edition, A.R. 3000

Note: I hate slashdot messing around with the extended characters, and I'm too lazy to fix that ****.

Re:Dictionary for the lazy (2, Funny)

hansamurai (907719) | about 6 years ago | (#24711491)

Note: I hate slashdot messing around with the extended characters, and I'm too lazy to fix that ****.

Figured that was a feature of the book.

Advice: Don't Read the Article, Do Read the Book (5, Interesting)

Relic of the Future (118669) | about 6 years ago | (#24711337)

I know it's probably not necessary to say, since "no one RTFA on /.", but advice I share to you from my librarian-girlfriend (who got an advanced copy at the ALA) is DO NOT READ THE GLOSSARY. She says a lot of the enjoyment she got from the book was first encountering the neologisms in context. The glossary is there for reading afterward, or if you really just can't figure out the meaning of something and feel like you're missing out.

(She's done with the book, I plan to pick up her copy soon.)

Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle (1) (1349655) | about 6 years ago | (#24711359)

Seems like a good book. I'll read it.

Hmm... (1)

nog_lorp (896553) | about 6 years ago | (#24711361)

From the reviews, sounds kind of like Foundation.

Re:Hmm... (3, Informative)

city (1189205) | about 6 years ago | (#24711863)

From the reviews, sounds kind of like Foundation.

Foundation? From the amazon reviews it sounds to me much more like A Canticle for Lebowitz.

From the Publisher's Weekly review: "Stephenson conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians, a religious order unto themselves, have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade)."

Re:Hmm... (1)

MoriaOrc (822758) | about 6 years ago | (#24713507)

The general setting described in the first two sentences does sound somewhat similar to the early parts of the Foundation stories: The larger culture is irrational, secluded science types preserving knowledge, surrounding "barbarians" treat them as religious leaders.

Re:Hmm... (1)

steevc (54110) | about 6 years ago | (#24712303)

The bit about 'monks' being shut into chambers that do not open for 10/100/1000 years sounds a bit like something I remember from the Heliconia trilogy (I think) where people went into chambers in a huge wheel and were trapped until it completed a rotation.

I'm looking forward to it. I was one who enjoyed the Baroque Cycle. It was hard work, but rewarding.

Re:Hmm... (1)

dargaud (518470) | about 6 years ago | (#24712529)

Argh, Heliconia... I hate it when they present a book a shitty fantasy as science fiction. Wasted my time and there's only 5 pages out of 2000 that can be called SF in it.

Re:Hmm... (1)

VoidEngineer (633446) | about 6 years ago | (#24712937)

Or Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. Very difficult read, but exceedingly rewarding if you're bookish, academic, and into tabletop role playing games and character design. (i.e. metaphyisics, life history narrative construction, I-Ching, and so forth).

150 pages in...incredible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24711479)

I was lucky enough to come across an advanced copy. The book is incredible. It doesn't take 250 pages to pick up speed, like Cryptonomicon, or 1k like The Baroque Cycle. It immediately captured my attention.

I highly recommend picking a copy up.

50% (2, Insightful)

Evildonald (983517) | about 6 years ago | (#24712039)

Hi.. I'm a Slashdot reader and I either LOVE anything by Neal, or I don't understand what the fuss is about. 50/50 split. I called it.

Who is this guy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24712421)

Who is Neal Stephenson and why should I care about him?

I have this book already... (3, Informative)

the_weasel (323320) | about 6 years ago | (#24712451)

I have a copy of this I picked up about 6 weeks ago at a genre bookstore in Southern California. It is clearly marked as a reviewers copy, and not for sale. I have no idea how it made it onto the shelves for sale.

Fortunately, the person working the desk wasn't really paying attention, and happily sold it to me.

The book even came with a CD containing original chants composed according to the aesthetic and mathematical premises outlines within the novel. A nice touch, and one I am not sure will be present in the final shipping product.

Of course, unless you enjoy gregorian and byzantine chants already, I would skip the CD. (Lovers of ambient music will probably find it interesting as well)

The story is slow to start (not abnormal for a large Stephenson book) and has a few pacing issues. On the whole I found the premise of the monastery a bit contrived, but well constructed. I had less sympathy for the main character than I did for Randy in Cryptonomican, but it's naturally easier for me to connect with a dissatisfied hacker than with an aesthete monk.

If you are a fan of stephenson for the more humerous and modern Snowcrash and Zodiac. This may not be the novel for you. Its a much more serious book, with a deeply philosophical and mathematical bent.

Where Cryptonomican explored mathematics, currency and the defenition of criminal (IMHO), this novel explores seclusion, mathematics and philosphy instead.

Considering how long ago this reviewers copy must have been printed, I am hesitant to talk about pacing problems. I suspect what I have was not a final edit, and much of the story could be improved with intelligent editing.

In short, i enjoyed this book, but i doubt its going to have as broad of an appeal as previous books. I haven't explored the barouque cycle books at all, but I think Anathem might have more in common with them.

Reading this book made me think of Umberto Eco - more cerebral than action, and a bit weak on character development - with lots of clever discussions and wordplay.

Read an early proof (4, Informative)

mad zambian (816201) | about 6 years ago | (#24712485)

I have had been lucky enough to have read a publishers proof of Anathem. And am currently re-reading it. I have read all of his books, from Zodiac to the System of the World. Cryptonomicon being my favourite.
Anathem is different. It is not Snow Crash or Diamond Age, although it does feature some themes from both and explores ideas raised there. It is not historic like The System of the World trilogy.
It is another thick book, some 935 pages including 40-odd pages of glossary, timelines, and math theorems called Calca.
There are new words. Lots of new words. 19 pages of them in the glossary. Initially this got in the way of the story, but once you got used to seeing them, it was fine. Now that I am re-reading it, I am enjoying it rather more.
What it it about? How do you do justice to an almost 1000 page novel in a couple of paragraphs?
Have you heard of the 10,000 year clock project? Anathem is based around the idea that these clocks were built, and run by an order of mathematicians, scientists, historians, philosophers etc with the aim of protecting knowledge whenever civilisation broke down, and have been doing so more or less continuously for several thousand years. The story feature Fraa Erasmas, one of the residents of one of these institutions and his tribulations and adventures when aliens visit the planet.
Do not think of bugeyed aliens in faster than light starships though. This is not that sort of SF. In fact, some of the aliens are from Earth.
Obviously there is much more to it than that, but I am not even going to attempt a précis here.
Buy it. Read it. It is worth it.
For those of you who didn't like the Baroque cycle because you thought it was too long, bad news. Anathem is a long book, and does not rush things. There is a lot of background to set up and explain, being set on another planet and all, but it absolutely is worth it.
Summary. Although a have a proof copy, I will be buying a hardback copy when it comes out next month, and it will go alongside my hardback Baroque Cycle. A worth addition to my library.

Slashdot is full of Ita. Slines with jeejahs are everywhere, unfortunately. Read the book, you will agree with me on this.

Re:Read an early proof (1)

Buzz_Litebeer (539463) | about 6 years ago | (#24712623)

yes but are the ITA bad, i can never really get this. It seems to be a break between Theorists and practical usage of theory.

Other than some of the things the millenarians do, the ITA are just as important of a group as the people in the concents in the book.

Or is it the idea that the ITA don't make new things?

It would be much cooler to be an ITA than an Avout.

But then I think about it, I am a programmer, so I guess that explains things.

Re:Read an early proof (1)

mad zambian (816201) | about 6 years ago | (#24713399)

I don't think the Ita are bad necessarily. They are practical rather than purely theoretical as you say. Although I would suggest that they do make new things, based on the theories of the Avout, but not do any theory. The Avout do the theory, and the Ita implement it. Or that is my take on it. They are an important part of the functioning of the Concents.
Ita are cooler than Avout, I agree, apart from those from the Ringing Vale of course. They have to be the coolest.

Heh. (1)

Renraku (518261) | about 6 years ago | (#24713307)

I've already read the book. Its quite good, starts out a little slow, but I certainly enjoyed it. I would highly recommend it.

Wired article (2, Informative)

glitch23 (557124) | about 6 years ago | (#24713547)

For those who don't get Wired but are interested, in the latest issue of Wired is an article about Stephenson. The online version is here [] . The story of how Anathem came to be is included in the article.

Look on the bright side (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24713837)

It can't possibly be worse than Cryptonomicon. That book was an insult even to the average MS Office user, let alone to anyone with a vague clue about cryptography. I bet Schneier has kicked himself several times for letting Stephenson include his description of the Solitaire cypher in it.

From what I've read here... (1)

Mephistro (1248898) | about 6 years ago | (#24714199)

... this book reminds me of Hermann Hesse's "The Glass Bead Game" ("Das Glasperlenpiel"), an incredibly good book, IMHO. Also with lots of philosophy and deep thought.

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