Philosophy. Neal Stephenson asks a lot from readers of his latest thousand-page novel, Anathem. He asks that we adapt to his made-up terminology quickly, and stay with him as he expands our new vocabulary quickly. I expect many readers will tire of this quickly, and become frustrated. The glossary helps. Using that terminology, he creates an Earth-like world he calls Arbre, and proceeds to inhabit that world with groups of people that we must come to know and understand. On top of that, he presents science in ways that will engage some readers, and alienate others. Beyond all that, he has his characters engage in philosophical exercises that keep even the most engaged readers alert in trying to remain focused. The reward for readers who take on this challenge is immersion into a world that stimulates thinking about our human condition and the decisions we make to resolve our frustrations. The vast size of the book allows Stephenson plenty of space in which he can develop characters, which he does well here, and to explore ideas, which he also does with great skill. My understanding evolved as I continued to read, and I came away from Anathem with the pleasure of having conquered a complicated novel and with respect for the author who pulled all the threads together with great skill. Had Stephenson been able to achieve this using three or four hundred fewer pages, I would have added another star or two to my rating.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)