To me, he’s the height of intellectual science fiction, without taking it into the realms of abstraction as achieved by someone like Gibson, or lending it the academic dryness you quite often find, for example, in the fantasy of Tolkien. I mean, who but Stephenson could possibly come up with a way to make quantum mathematics interesting by comparing it to pink farting dragons?
Having said that, Stephenson does take patience. As with nearly all his books, it took me between one hundred to two hundred pages to get gripped, but after that, the next four hundred just fly by!
Anathem follows Erasmas, a young academic living in a sanctuary of learning, closed off from the public except for one day every ten years. He has an idyllic, secluded life, free of concerns until one day his mentor is expelled from the sanctuary and Erasmas and his friends begin to notice strange lights in the sky. Imparting the intricacies quantum mathematics with his usual narrative dexterity, this is a classic science fiction adventure tour de force from Stephenson.
I don’t want to give too much away, because so much of the joy of this book is in the reveals, but please don’t let its length daunt you. A strong recommendation for all science fiction-lovers, though my friends on the outside tell me it doesn’t cross over easily. Bah humbug, I say: everyone should read this book for the mind-expansion benefits, which to me represents the height of Stephenson’s achievements.
Anathem was first published in the UK in 2008 by Atlantic Books. It is available in eBook (£6.99) and Paperback (£9.99) formats from Blackwell’s.