A sprawling disquisition on "the higher harmonics of the sloshing" and other "polycosmic theories" that occupy the residents of a distant-future world much like our own.Stephenson (The System of the World, 2004, etc.), an old hand at dystopian visions, offers a world that will be familiar, and welcome, to readers of A Canticle for Leibowitz and Dune - and, for that matter, The Glass Bead Game. The narrator, a youngish acolyte, lives in a monastery-like fortress inhabited by intellectuals in retreat from a gross outer world littered by box stores, developments and discarded military hardware. Saunt Edhar is a place devoted not just to learning, but also to singing, specifically of the "anathem," a portmanteau of anthem and anathema. Polyphony can afford only so much solace against the vulgar world beyond the walls. It's a barbaric place that, to all appearances, is post-postapocalyptic, if not still dumbed-down and reeling from the great period of global warming that followed "the Terrible Events" of a thousand-odd years past. Our hero is set to an epic task, but it's no Tolkienesque battle against orcs and sorcerers; more of the battling is done with words than with swords or their moral equivalents. The hero's quest affords Stephenson the opportunity to engage in some pleasing wordplay a la Riddley Walker, with talk of "late Praxic Age commercial bulshytt" and "Artificial Inanity systems still active in the Rampant Orphan Botnet Ecologies," and the like, and to level barrel on barrel of scattershot against our own time: "In some families, it's not entirely clear how people are related"; "Quasi-literate Saeculars went to stores and bought prefabricated letters, machine-printed on heavy stock with nice pictures, and sent them to each other as emotional gestures"; and much more.Light on adventure, but a logophilic treat for those who like their alternate worlds big, parodic and ironic. (Kirkus Reviews)
Here is another brilliantly original novel from the cult author of "Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon".Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of a 3,400-year-old monastery, a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians. There, he and his cohorts are sealed off from the illiterate, irrational, unpredictable "saecular" world, an endless landscape of casinos and megastores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change. Until the day that a higher power, driven by fear, decides it is only these cloistered scholars who have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one by one, Raz and his friends, mentors, and teachers are summoned forth without warning into the unknown.
Explanation of the novel's title:
An anathem is a mathic ritual (known as an aut) by which one is expelled from the mathic world. The word is a dual derivation of "anthem" and "anathema."