{5/5} “People who couldn’t live without story had been driven into the concents or into jobs like Yul’s. All others had to look somewhere outside of work for a feeling that they were part of a story, which I guessed was why Saeculars were so concerned with sports, and with religion. How else could you see yourself as part of an adventure? Something with a beginning, a middle, and an end? We avout had it ready-made because we were part of this project of learning new things.”

Anathem by Neal Stephenson, published in 2008

On Arbre the mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers live in monastery-like places called maths, which are separate from the rest of society. Depending on which group they’re part of, the doors open for Apert every year, 10 years, 100 years, or 1000 years. During Apert for 10 days the avout can go out into the world and the Saeculars can come into the math. When Erasmus goes out for Apert to find the family he hasn’t seen in 10 years, it’s the start of an adventure that will culminate in him leaving the planet.

Unlike Stephenson’s other novels, this one takes place on another world. The characters are human, though, and Stephenson is often commenting on our own society.

It’s about people who think on a scale of hundreds or thousands of years. It’s about first contact. And it’s about a completely different way of organizing society than we have.

Like Orson Scott Card and Robert J. Sawyer, Stephenson has mastered the art of writing fascinating conversation. There’s lots of action, but large sections contain philosophical and scientific discussions.

The novel is astonishing — you should drop everything and read it right now.

All of Stephenson’s other novels I’ve read are brilliant — Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon. I previously reviewed his book Some Remarks. I intend to read every one of his books.

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