Anathem by Neal Stephenson is surely one of the most difficult novels to describe. When it was first published in 2008, Newport Library originally shelved it in the fiction section with the author’s other works. Later we moved it to Science Fiction: it’s just that hard to categorize.
On the planet Arbre, a cloistered community of philosophers and academics have been granted a ten-day holiday to mingle with the outside world. As much as Erasmas would like to venture beyond the walls and visit with old friends and family, trying to gain access to secret experiments conducted by his mentor Orolo is taking up much of his time. What exactly is Orolo working on and why are the secular powers outside so eager to learn about it? And could it have anything to do with who or what is hovering in the sky above their planet?
What follows is an almost 1000 page adventure that challenges the intellect and dazzles the imagination. If Thomas Mann wrote science fiction, he might have written Anathem. Based on a dizzying variety of theories about mathematics, space travel and cosmology, Anathem constructs a world so engrossing you’ll want to jump right in and explore it yourself. Think of it as a computer game for the mind.
If you’ve ever fantasized about life within a community of intellectually like-minded individuals, like I have, Anathem might just be the next best thing to being there. It was awarded the Locus Prize for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2009. And you can reserve it here.