Review: Anathem

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought the chunky paperback version of this book several years ago but then proceeded to get caught up in reading a high number of lower page count books so it started gathering dust on my (literal) TBR shelf. This year I decided it was high time to finally dive into this beast and it was the best reading decision I have made in a long time.

I think the author could easily have broken this up into two or three volumes which would have the dual benefits of not scaring away people with a nearly 1000 page count and also presumably increasing revenue. I admire Stephenson for not going that way, plus I enjoyed the heft of this sucker in my hands every time I picked it up.

Based on the blurb I wasn’t sure if this was actually a fantasy book or not and it actually took me a bit to figure out that it was not. The end of the blurb foreshadowed a bit plot point that came late in the book but I had forgotten about it by the time I got there so no harm, no foul (at least for someone forgetful like me). Between the blurb and the fact that I loved Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (another giant tome) I was confident that I would like this book, in fact it turns out that I love it!

The book did start off a bit slow but that was due to the immense amount of world-building that is necessary to set up the long game here. It was a bit confusing at first also but it wasn’t very difficult to push through as the story plot picked up fairly quickly. I really enjoyed how many concepts had a different name but were very similar (identical in some cases) to Earth concepts.

The characterization was very well done in my opinion. I had trouble keeping some of the names straight at first but that eventually passed. By the end of the book I felt very invested in not only the main characters that had first appeared at the beginning of the book but also other characters who were introduced later.

I realize that this review has been quite vague but I don’t want to risk spoiling a single thing for anyone. While it can take quite a while to push through over 900 pages it will be well worth the time investment by the time you reach the end. Even the three essays at the end were very enjoyable for me (although people who aren’t so into math and such may not appreciate them as much as I did as they are a bit dry).

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