XKCD on Anathem

Today's XKCD is a review, of sorts, of Neal Stephenson's new novel Anathem. Randal seems concerned about the amount of invented vocabulary required for basic comprehension of the story.

While sympathetic to Randal's point, I suspect he hasn't devoted quite enough attention span to get what Stephenson is actually up to in this one. It is the sort of book where putting it down too soon will make it impossible to pick up. Being set in an entirely distinct culture it requires a fair amount of context and vocabulary to keep the alien flavor. Although, if you are well-read in the right topics, a lot of what is said will sound isomorphic to things you already know.

Read in the right frame of mind, it might even teach some hard to explain ideas about the nature of consciousness. There is an interesting riff relating the solving of an abstract problem to the collapsing of a wave function, and a different spin on the many-worlds explanation of quantum mechanics that almost made sense.

As I write this, I've read about 3/4 of Anathem, and it clearly is worth the attention I've paid it.

As proof that XKCD does get it in general, I present the previous comic, which demonstrates the power of a log scale to collapse the entire universe to a comprehensible size...


fraize said...

I've heard the same thing from other happy readers of Anathem. Unfortunately, my experience with Anathem was the same - silly made-up words and flat characters killed my interest quickly. I've got a stack of books all begging for attention, and if you don't grab me in the first 100 pages, you've lost me.

My coworker said, "You've got to give it a good 500 pages or so before it starts to make sense..."

Excuse me, WHAT? I've got to read 500 f**king pages before I'll enjoy this book? What a monstrous waste of time!

-rkb- said...

I think its more that after several hundred pages (but certainly more than 100) you realize that it all does make sense and that the story is going somewhere different than you expect.

You also have to remember that is previous work (the Baroque Cycle) was nearly 3000 pages long (three ca. 1000 page volumes, internally divided into six logical books IIRC) so he has a history of working in the long form.

Chris Owens said...

If your argument is 'this book made me learn new words, therefore it sucks' then I am just not on your side, okay? Go ahead and enjoy your Dan Brown though.