I have been a fan of Neal Stephenson’s work for a good while. Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are seminal works of cyber punk literature and Cobweb is a great comedic thriller. Some of the Baroque Cycle left me cold, but I know others who enjoyed them.
Anathem is a very different beast from Stephenson’s previous work. It is founded in the dream of the Stewart Brand’s Long Now Foundation and clocks play a central part of the book. It also deals with the uneasy relationships that academia and the scientific community have with society at large. The book is part mystery, part adventure and an exploration of metaphysics.
In the same way that J. R. R. Tolkein derived Middle Earth from his experience as a scholar of old English, mythology and his catholicism together with his distaste of the industrial age; so Stephenson has created his world of Arbre based on mathematics, philosophy and science with a corresponding distaste for modern consumerism. Anathem duplicates Tolkein’s creation of a complete world and layers of plots with sub-plots. The book takes a while to get into and is not easy reading, but ultimately rewarding to read.