Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book recommendation that absolutely cannot wait

It's my general impression that most people would find themselves in over their heads if they were to suddenly immerse themselves into technical jargon or details without prior information or detail. Aspects of physics (of orbital and terrestrial nature), calculus, or even philosophy would normally be kind of a turn off for a lot of readers of fiction, who just want it told like it is, with complete layman relatability (or maybe I'm speaking strictly of my own preferences, in which case never mind).

So if you've ever read a Michael Crichton book, like Airframe, Sphere or even Jurassic Park, you can kind of get a sense of just how intricate science fiction can get when the author knows his shit.

Neal Stephenson is just such an author. BUT! Reading Anathem, published this year, those trepidations don't matter. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have an engineering background (ahem), but even a cursory knowledge of math'll do you just fine.

Of course, that's not even the point of reading Anathem. Stripped down to its bare essentials, the story is one which is intimately familiar to pretty much anyone: a gifted, yet wholly normal kind of kid gets entangled in conspiracy upon conspiracy upon more layers of such, in the knowledge that his actions, and the actions of his close friends, will affect the fate of his planet.

The narrative is extremely gripping, and reading the exchanges between characters feels a lot like watching scenes from The Man From Earth, a movie that worked solely on the characters' ability to engage in intelligent, lively conversation, and nothing else. (Side note: if you haven't seen this movie yet, do it do it now!) The subject of the protagonist's thoughts and conversations touch on subjects as diverse as philosphy, metaphysics, dynamics, and calculus. As much as these aspects of the story are strong and capably explained, the emotional aspects are just as resonant. Once you reach the end, you're left with as much a desire to know what comes next as wanting to know more about the world in which the characters inhabit.

This is a good fucking novel. Well worth the 900 pages.

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