Anathem - Neal Stephenson
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).


There are some books that deserve 6 stars.
For me, Anathem is one.

Anathem won the Locus Sci-Fi award in 2009. There were other books up for the award that year, but nothing worth mentioning in the same breath. The Hugo award went to Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book – which is a wonderfully poignant little story – but to say it’s better than this? Laughable.

I love this book so much that I named one of my cats Erasmas after the hero. (We just call him Razzie unless he gets a full-name telling-off for humping his little brother.)

It’s a story about a tight-knit group of highly academic friends (who happen to be monks who worship maths and science) in a post-post apocalyptic world, being tossed out into the wider, wilder society on a quest to make contact with dimension-hopping aliens. What more could you ask for?

Jason Pettus has done a superb job of explaining quite why this is such a perfectly constructed concept (check it out) so I won’t go into that.

Skimming other reviews I’ve seen that a lot of people got bogged down my the math-love, or found the characters hard to relate to, or straight-up found it dull. I’m flabbergasted at this! Normally I understand that some books just don’t gel with some people, but I refuse to bow down on this one – it’s not the book’s fault, the book is perfect – you people are broken in some deeply intrinsic way!

It’s not just geeky, it’s got a lot of heart and humour too.
How’s this for a quote?
“Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said.
"We have a protractor.”
My personal favourite moment would be the sudden arrival of the martial-arts monks - I haven't grinned that much at a book since the mimes went all kung-fu at the end of The Gone Away World.

I spent the whole read wittering about how much I loved it to the extent that I’d barely sighed my contented little sigh at THE END before my wife snatched the tome from my grip to see what all the fuss was all about.

Somehow I’d never heard of the marvellous Mr Stephenson before I began my Locus Quest – but that was the whole point of the quest! I’d gotten incredibly lazy and wasn’t trying out new authors. This was exactly what I’d been hoping to discover.

It was the third book I read in my Locus Sci-Fi reading list – following Accelerando and Rainbows End – and the first to float my boat to the rafters. 5 stars, no hesitation.

I’ve since read Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Quicksilver and Confusion as part of my quest, with The System of the World still to go before I’m finished. Snow Crash is his only novel not on my reading list and that’s the one I’m most looking forward to at the moment!

I expect I shall read everything he cares to write.
“... when I saw any of those kinds of beauty I knew I was alive, and not just in the sense that when I hit my thumb with a hammer I knew I was alive, but rather in the sense that I was partaking of something--something was passing through me that it was in my nature to be a part of.”