Neal Stephenson first gained wide acclaim for his mind-twisting cyberpunk adventure, Snow Crash. Since then he's tackled an enormous, multi-volume retelling of the 17th and 18th century, a mixture of real and "hidden" history that spreads across dozens of characters and almost as many nations. He's dipped further into the past to look at the history of codes and code breaking, and has given us a vision of a future age where nanotechnology makes almost anything possible -- for those able to afford it. 

After having danced across Earth's history, Anathem gives Stephenson a chance to lim the history of an entirely different world... Or does it. The story begins in the "Mathic world," where gifted children are given the opportunity to spend their lives in constant study, application of logical arguments, and extensions of ancient philosophy. Within convent-like structures, these cloistered philosophers isolate themselves from the corrosive and faddish influences of the outside world. Some of these math-monks have contact with the outside world only once a year, and some venture forth only one day each decade. At the center of the largest structures there are communities that only open once a century -- or even once a millennia. These communities see the outside world only in brief flashes, glimpsing empires that rise and fall while inside the walls the work of math, philosophy, and theoretical science presses on.

  1. It's clear that the world of Anathem has passed through numerous cycles where technical civilization has risen only to collapse again. Do you think any of these past civilizations was ours?
  1. The event that forms the core of the book forces the mathic and outside worlds to work together. Can you detect value added by non-mathic characters in the proposals that are created?
  1. Stephenson spends a long piece of the novel expounding Socratic methods of argument (and alternatives) under a variety of names. Mathematical concepts like tessellation also feature heavily in the character's thinking. Were you able to follow the leaps the characters made given these insights into their thinking?
  1. The doors are open and the mathic world wants you! Will you step inside, and what circle would you like to join?

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat Dec 18, 2010 at 07:30 PM PST.

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