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Anathem

At page 660, the thought arises: "Oh, no! Hope he doesn't throw in Quiddich!"

At page 797: "Oh no! He did!"

Harry Potter meets Name of the Rose, spiced with bits of Gödel, Escher, Bach and Shardik. Neal Stephenson's brick-thick 2008 sf novel Anathem is an unfortunate combination of young adult action-adventure, rambling philosophy lecture, cutesy word-play, paranoid conspiracy theory, wink-wink juvenile jokes, and sadly garbled physics. No, quantum computers do not work that way. Nor do orbital dynamics, nuclear weapons, biochemistry, or the Many Worlds interpretation. Too many major technical errors, combined with too many transparent plot devices, distract from good writing.

And Stephenson's good writing can be awesome. Near the middle of Part 2:

He slowed and stopped as we rounded the northeastern limb. "Did you know that we live in a beautiful place?" he asked.

"How could I not know it?" I demanded. "Every day, I go into the Mynster, I see the chancel, we sing the Anathem—"

"Your words say yes, your defensive tone says something else," Orolo said. "You haven't even seen this." And he gestured to the northeast.

The range of mountains leading off in that direction was obscured during winter by clouds and during summer by haze and dust. But we were between summer and winter now. The previous week had been hot, but temperatures had fallen suddenly on the second day of Apert, and we had plumped our bolts up to winter thickness. When I had entered the Præsidium a couple of hours earlier, it had been storming, but as I'd ascended the stair, the roar of the rain and the hail had gradually diminished. By the time I'd found Orolo up top, nothing remained of the storm except for a few wild drops hurtling around on the wind like rocks in space, and a foam of tiny hailstones on the walkway. We were almost in the clouds. The sky had hurled itself against the mountains like a sea attacking a stony headland, and spent its cold energy in half an hour. The clouds were dissolving, yet the sky did not get any brighter, because the sun was going down. But Orolo with his cosmographer's eye had noted on the flank of a mountain a stretched patch that was brighter than the rest. When I first saw what he was pointing at, I guessed that hail had silvered the boughs of trees in some high vale. But as we watched, the color of it warmed. It broadened, brightened, and crept up the mountainside, setting fire to individual trees that had changed color early. It was a ray coming through a gap in the weather far to the west, levering up as the sun sank.

"That is the kind of beauty I was trying to get you to see," Orolo told me. "Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways."

From Fraa Orolo, of all people, this was an astonishingly poetic and sentimental remark. I was so startled that it didn't occur to me to wonder what Orolo was referring to when he spoke of the ugliness.

At least my eyes were open, though, to what he wanted me to see. The light on the mountain became rich in hues of crimson, gold, peach, and salmon. Over the course of a few seconds it washed the walls and towers of the Millenarian math with a glow that if I were a Deolater I'd have called holy and pointed to as proof that there must be a god.

"Beauty pierces through like that ray through the clouds," Orolo continued. "Your eye is drawn to where it touches something that is capable of reflecting it. But your mind knows that the light does not originate from the mountains and the towers. Your mind knows that something is shining in from another world. Don't listen to those who say it's in the eye of the beholder." ...

So lovely, and so true. It makes up for hundreds of pages of incoherent philosophical discourse and flying-around silliness. Well, almost ...

^z - 2015-12-14