Neal Stephenson's new novel Anathem hits bookstores early next month, and stoking the fires of our anticipation is a meaty article about Stephenson in this month's Wired magazine. Writer Steven "Hackers" Levy profiles the author, who apparently divides his time between writing longhand in his basement, and consulting with Nathan Myhrvold's company Intellectual Ventures, a prototyping think tank and patent farm. It makes sense that the author of a novel about science monks from another planet is both monkish and technical in his personal life. One of the interesting observations that Stephenson makes in the article is that Anathem is in some ways a commentary on the war between religion and science in the United States under George W. Bush. In Anathem, the monkish "avout" remain locked in their cloisters studying science and math for years on end, while the outside world obsesses over evangelical religion and attention-shortening consumer electronics. Writes Levy:
Stephenson sees a parallel to the George W. Bush-era wars between science and religion, made possible because the general population is either indifferent or hostile to extended rational thought. "I could never get that idea, the notion that society in general is becoming aliterate, out of my head," he says. "People who write books, people who work in universities, who work on big projects for a long time, are on a diverging course from the rest of society. Slowly, the two cultures just get further and further apart."
Stephenson also comments on the length of his novel, which at over 900 pages is fairly epic though quite fast-paced:
It's really about the difference between people who can sit down and focus their attention for a long period of time on something complicated in a patient and steady way-versus people who never read anything longer than a sentence or paragraph and who get very impatient if you try to go on at any length.
Like the young avout in their science cloisters, readers of Anathem need to learn reasoning and patience. Though I have to say, having read most of the novel at this point, it's actually pretty zippy and fun. Yes, there are philosophical conversations but they never go on for too long and are often spiced with humor and flirtation. And just when things seem to be quieting down, a very intense or moving scene will suck you back in profoundly. Plus, there are aliens. Novelist Neal Stephenson Once Again Proves That He's King of the Worlds [Wired] Illustration by Nate Van Dyke via Wired.