Neal Stephenson’s Anathem
A large, thick bubble-wrap-padded envelope arrived for me at the b5media office. As you can see in the photo of the label below, it’s from HarperCollins publishers:
I opened the envelope to my surprise, here’s what was inside:
I was stunned: it’s the much-anticipated Anathem, the upcoming book by
T3H DR4K PR1NC3 0F H4X0R F1C7I0N (that’s “1337-speak” for “the dark prince of hacker fiction”), Neal Stephenson. Stephenson has been rather quiet about this one, saying little about the book beyond this oft-bandied-about hint in Gretta Cook’s LiveJournal:
It’s set on another planet and has aliens and so on. It’s really about Platonic mathematics, but he needed the aliens and space opera-ish elements to spice it up a little bit, just like the pirates kept people engaged in the Baroque books.
The Press Release
Here’s what the press release included with the book has to say:
NEAL STEPHENSON WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS OUT OF TORONTO OCTOBER 30TH
From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle comes a new stand-alone novel that marks a return to science fiction — the very genre that is Neal Stephenson.
Stephenson’s first new novel in four years, Anathem, derails a young monk’s quiet life behind the walls of a 3,400 year-old monastery with a world-wide catastrophe.
Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of the monastery — a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians. There, he and his cohorts are sealed off from the illiterate, irrational and unpredictable “saecular” world, an endless landscape of casinos and mega-stores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change.
Until the day that a higher power, driven by fear, decides it is only these cloistered scholars who have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one by one, Raz and his friends, mentors and teachers are sent forth without warning into the unknown.
Anathem confirms Time magazine’s assessment that “Stephenson has a once-in-a-generation gift: he makes complex ideas clear, and he makes them funny, heartbreaking and thrilling.”
The Soundtrack (or: Hey! I know that guy!)
The book comes with an audio CD, whose “liner notes” are on the very first page of the book:
Here’s what the “liner notes” say:
IOLET :: Music from the world of Anathem
Track 1: Approximating Pi (6:53)
Track 2: Thousander Chant (5:29)
Track 3: Proof Using Finite Projective Geometry (4:04)
Track 4: Cellular Automata (5:29)
Track 5: Quantum Spin Network (5:49)
Track 6: Sixteen Color Prime Generating Automation (11:23)
Track 7: Deriving the Quadratic Equation (4:29)
Jeremy Bornstein – David Krueger
Mark Powell – Adam Steele
David Stutz – Thomas Thompson – James Whetzel
In order to conform to the practices of the avout, this disc contains music composed for and performed by voices alone.
One of the performers’ names jumped at me off the page: David Stutz. I had the pleasure of meeting David first on the Microsoft campus and again at various conferences dedicated to “peer-to-peer” technology. I remember talking not just tech with him, but also about music and our respective arenas musical performance — me with playing with rock bands and as a busker, him with baroque and choral ensembles. A quick check of his personal site confirmed that the David Stutz in the liner notes and the David Stutz I know are one and the same.
Why’d I Get Picked for an Advance Copy?
I suppose that I got the promo package because this blog is on the first page of Google results for the search phrase “Neal Stephenson Toronto”. That’s thanks to my attending his reading back in 2003 and winning a copy of Quicksliver and a chance to hang with him backstage. It’s covered in these three articles:
- Preview: The Clown Prince of Accordion Playing meets The Dark Prince of Hacker Fiction
- Questions and answers with Neal Stephenson
- More notes from the Stephenson Q&A
When Does the Book Come Out?
The publication date is September 13, 2008.
Does the Book Have a Website?
The press release says there’s supposed to be one at anathembook.com, but it doesn’t seem to be set up yet.
Am I Going to Ask to Interview Stephenson?
Interviewing authors isn’t normally my thing, but why not? I’ll let you know what happens.
Anathem and the Long Now: “Neal Stephenson’s new novel, ANATHEM, germinated in 01999 when Danny Hillis asked him and several other contributors to sketch out their ideas of what the Millennium Clock might look like. Stephenson tossed off a quick sketch and promptly forgot about it. Five years later however, when he was between projects, the idea came back to him, and he began to explore the possibility of building a novel around it. ANATHEM is the result, and will be released on September 9th, 02008.”
Anathem’s page on Amazon.com: ” Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent’s walls. Three times during history’s darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside—the Extramuros—for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.
Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent’s gates—at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious “extras” in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn’t seen since he was “collected.” But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.
Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros—a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose—as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world—as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.”
Ask Neal Stephenson questions about Anathem: A Boing Boing article that says: “For a limited time only, fans have the chance to ask Neal Stephenson questions about his upcoming novel ANATHEM (though, of course, he may or may not answer…). Questions and answers will be on an online video that will be released before ANATHEM goes on-sale September 9, 2008.” It links to this blog for Eos Books, the sci-fi imprint of HarperCollins.