Brad Templeton has a long and good analysis (containing spoilers) of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which I read a couple weeks ago and have yet to make up my mind about. On the one hand, it sets up a great world with Concets of Avout who devote themselves to science rather than Praxis, it invents a number of words and does quite a bit of philosophic reasoning on topics Stephenson has explored before, such as multiple universe models. I like the first 200 pages or so really well. Then it becomes a picaresque, and not a good one at that – similar to the tour around the world in the middle book in the Baroque trilogy. Lastly, it becomes a tad puerile, with people flying around in space suits and boarding spaceships.
I love the language that Stephenson creates, and the notion of scientific communities locked in for either 1, 10, 100 or 1000 years (depending on how dangerous their exploits are, it seems) is very interesting. But the plot line could do with some sharpening, and the character descriptions are shallow at best. As is usual with Stephenson, mind you.
So, make up your own mind. I still think Cryptonomicon is Stephenson’s best, but maybe that is just me.
(Minor quibble: I think I found an error, and am enough of a nerd to report it. On page 512-13, we find the sentence "Late yesterday, Yul had shattered the calm by starting the engine of Cord’s fetch, and …." But Cord’s fetch was left on the other side of the pole, wasn’t it (on page 416)? Oh well…..maybe I should update the Anathem Wiki. On the other hand, I have a life.)
Incidentally, Anathem may be the only book published so far that has its own video trailer without first being made into a film. Here it is: