Sunday, September 28, 2008


I love to read. The trouble, however, for the last few months (years, maybe) has been a lack of free time to fully indulge my love of books. H can tear through them much more quickly than I, and I don't do so well reading one or two pages at a time. But, I have some paternity leave coming up, and although Brynna will make my days unpredictable, I imaging that I'll have at least some time to read. It's a good thing, too, because I've got a tremendous pile of stuff that's come in - some books, but also my usual assortment of magazines: Make:, National Geographic, Wired, IEEE Spectrum, Yankee. Then there are the magazines that H gets or that we get jointly: Kiplinger's, Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, Dartmouth Alumni.

But, before I get to all of those, I'm trying my best to get through a library new release. Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I love Stephenson as an author - his subject material is right up my alley (science, tech, history), and his writing style ranges from airily constructed passages to whole rants of hyperbole that leave one in stitches. This latest opus is a piece of speculative fiction that takes place on an Earth-like world that has a sort of post-technological system of monasteries, one of which the narrator belongs to. The monasteries have massive stores of all knowledge, but largely eschew technology. The monasteries are divided into different sections, where the monks and nuns (fraas and suurs in this book - the book has its own vocabulary) reside for varying periods of time. Some come for day trips of lectures, then there are those who take year-long sabbaticals, then come the ten-year residents, followed by the hundreders and the millennials. During those prescribed periods of time, each section of the monastery is completely cut off from the rest and from the outside world. So, a Tenner will walk through the doors, perhaps as a youth, and live a monastic life of Socratic learning and dialog for the next ten years. When the gates to the ten-year section of the monastery reopen after a decade, they can leave to continue their lives, or stay for another ten year stint. Some migrate from their section to a longer-serving section. For the hundreders and millennials, this can mean they enter the monastery very early in life (the monastery accepts orphaned babies from the surrounding communities), and never actually get out again in their lifetime, unless they happen to live during the turn of a century of millennium. The segregation by time has some meaning - I think it is partly for intellectual hygiene - to keep virus-like theories and ideas from reaching the innermost sanctum of knowledge. Meanwhile, the outside world grows and changes. Nations rise and fall, culture waxes and wanes (mostly wanes), wars come and go, and those on the inside largely ignore and be ignored.

One needn't ask the why or how of this situation - it's a work of fiction, after all. It is an interesting premise from which to begin the story, and 300 pages in, I'm still puzzling bits of it out. The events of the story will not forever be confined to the monastery, certainly, but I'm a long ways from the end.

And therein lies the challenge. I have this book from the library. Being a new release, I only have it for two weeks. I picked it up last Saturday, then had no time all last week to even crack it open. Yesterday and today have allowed me to get some 300 pages in, but the book is over 900. Here's hoping I can get through it before its return date this coming Saturday - it may mean some late nights.

UPDATE 9/30/08 20:30 - Work has kept my progress down to just 50 pages in the last day and a half. But, I did have a laugh with these lines:

But after a while she said, "Do you need transportation? Tools? Stuff?"

"Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs," I said. "We have a protractor."

"Okay, I'll go home and see if I can scrounge up a ruler and a piece of string."

"That'd be great."

I sometimes feel like the one with the protractor.

UPDATE 10/4/08 17:35 - I did, in fact, manage to finish the book last night. So, I was able to return it today, on time.

No comments: