Anathem, Seveneves, Atmosphera Incognita $ The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O (Signed & Numbered Limited Edition) by Neal Stephenson
Anathem, Seveneves, Atmosphera Incognita $ The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson, published by Subterranean Press
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Anathem was first published to near universal acclaim in 2008, and went on to win the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the year. Viewed once again from a decade’s perspective, it’s not hard to understand why. Even by Stephenson’s exacting standards, it remains one of the most rigorous examples of creative world-building the SF field has seen in a good many years
The novel takes place primarily on the planet known Arbre, whose social structure and governing rules were established millennia before by a process called The Reconstitution. The protagonist and narrator is Fraa Erasmus, who is a member of the Avout, intellectuals who live in a cloistered setting, and are severely restricted both in the use of technology and the ability to communicate with the outside—or Saecular—world. When Fraa Erasmus’s mentor, Fraa Orolo, discovers—through the use of proscribed technology—that an alien spaceship is currently orbiting Arbre, everything changes.
First, Fraa Orolo is banished—in a rite known as Anathem—for violating technological restrictions. Later, as the alien threat becomes more imminent, Erasmus and others of the Avout set out after Fraa Orolo, searching for answers. This journey forms the heart of the novel, and it takes them from the wastelands of Arbre through assorted hazards to an encounter with the mysteries of quantum physics, in which multiple parallel realities co-exist. It will lead, in the end, to a second Reconstitution which will permanently alter the nature of life on Arbre.
Challenging, expansive, and always thoroughly absorbing, Anathem shows us a novelist at the very top of his game. At once visionary and viscerally exciting, it offers the kind of complex pleasures that only science fiction—and only Neal Stephenson—can provide.
It begins with the destruction of the moon. In the near future, and for no known reason, the Earth’s moon shatters into seven gigantic pieces. Scientific data indicates that, within two years, debris from this event will enter Earth’s atmosphere, with catastrophic consequences. Oceans will boil away, the atmosphere itself will ignite, and the earth will be rendered uninhabitable for millennia. This is the backdrop against which Neal Stephenson has set one of his most ambitious and visionary fictions: Seveneves. The result is an astonishing portrait of the human future, a future only Neal Stephenson could have imagined.
In the aftermath of the catastrophe, two separate survival plans emerge. Many hope to find refuge in subterranean caverns or in the deepest oceanic trenches. Others look outward for salvation. Under the direction of U.S. president Julia Bliss Flaherty, this latter group prepares to depart the planet and relocate to a “Cloud Ark,” a series of decentralized habitats surrounding the International Space Station. Only 1500 select people will make this transit, which itself is merely the first step in an evolutionary journey that will continue for more than 5000 years.
That journey will encompass personal tragedies, political and social rivalries, and an epic loss of human life.
As always, Stephenson paints on the largest possible canvas. As always, he combines storytelling genius with an astounding mastery of the complex systems—political, philosophical, technological—that shape our common destiny. Like so much of Stephenson’s work, Seveneves is a monumental accomplishment that offers intellectual challenges and sheer narrative excitement in equal measure. It is the work of one of fiction’s modern masters, and it’s going to be around for a very long time to come.