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Stephenson, Neal. Anathem (sic). New York: William Morrow, 2009. Available as an unabridged audiobook download from, narrated by Oliver Wyman, Tavia Gilbert, William Dufris, and Neal Stephenson [1]; two "listenings" to the audiobook are Erlich's primary source here.

Anathem is set in a multiverse on and around the planet Arbre, a close parallel to our Earth in a universe one or two down from ours. Typical of Stephenson, Anathem is emphatically science fiction, looking at Science as an approach to asking questions of the world, a philosophical stance (or set of stances), and a human activity with complex history and politics, and implications — including ethical implications — in its interactions with other aspects of human history and politics. Civilization is quite ancient on Arbre, with a history of strained interaction and conflict between the planet's intellectuals as a class and everyone else. The upshot is that at the time of the action of the story and for millennia previously Arbre's scientifically-minded intellectuals ("avout") are segregated from "Sæcular society" in "concents," which are mostly-godless monastic communities. Within the concents "The avout […] retain extremely limited access to tools and are banned from possessing or operating most advanced technology and are supervised by the Inquisition, which answers to the outside world. The avout are allowed to communicate with people outside the walls of the concent only once every year, decade, century, or millennium, depending on the particular vows they have taken."[2]

This segregation pushes activity within the consents toward the "theoric,"[3] the "sæcular" world toward "praxis," and more specifically technology.[4] Still, on our Earth the Medieval monastary centered itself on time and the canonical Hours, and "The earliest medieval European clockmakers were Christian monks."[5] Decorously, and mildly comically, the first impressive bit of technology we see at the protagonist-narrator's Concent of Saunt Edhar is a clock and the very direct "human/machine interface" of the protagonist and other young men winding, so to speak, a huge and complex clock with a device like a sailing ship's capstan. With the young men and the clock we begin to see bit by bit the three possessions the avout are allowed: a "bolt,"[6] or body covering, a chord[7] to tie the bolt, and a sphere.[8] Such Franciscan-like simplicity, however, incorporates possibly the highest technology achieved on Arbre since they are made of "new matter" from a nearby universe in the multiverse and embody slightly different basic universal constants, giving them powers that are low-key and subtle but still almost magical: the sphere, e.g., can perform such traditional wizardly tricks as to vary in size and produce light — with no naturalistic explanations given beyond their being "new matter." In the course of the action of Anathem, we see people of different philosophies (and different human species) interacting with technologies ranging from mechanical clocks to sophisticated bio-tech to powerful weaponry to interstellar/interdimensional spacecraft of the atomic-fision/Project Orion variety.[9]

Since much of Anathem is formal philosophical/scientific dialogs or discussions of "theorics" and praxis (and mathematics, linguistics, psychology, physics, metaphysics, and cosmology), these interactions are thematically significant and produce critique(s) of science, philosophy, and technology of high sophistication and interest — in a work that is frequently funny and entertaining and formally comic (at least in the primary possible universe). The ending of the book includes a reconciling funeral and peace treaty, and weddings, and looks forward to a second "Reconstitution" which would integrate the avout with the sæcular, theoric with praxis, theory with technology, with the open-ended possibility of a renaissance.

Late in the story, two of the main characters comment on the alien space/interuniverse ship's culture and find it technocratic, with the possibility that the cultures on Arbre may also be tending toward technocracy, a tendency that may be reduced by the end of the action.[10]

Erlich, 14&16/II/16