Saturday Jan 17, 2009

Neal Stephenson's "Anathem"

Finished Neal Stephenson's latest multi-pound work Anathem over the holiday break, and I'm still mulling over bits and pieces. It was that good. My enjoyment of all 900+ pages of the book was enhanced by having read Danny Hillis' Clock of the Long Now and Cory Doctorow's The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away. I think they're both pre-requisite (Hillis gets a mention in the credits, as the clock imagery in Anathem is not only strong and central but is the most reasonable - if sci-fi conducts "reason" - interpretation of Hillis' idea in print).

The questions I find myself coming back to: At what point do science and religion separate themselves, or are forced to be separated? When is sustainability about science and not culture, and if it veers into culture, does it, too, border on religion? Why didn't I pay better attention in astrophysics class when we were discussing potential multi-verses? It was a hard book on which to get started, but after the first 100 pages, I didn't put it down. I've thought (for years) it would be hard to top Cryptonomicon (the "Baroque Cycle" didn't capture me, although I'm about to restart it), but Stephenson raised the bar with his latest. It even has a solid and comforting conclusion, rather than a fade out in words.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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