I can't read Neal Stephenson's new novel, Anathem.
I tried. I really did. I got about 150 pages into it before I just had to give up. I'm really disappointed.
Maybe I'm missing something, or I've lost the ability to concentrate. I even tried the trick I developed so I could survive Stephen King's books...skipping every attempt at setting or description, and instead bouncing from plot twist to twist. But doing the same thing in Anathem didn't work. I found its 890 pages effectively unreadable.
Neal Stephenson's brand is incredibly and deservedly cool. He wrote Snowcrash which, along with William Gibson's Neuromancer, pretty much defined cyberpunk fiction. Stephenson's vision was more real to those of us who consider ourselves connoisseurs of the genre.
My personal favorite book of his was the followup, The Diamond Age, which was even more visionary, yet also incredibly well imagined and detailed. In it, he told a story about a world in which people lived in all-encompassing tribes, and enjoyed nanotechnology appliances and ubiquitous access to information.
The Diamond Age anticipated works of fiction in a variety of genres, not to mention real-world trends like the community implications of social media, which I write about in my new book, Branding Only Works on Cattle (and to which Seth Godin pays homage in his upcoming book, Tribes).
Stephenson built an amazing brand, based on brilliant books. And then he set to work squandering it.
His next work, Cryptonomicon, was a big, sprawling mess that told two stories simultaneously, though they were separated by dozens of years and seemed utterly unrelated. I got through it because I held out hope that every next chapter would reveal something, or make something else make sense. I was consistently disappointed, but my love for the prior few books fueled me through Cryptonomicon’s 800+ pages.
He then wrote The Baroque Cycle, which were three books also of 800+ pages each, in which he imagined the late 1600s through the eyes of scientists, politicians, pirates, and commoners all intertwined, again only somewhat, in a loose, seemingly endless adventure. It had the promise of being something sort of steampunkish without being fantastic, by capturing the imagination, desire, and edge-of-the-futureness that people of that time must have felt (legitimately, too, until their present became our past).
I barely got through the Baroque books, because Stephenson exhibited such an incredible eye to scene and detail that it wholly overwhelmed everything else; I couldn't muster the least amount of interest in the characters, or the various plots they followed, as the settings were so fully realized that I was distracted...and exhausted. Reading hundreds of pages left me feeling as though I'd accomplished nothing whatsoever.
Now, with Anathem, he has written another book with more pages in it than I remember reading in the Old Testament.
The plot, the characters, everything is frozen in this glacial progression of detail...pages of it...rendering everything and everyone into a flat, dull narrative. There's nothing to catch the reader's interest, and no payoff for making the effort to wade through, say, an entire page dedicated to the dimensions of a hall, or the give-and-take conversation between two characters who are effectively speaking with the same voice.
I know that Amazon sales are brisk, and the thing will make money for everyone involved. Maybe I'm a dim bulb for not appreciating it.
But I've given up on Stephenson's brand. His next book will have to attract an editor with an appreciation for brevity before he gets my purchase.