Neal Stephenson Returns

It’s out September 9 according to Amazon. I don’t have any other details yet, but I’m digging.

Looks like it’s set sometime in the future. According to,

Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of a 3,400-year-old monastery, a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians. There, he and his cohorts are sealed off from the illiterate, irrational, unpredictable “saecular” world, an endless landscape of casinos and megastores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change. Until the day that a higher power, driven by fear, decides it is only these cloistered scholars who have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one by one, Raz and his friends, mentors, and teachers are summoned forth without warning into the unknown.

Al Billings somehow snagged an advance copy, but doesn’t reveal much except that:

The book came with a CD of music, which I must say was surprising. It says it is “IOLET: Music from the World of Anathem.” There are seven tracks:

  1. Aproximating Pi
  2. Thousander Chant
  3. Proof Using Finite Projective Geometry
  4. Cellular Automata
  5. Quantum Spin Network
  6. Sixteen Color Prime Generating Automation
  7. Deriving the Quadratic Equation

Each of these is between four and eleven and a half minutes long. There is a note with it stating that “In order to conform to the practices of the avout, this disc contains music composed for and performed by voices alone.”

I’ve just listened to several of the songs on this CD and, frankly, this is some weird shit. I say this without reservation. The musical styles are all over the map except that they all only use human voices (and occasionally hands). Some of it is similar to Western, Christian, styles of chanting. Other tracks are more Classical vocal arrangements with singing. The rest of the tracks seem to be heavily influenced by Eastern, Buddhist, styles of chanting, especially Tibetan Buddhism with its use of harmonics and overlaying voices. It varies quite a bit from song to song. Additionally, when there are recognizable words, they are not in English (nor in any language that I recognize). “Celluar Automata” is the weirdest track of this sort with multiple voices weaving in and out, along with some clapping and exclamations in an unknown language. “Thousander Chant” would be at home on some of the collections of Tibetan chanting that I have and whoever is performing it is obviously trained in the throat chanting used by Tibetans and others in Asia.

“Anathem” is apparently a made-up word (like Cryptonomicon) though it reminds one of both anathema and anthem.

Are we finally going to find out once and for all what’s up with Enoch Root? maybe not. According to Gretta Cook, who saw him speak at Google Kirkland,

He’s writing a science fiction novel unrelated to Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle. It’s set on another planet and has aliens and so on. It’s really about Platonic mathematics, but he needed the aliens and space opera-ish elements to spice it up a little bit, just like the pirates kept people engaged in the Baroque books. He’s nearly finished writing it, and if he doesn’t finish by the end of the calendar year he’ll have to give some money back. If everything proceeds according to schedule, it should be available in stores in about a year.

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