Well, I’m now about halfway through Neal Stepehenson’s Anathem and, while I’m enjoying it, the going is slow. When I was in graduate school, my 18th century British Lit class had as required reading a 1500 page epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson called Clarissa which recounts the seduction, rape and subsequent suffering of said title character. Correctly suspecting that perhaps not everyone would read it thoroughly, the professor assigned the students sections that we would each summarize and present to the class as we worked through the reading. My section was some 500 pages into the story, and I remember starting my presentation by saying, “I was fortunate to be assigned the part of the book where something actually starts to happen.” Which is sort of how I feel about Anathem about now.
I’m not overly obsessive, let alone concerned, about world-building. I don’t look at the maps, or the etymology of a sword’s name, or get overly concerned about any of that stuff. I don’t get upset if there’s some inconsistency in the imagined world; hell, the real world is inconsistent enough for my taste. I’m more interested in metaphor, or even just whether it’s a good read. In Antathem, Stephenson is poking fun at the world-building fetish (I think) but, at the same time, is a practicing adherent. A dangerous thing for an author known to never hesitate to let the reader just how much he knows.
Certain sections of the book begin with definitions of the Earth-like society’s terms, sociological classifications, and historical events. Here’s Stephenson reading these definitions. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love the book for this alone.