The Concent of Saunt Edhar

Anathem — Neal Stephenson
Part I 
I know.  I know how very hard it is to get past the first 150 pages of Anathem. All these new words, this new social construct. To be fair to NS, he tells a much better story than he does explaining its machinations.


Disclaimer: I am about to put words in NS’s mouth, figuratively if not literally. I read his forward; I followed some of the descriptions of the bases of the novel.  At first, I didn’t really understand what he was trying to explain. Then I got past the hard part, and it suddenly made sense.


This is a strange and foreign world. Yet, it’s somehow very familiar. The words don’t make sense, but taken in context they are easy to follow. For example: we have cars, sedans, coupes, wagons, vans, SUVs, trucks, coaches, hatchbacks, why not mobes, fetches and drummons? We have cloisters and convents, why not mynsters and concents? and really once you see that a speely-captor is nothing more than an iPad or videocam (and he has the decency to explain how the word speely came to be) and a jeejah is a smart phone (blah-blah would have been a little too easy), the rest is relatively simple.


Listen to the words while you’re reading; read it in context, it will come to you. This is just a dialect of our language. The object is to give you a sense, of the distance, the foreignness of this place and these people. They are not us. But they ARE as human as we are.   Consider this an immersion course in all things Arbre. I believe this is NS’s purpose.  You will, if you are patient, hit the point when it comes together and you are too busy paying attention to what is going on to worry about whether you know your apse from your nave.


The second hang up for many is the math involved.  Let it go.  It doesn’t really matter who is the equivalent of Pythagoras (Adrakhones), or Gauss, Euclid, Poincare or Hilbert. More than likely, you either already know who is who, or it doesn’t much matter. Let the math be a form of religion, follow as much of it as you want and let the rest wash over you. The avout are no different than kids who go to MIT, RPI or Caltech. They are different from the rest of us; they live in their own little world with their own rituals, rites, culture and slang.


This is all about getting your head into a world that is not this world and a culture that is not this culture. But no matter how strange and foreign the circumstances might seem, at the base, things are essentially the same. Math is still math and geometry is still geometry. There is the line, the plane and the circle and all things derive from that. There is addition and subtraction and everything else follows (except maybe imaginary numbers, but I don’t remember them coming up.)


For the avout, the world ends at the walls of the math. There is nothing but the order and the theory. All that is outside (extramuros) is a strange and dangerous thing to be worried over and avoided. Within, there exists all things that make the world make sense. The clock that regulates the day, the week, the year, the century. The proofs that regulate the earth and sky and the stars beyond. All of these things can be made sense of.


That is, until Apert.