Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Came out of this one with mixed feelings. Really enjoyed the first third or so of the book, but it turned into a slog about halfway through, when the focus shifted away from the monasteries. Almost broke off reading a couple times after that.

I did learn a few things about writing, though:

  • In a work this long, with this many locations, maps become critical. I got lost in the monastery, I got lost during the overland journey, I got lost in every location despite — or because of? — the descriptions. Even a rudimentary map would have helped anchor me in the world.
  • When introducing a new vocabulary, you need to be doubly-sure the reader understands those terms before they become critical to the plot. There was an entire section (the first voco incident) that had no emotional impact for me because I didn’t know what voco was.
  • Showing a different side of a cliché plot can be enough to make it interesting again. In the regular telling of this story, the avout would be on the sidelines, popping up only when things needed explaining to the other characters. But here they’re the focus, so we see the entire incident from their point of view, making an old plot feel fresh.