Stephenson's Anathem was inspired by Clock of the Long Now

Neal Stephenson's forthcoming novel Anathem was inspired by the amazing Clock of the Long Now, a project to make a clock that runs for 10,000 years. The Long Now foundation is helping to launch the book with a signing in September in San Francisco, and its esteemed board members have been weighing in on the book:
“‘I suffer from attention surplus disorder,’ jokes a character in Anathem. Attention surplus is exactly what Stephenson teaches his readers, in a book so tightly crafted it rewards instant rereading.” - Stewart Brand

“It is a great story, set in an alternative reality where people take long-term thinking seriously.” - Danny Hillis

“Long Now’s 10,000-year clock inspired Neal Stephenson’s new story, Anathem, and now Anathem is inspiring the Long Now. In ten centuries, no one will be sure which came first.” - Kevin Kelly


See also:
Ask Neal Stephenson questions about Anathem
Spooky, wonderful music CD in Neal Stephenson's new novel
Long Now clock souvenir
Unveiling of second Long Now clock in Bay Area: photos


  1. “In ten centuries, no one will be sure which came first.”

    If Neil’s past books are anything to go by, in ten centuries I’ll still be reading it :o)

    I’m looking forward to Anthem, but I wish I had more time to read, or was a much faster reader :o(

  2. Did Neal ever answer the questions about Anthem that were solicited in May? BB doesn’t have a link to the answers….

  3. Having just finished re-reading Snow Crash, I was reminded of how much Stephenson would benefit from the services of a good editor. Cryptonomicon was another stellar example of this. He tells great stories, despite getting bogged down in discussions of Sumerian mythology or some other arcane subject.

  4. That is so strange. I learned about the clock yesterday through, which someone mentioned on slashdot. And I was already very enthusiastic about Anathem. And today this!

  5. I love Stephenson’s digressions on mythology or the history of money or the ideal way to eat Cap’n Crunch. I’d probably still love his books without all that extra stuff, but I would certainly miss it!

  6. Re: Jeff9821 — everyone could use a good editor; there just aren’t any around, since the pay is bad and the skills are rare….hey, that sounds like a job for…crowdsourcing!

    No, I mean it. Why aren’t books edited by crowd sourcing / beta test?

  7. I was hoping to finally get through the Baroque Cycle before Anathem comes out. Looks like that’s not going to happen, so now the question becomes whether or not to stop in the middle of the trilogy to read Anathem.

    Decisions, decisions.

  8. I think books edited by crowdsourcing would be terrible. A novel is not the same thing as a wiki project. It is a personal effort and a good editor is tuned in and doesn’t change the essence of the writing. Group editing would throw that all out the window. Not to mention that 99% of any given crowd is not as smart as Stephenson. I like smart books please. There are already way too many stupid ones out there.

    I love Stephenson’s “digressions”. I love the Baroque Cycle just the way it is. Usually I can blast through a book in so time at all. It was a delight to come back to the same book for a week or two. His style is not spare, his books are filled with goodies, but nutritious goodies. It’s stuff for your brain to chew on.

    I loaned the Baroque Cycle to a friend/roommate and watched in humbled amazement as she polished them off in four days and then came back to me to ask for more!

  9. Crowd-sourcing might actually help Stephenson if it was limited to the final chapter of each novel. But even then it wouldn’t be anything like a good editor.

    I learned my lesson with The Diamond Age – in the last chapter or two, as soon as you sense a godawful pointless and thematically jarring happy ending, put the book down immediately; do not read another word. One of the reasons I loved the Baroque Cycle was that, as a trilogy, the endings of the first two books were really just chapter endings. The inevitable sucky ending didn’t come until the third book.

  10. Um, there’s already a pretty famous book titled Anthem (not that it’s any good), maybe he could have gotten a bit more creative.

  11. @#9: Except the book isn’t titled Anthem. It’s Anathem, bringing to mind both ‘anthem’ and ‘anathema’.

    1. Paul Maurice Martin,

      You’ve been asked before not to include your blog link in your comments. Final warning.

  12. I personally loved the digressions in Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. The problem (and apparent need for an editor) starts with the Baroque Cycle. I’m all for interesting discursive noodlings, but only so long as it’s reasonably obscure (strong crypto, back the mid 90s) or interesting (Sumerian mythology) or described in a new way. (Cap’n crunch, pizza delivery)
    What I got when I opened Quicksilver was lesson after sometimes cheeky but often pompous lesson in Enlightenment history–most of which I was already pretty familiar with.

  13. No one has mentioned that the stars on the front of the book cover resemble an Analemma, which is the path the sun takes throughout the year as seen from a stationary position on earth. In my opinion, it gives the naming of the book more scientific resonance.

  14. Ayn Rand needed a good editor too…. but still an excellent read…

    My initial question still stands, Did Neal ever answer the questions readers submitted?

  15. I had this same discussion on Slashdot when this book was announced.

    Neal seems to have three distinct fanbases:
    1. The ones who never got over Neuromancer and only like the books where he’s channeling Bill Gibson.
    2. The ones who appreciate the convoluted storylines and textured histories of Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle.
    3. The Venn-diagram overlap of the two, which appears to be tiny.

    I’m a #3, but I try not to evangelize.

    What always amuses me is the endless carping over the way he chooses to end his novels. People seem to forget that it’s about the journey, not the destination. If you think you could do a better job, go pick up a Montblanc and get started.

  16. The only thing sucky about Stephenson’s endings are the fact that they end the story. I could have kept reading the Baroque cycle until the plot came several generations hence to Bobby Shaftoe and the beginning of Cryptonomicon. A book about a period of 10,000 years seems just about right. I guess I am a Type 4 (i.e. a Type 3 who likes to evangelize).

  17. MKULTRA @15

    Fair, I was being snarky.

    But hey, I really like his writing; I’ve read almost all his books – I have just taken to skipping the last chapter or two.

    At least he’s not a playwright or a director – it’s fine to put down a novel, very rude and disturbing to walk out of a show…

  18. If you think you could do a better job, go pick up a Montblanc and get started.
    Really? All art criticism is verboten? Thanks for letting us know.

  19. RRSafety 16: I agree that Rand needed a good editor…to reject her pointless drivel!

    As for Stephenson: I read Snow Crash. That was enough. Not reading any more by him.

  20. As for Stephenson: I read Snow Crash. That was enough. Not reading any more by him.

    The storyline of Goto Dengo in Cryptonomicon was really compelling to me. I think a valid way to read that book would be to read just the parts having to do with that character, and only read the rest as your motivation dictates.

    But really, I found the whole thing pretty damn fabulous.

  21. You guys are in for a treat. I’m reading an advanced copy right now and it’s fantastic.

    It’s enormous though – you could rob a bank with this thing, and mine’s not even a hardcover. I groaned when I saw it, just because of the whole I’m Too Famous To Need an Editor phenomena that tends to happen. But actually, about 2/3 through I don’t know what I would cut. It’s all fascinating and terribly funny.

    But I never actually finished the Baroque Cycle (Dropped out about halfway through The Confusion, but I’ve read every other one of his books including Zodiak and The Big U). So take that for what it’s worth.

  22. ”Ayn Rand needed a good editor too…. but still an excellent read…”

    WHAT? She is aynesthesia. Can put you to sleep quicker than a blow to the head.

    Unless the reader is 16 years old.

  23. @#20: No, in no way do I suggest that “all art criticism is verboten.” (sic)

    I do, however, respectfully suggest that an individual may have a better appreciation of the compromises involved in any great work of art if they, themselves have worked in the same medium: you can’t truly grok the Pietà if you’ve never put chisel and rasp to marble.

    Plus, in my own personal opinion, Stephenson’s recent work falls into that special category where anyone criticizing it for any reason it is inherently and instantly revealed to be a flawed, twisted individual of subhuman intellect and taste. :-)

  24. you can’t truly grok the Pietà if you’ve never put chisel and rasp to marble.

    But the opposite is also true. You can become lost in the technique and unable to see the art that would be obvious to the ignorant.

  25. Damn, Antinous, sometimes you say some nicely wise stuff :)
    You did it in a thread the other day too, about pickles;

    Most atheists, like most Christians, aren’t very religious. But the few who are…

    yeh :)

  26. I disagree. In my experience it’s the layman who gets caught up on the techniques involved, completely missing the deeper symbolism.

  27. I read Anathem, and I’d rate it as much better than Quicksilver (which was a serious slog for me), somewhat better than the rest of the Baroque Cycle, but not as good as Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon (his best, in my opinion). Unlike Quicksilver, it has a solid plot for the entire book. There are a bunch of neat ideas, some humor, and interesting characters. It does have many digressions, but manages to maintain momentum toward a reasonably satisfying ending. Overall, I enjoyed it.

  28. I’m glad to hear such positive reviews. I loved Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon, enjoyed Diamond Age, but couldn’t finish Quicksilver and left the rest of the Baroque Cycle alone. It’s good NOT to hear “if the Baroque Cycle froze you out don’t bother”.

  29. I’m another that just finished their advance copy, and it’s like Cryptonomicon with philosophy and theoretical physics. Generalization of course, but don’t want to ruin it for anyone.
    I will say this, it comes with a glossary in the back, and you’ll need it for the first 100 pages, but IT’S WORTH IT :)

    Some great surprises, mind-bending brain food, seemingly random digressions (though some are pulled out and put in the back), and funny too, the humor being the thing I missed most in the Baroque cycle, though the last two books of it redeemed (to some extent) the slog that was quicksilver.

    This is coming from someone who’s read all of Stephenson’s stuff and think’s its all worth reading, though quicksilver was 1000 pages of dry lead-in IMHO ;)

Comments are closed.