Neal Stephenson's new novel, Anathem: sneak peek at glossary

Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle) has a new novel coming out in just a couple weeks -- Anathem. Some of us here at Boing Boing have been following this one with much obsession. Here's a sneak copy of an abridged glossary of neologisms and language-bending goodies from the book. My favorite Stephensonism here is "bulshytt," which doesn't mean exactly what you think it might.

PDF Link to preview glossary for Neal Stephenson's Anathem.


  1. I feel like a dog who’s seen his owner clean up after dinner, put on his jacket, and take the leash down off the hook. Oh boy oh boy oh boy …

  2. Sorry, but it means PRECISELY what I thought it would mean, with all its nuances and applications intact!

    That said, pre-ordering this bad boy!

  3. Just read the amazon link – this looks fantastic! I loved the Baroque Cycle and look forward to seeing the dynasties therein continued. Also loved Leibowitz, so interested to see what references to that classic there are here.

  4. @Esther Sassaman #6:

    Also loved Leibowitz, so interested to see what references to that classic there are here.

    Yeah same here, although it took me 20 years to read that one. For some reason I couldn’t get into it and never made it more than a few pages into it. On the eighth try, I finally just opened it to the middle, started reading until I found something I cared about then was able to restart from the beginning. Worth the wait.

    Anathem == 960 pages. Wowza.

  5. Wow. The glossary makes the prospect of reading this look daunting. That said, I am sure I won’t be able to put it down once my copy arrives.

  6. Should I read the the Baroque Cycle before reading this book? Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon are two of my favorites.

  7. The Baroque Cycle just didn’t do it for me. I am still about 150 pages shy of finishing “The System of the World” and doubt I will take the trek to the end. I can’t believe I read THAT far and didn’t finish, but toward the end I just didn’t give a crap. It’s been close to a year now since I put it away.

    If it’s more of that crew, I might just have to pass. Although I really enjoyed Crypto, Snow Crash, Diamond Age, etc.

  8. This is not actually a glossary excerpt, but some of the epigraphs which precede sections of the book.

  9. If you like Neal Stephenson’s works, you’ll probably like the novels written by his grandfather (Len A. Stephenson) even better. They were marked TOP SECRET by the OSS and have only just recently been declassified.

    Although in my opinion, the novels of Stephenson pere et fils are all derivative of the fantastickal opium dreams committed to vellum by Duke Lane Stephenson, a 17th-century nobleman who was (by an astonishing coincidence) their distant ancestor.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go visit a strange alternate world where I am a person of considerable importance in spite of my nerdy tendencies, there to have emotionally distant but phenomenally skilled sex with a woman much younger than myself.

  10. I read an advance copy of Anathem, and (to answer #9), it is not connected to any previous book.

    My favorite Stephenson books (in order) are Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, and Diamond Age. I’ve read each of them several times. I’d place this below Diamond Age, but well above any of the Baroque Cycle books (which, for me, were a lot of work for little reward).

    Anathem has a coherent plot that first introduces the world and then starts going somewhere, unlike Quicksilver which (it seemed to me) roamed around randomly for the first half. There is still quite a bit of philosophical/mathematical discussion and digression, but it flows better in Anathem, in my opinion, and some of it is relegated to appendices at the end.

    A few of the plot items at the beginning seemed like they were mainly a setup for a joke part way through, but it was a *good* joke.

    In the Baroque Cycle, Stephenson used famous mathematicians and scientists as a basis for characters, but then tweaked details so that you couldn’t be sure of the historical truth of anything you learned from the book, which I found frustrating. Yeah, I know, it’s a novel, not a biography. In Anathem, Stephenson takes mathematical theories and ascribes them to totally fictional characters, which makes sense in the context of the book, and which I found much less irritating.

    Anyway, if you like Stephenson’s writing except for the Baroque Cycle books, you stand a good chance of enjoying Anathem. And if you like everything *including* the Baroque Cycle, pre-order now. At worst, it will help you continue the upper-body workout regimen you got from reading his other books…

  11. I had never read Stephenson until someone mentioned Snow Crash. I have to say that I just couldn’t get through it at all. It was interesting at first but I was disappointed to see obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes in the text and I lost interest as it progressed – it struck me as a good story but terrible writing. It kinda put me off Stephenson’s work.

  12. Having also been lucky enough to get ahold of a pre-release copy, I have a few things to add:

    The jargon is frustrating for the first 20 pages, but stay with it and use the glossary, the payoff is one of Stephenson’s best. I struggled through the Baroque cycle (but finished it), but this is more in the style of Cryptonomicon. I’ll end up buying this again because I had to return the pre-release copy before I could read it again.

    #6 Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no tie-in to the Baroque Cycle in Anathem. Agree with #14 on all counts..

  13. Speaking of “obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes” reminds me of “Cryptonomicon.” I liked the story, but the book had so many mistakes that it was painful and difficult to enjoy. I haven’t picked up another Stephenson book since. Has his publisher started hiring professional proofreaders since then? I was surprised to see that so many other books have come out in the meantime, and I’d love to check them out. But I don’t want to waste my money if they’re all so poorly edited.

  14. #17: There was speculation for a while that the typos in Crytonomicon were actually some kind of code that could be unencrypted by an intelligent reader. Unfortunately, since later editions lost the vast majority of the typos, it seems as if it really was just sloppy, sloppy editing.

  15. I’m re-reading my copy of Cryptonomicon in antisipation of this. Really looking forward to Stephenson’s return to science fiction.

  16. This glossary excerpt has the feel of a Jack Vance footnote, some of which grow to the point that they take over the bulk of the footnoted page and part of the next like some sort of virulent and self-indulgent fungus.

  17. the lines of circles separating each dictionary entry looked like a code to me. but they’re just the same five circles repeated over and over. they’re actual line art in the pdf, not a bitmap image(!)

  18. I quit the Baroque cycle halfway through Quicksilver. But there are images from Snow Crash that will be forever burned on the retina of my imagination (Dog Thing going transonic to LA; the image of the shockwave drawn in vehicle glass along Interstate 10!). And ideas from Cryptonomicon that stay with me; not to mention a fresh appreciation of Capt. Crunch in cold milk!
    So, looking forward to Anathem really bad…

  19. Oh, all the little language-loving parts of my brain are lighting up and clicking happily like clams.

    More than the geometric perfection of the first bite of the first slice of the first watermelon of summer, do I covet this book.

    Stephenson’s obsessive researching skills and fact-weaving ways, when applied to etymology, unsteadies the knees at the thought. For serious.

  20. Vargas @#11: That confirms what I was suspecting from reading the PDF: Whatever else Stephenson intends with this work, there is a parody/homage to Dune in there as well.
    Jackie31337@#8: Daunting is a good word. I sure hope the novel itself has an easier entry point than this. Later comments make it sound a bit easier. I got about 1/2 way through The Confusion before I gave up on the Baroque cycle, mostly because there were too few characters that I still cared about enough to wade through the story-lines related to the others.

  21. I got my hands on an advance copy of this book. It’s definitely good, but it’s written in the first person.

    One of the things I liked most about Stephenson was his tone as a narrator: it always took on the voice of the main character but was sort of dryly humorous as well. That’s lost in this book.

    So is the world-building: in the Diamond Age and Snow Crash, you got to see lots of different aspects of the world. Anathem is about monks who live in cloisters (in which a little less than half of the book occurs) so you don’t get to see much of a world.

    On the other hand, the sheer quantity of mathematical and philosophical ideas is incredible, and the payoff at the end of the book when the plot finally starts to make sense is incredible.

    Also, it doesn’t have the trademark Neal Stephenson abrupt ending: this one actually winds down a little bit and offers some plot resolution.

  22. My favorite Stephenson stories, from most to least: Zodiac, Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Diamond Age, Great Simolean Caper, Interface, Big U, Baroque Cycle. I have yet to read The Cobweb and some of his short stories, but I am eagerly anticipating Anathem’s release…

  23. Mmm I love Stephenson. The first book I read was Snow Crash and then I read Diamond Age, both amazing books. I am looking forward to Anathem, hopefully read by Jonathan Davis again (Snow Crash) since he’s ‘effin amazing.

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