Science Fiction Book Review Podcast: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

SFFaudio Online Audio

The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast Check out the latest Science Fiction Book Review Podcast! Sez Luke Burrage:

An epic-length review of an epic-sized novel, Luke tackles Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

And it ends up being a very persuasive review too! I want to give this massive tome a try now.

Luke also has lots some cool things to say about our own SFFaudio Podcast (#44). Thanks a bunch Luke!

Have a listen |MP3| or subscribe to the SFBRP feed:

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #045


The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #045 – Jesse and Scott are joined by the ghost of Xmas future as they talk about audiobooks, video games, audio drama and lots more. Jesse even reveals an earth shattering bit of trivia about Vincent Price (you’ll never guess it) and what he thinks is clearly “the greatest joke ever.”

Talked about on today’s show:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Drood by Dan Simmons, The Terror, James Powell, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Black Whatever by James Powell, Richard Stark, NPR, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (as done in the style of Earnest Hemingway), The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman |READ OUR REVIEW|, Joe Haldeman to be named a Grand Master of Science Fiction, The Best Cigarette by Billy Collins, iTunes U, The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein, Vincent Price, Paul K. Willis (Jesse’s uncle), Rumors And Boarders, Vancouver is the American Science Fiction TV mecca, Arctic exploration, the Northwest Passage, The Illustrated History Of British Columbia by Terry Reksten, Sir Francis Drake‘s secret mission, Queen Elizabeth I, Juan de Fuca, Captain James Cook, Captain George Vancouver, Patrick O’Brian meets Edgar Allan Poe and J.M.W. Turner, Simon Vance, recent arrivals, audio drama, The H.P. Lovecraft Radio Hour Vol. 1,, The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, Dagon, Blackstone Audio, Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold |READ OUR REVIEW|, The Reader’s Chair,, Dean Koontz, Hideaway by Dean Koontz, our DEAN KOONTZ AUTHOR PAGE, Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz, Jay O. Sanders, The Day After Tomorrow, Rogue Berzerker by Fred Saberhagen, The Adventure Of The Metal Murderer, time travel, Sherlock Holmes, Wings Out Of Shadow, DH Audio, Manfred von Richthofen, Hermann Göring, Paul Michael Garcia, Berzerker Fury, Empire Of The East by Fred Saberhagen |READ OUR REVIEW|, Willie Wonka!, Penguin Audio, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Full Cast Audio, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Macmillan Audio, Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card, Shadow Complex, side-scrolling video games, Peter David, the attempt to boycott Orson Scott Card’s video games, casual gamers vs. hard core gamers, Fallout 3, Medal Of Honor, DRM, copyfight, They’re Made Of Meat by Terry Bisson (adapted by FredOSphere), Seeing Ear Theatre, J. Michael Straczynski’s City Of Dreams (available via, Towing Jehovah by James Morrow, Luke Burrage‘s Science Fiction Book Review Podcast (reviewing Anathem by Neal Stephenson), William Dufris, Sci Fi Song’s The Ballad Of Wilson Cole, Mike Resnick’s Starship series, FREE Ringworld by Larry Niven, Grover Gardner IS Tom Parker, New Releases, Audible Frontiers, William Gibson, Burning Chrome, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Jonathan Davis, All Tomorrow’s Parties, The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word For World Is Forest, Book Of The Road, The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag by Robert A. Heinlein , The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham, The Chrysalids, David Weber‘s Honor Harrington series, The Plague Of The Dead by Z.A Recht, a zombie plague that makes people: calm, reasonable, rational and peaceful?, Macmillian Audio, A Deepness In the Sky by Vernor Vinge, the Blake’s 7 Audio Adventures series is now on!, space opera, social Science Fiction, Robin Hood, Babylon 5, Brave New World, 1984, Memoirs From A Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem, Terry Gilliam, Twelve Monkeys, Philip K. Dick, Franz Kafka, Tantor Media, The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin, Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, deep exploration of ideas in fiction, Todd McLaren, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan |READ OUR REVIEW|, the Prometheus Award, libertarianism, Collapse by Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs And Steel, Easter Island, Hawaii, Montana, Greenland, ecosystems, The Teaching Company, World War II: A Military and Social History by Thomas Childers, A Military History of WWII by Trevor Nevitt Dupuy Col. U.S. Army, Ret., Italian Frogmen in WWII, Benito Mussolini.

Vincent Price with Paul K. Willis on the set of The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein

Posted by Jesse Willis

Science Fiction and Politics University Course (has new lectures)

SFFaudio Online Audio

Science Fiction and PoliticsCourtney Brown has added some new classes to his Science Fiction and Politics podcast. Brown is a professor of Political Science at Emory University who posts many of his lectures to his website (he’s actually been podcasting since 2006).

For the first two lectures of the Spring 2009 semester Brown, and class, are talking about Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics. That’s a non-fiction book that bashes the various untestable string theories that physicists have been spinning over the last couple of decades. The second set of two lectures is about a 1991 “feminist science fiction/cyberpunk novel” called He, She And It by Marge Piercy. Next is just one MP3 discussing Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. And the final two have Courtney and class talking about Philip K. Dick’s Ubik. These are the first new lectures from Courtney Brown talking Science Fiction since 2007.

Here are the new lectures that have been added to course’s podcast:

Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics – Part 1 |MP3|
Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics – Part 2 |MP3|
Marge Piercy’s He, She And It – Part 1|MP3|
Marge Piercy’s He, She And It – Part 2 |MP3|
Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age |MP3|
Philip K. Dick’s Ubik – Part 1 |MP3|
Philip K. Dick’s Ubik – Part 2 |MP3|
Podcast feed:

For previous lectures either check out one of our older posts about Brown and his classes, |HERE|, |HERE| and |HERE|, or visit Professor Brown’s website directly |HERE|.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Gresham College: Neal Stephenson – Science Fiction versus Mundane Culture

SFFaudio Online Audio

More on the Audio Vs. Video debate with an ABSOLUTE GEM of a lecture.

Gresham CollegeThe Fork: Science Fiction versus Mundane Culture
By Neal Stephenson
1 |MP3| – Approx. 38 Minutes [LECTURE]
Venue: Gresham College
Recorded: August 5th, 2008
Four professors discuss the origins of science fiction, its overlap with other genres and its developments over more than a century.

And for those who prefer their content video…

I disagree with Stephenson’s labels for 300 and 300 Spartans. I’d classify 300 as lame and 300 Spartans as good. But, Stephenson is right, Hugo Weaving would make a good Vulcan.

[via Adactio]

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Anathem by Neal Stephenson

SFFaudio Review

By Neal Stephenson; Read by Oliver Wyman, Tavia Gilbert, William Dufris, and Neal Stephenson
Audible Download –  32 hours 30 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Published: 2008
Themes: / alien invasion / philosophy / religion / alternate universe

After nearly two weeks of listening to this 2009 Hugo-nominated book during nearly every moment of my free time–getting ready for work in the mornings, sitting on the bus, tossing and turning in bed–I’ve finally finished Neal Stephenson’s latest tale of metaphysical adventure. Does the book measure up to Stephenson’s earlier work? More importantly, is it fun to read?

First, some background: Anathem is set on the planet of Arbre, a world much like, and yet unlike, our own. The tale opens in the year 3690 AR (After the Reconstitution), in the Mathic Consent of Saunt Edhar. Consents are much like the medieval monasteries of our own world, except that instead of contemplating religious matters the Mathic avout research and debate matters of math, science, and philosophy. The tale is told from the perspective of Fraa Erasmas, a young avout who has now lived at the Consent for ten years. A mysterious craft appears in the skies above Arbre, which is the driving force behind the plot, since it excites consequences and conflicts first in the Mathic world and then in the Saecular, or outside, world as well. The craft, it turns out, belongs to an alien race unknown to Arbre, and packs a significant military punch. The inhabitants of Arbre, Mathic and Saecular alike, must decide how to face this threat.

I can’t fully answer the first question, since the only other Stephenson novel I’ve read in full was his cyberpunk effort Snow Crash, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Stylistically speaking, comparing these two novels, though, is like comparing apples and oranges. The prose ofSnow Crash is taut, earthy, and vernacular, while that of Anathem is expansive, meandering, and somewhat more formal. Yet the two books share a tendency to veer into philosophical discourse that usually, but not always, has some relevance to the plot.

As to the second question, I wouldn’t quite characterize Anathem as “fun”. It certainly has many moments of intense action, wry humor, and emotional drama. These moments, however, are interspersed between long stretches of the aforementioned philosophical discourse. So one’s response to the novel largely depends on one’s tolerance for and appreciation of Stephenson’s vast store of scientific and theoretical knowledge. In this respect, as well as in its setting, Anathem resembles Umberto Eco’s equally challenging The Name of the Rose.

Those interested in such things will find here a treasure trove of insights (or “upsights” as they’re called in the world of Arbre) into the nature of reality, consciousness, and the universe. Without giving too much away, I’ll simply hint that the quantum physics principles that play such a large role in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy rear their hydra-heads here as well.

The book isn’t all dialogues and theorums and proofs. Much of Anathem‘s beauty stems from its likable characters. Fraa Erasmas is a young lad possessed of loyalty, imagination, and more heart than seems to be usual in the Mathic community. His best friend Fraa Lio, upon whom he bestows the epithet of “thistlehead”, takes a keen interest in the martial arts techniques, or vlor, of the Consent of the Ringing Veil. The cast of brothers is rounded out by the ambitious yet likable Fraa Jesry and the good-natured portly Fraa Arsibalt. Unlike medieval monastaries, Mathic consents are not segregated, so Erasmas and company are joined in their adventures by the capable but hot-tempered Suur Ala and the mild-mannered Suur Tulia. The real standout characters, though, are the enigmatic Fraa Orolo and Fraa Jad. The former has a fascination with cosmology and also with saecular speelies (read: movies), while the latter is first seen puzzling over a disposable razor from the outside world. Both these old men are reminiscent of Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series in that they combine immense knowledge with eccentricity and childlike curiosity.

For a word nerd like myself, much of the pleasure from reading Anathem is derived from marveling at Stephenson’s ability to construct a linguistically coherent alternate reality that still has resonances in our own world. Take the word saunt, for instance, which denotes a Mathic avout who has made some sort of significant theoretical advance. As the book’s glossary explains, the word is actually a contracted form of the word savant, but also immediately brings to the reader’s mind the real-world word saint. I’m fairly certain that all these subtle layers of meaning were intentionally embedded, and this is just one example of many.

While there are endless avenues of literary, cultural, and philosophical allusions to explore and deep philosophical questions to unravel, I found myself a bit weary as I got to the end of the novel. Though certainly a more-than-capable storyteller, Stephenson seems more interested in advancing his scientific explorations, and overlays the story atop them. This is similar to sme of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, in which the story is made subservient to linguistic aims. I’m not quite sure where I fall on this “story-versus-substance” spectrum, but if I had to choose I think I’d lean towards the “story” direction.

Given its complexity of its language, Anathem poses a real challenge to audiobook producers. Fortunately, the narrators are up to the task. William Dufris performs the bulk of the novel, and he shifts easily from the erudite jargon of the book’s dialogues to its memorable emotional climaxes. Read by a less capable narrator, Anathem might be marketed as a surefire cure for insomnia, but Dufris brings every character to life as if they were in a speely, the Arbre equivalent of film.

Even with the few caveats listed earlier, it’s hard to underplay Neal Stephenson’s immense achievement with Anathem.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Barely Literate (a podcast book club)

SFFaudio Online Audio

Barely LiterateBarely Literate is a new podcast book club discussing novels and books in and outside of the SFF genre. So far it seems like a cross between the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast and The Kick Ass Mystic Ninjas podcast.
Already discussed are:

American Gods by Neil Gaiman |MP3|

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams |MP3|

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson |MP3|

Here’s the podcast feed:

Posted by Jesse Willis