Set on the planet Arbre, Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel, Anathem, follows the exploits of Erasmus (Raz), the novel’s narrator, after an alien spaceship is discovered in orbit around the planet. In his “Note to the Reader,” Stephenson explains that readers should “know that the scene in which this book is set is not Earth, but a planet called Arbre that is similar to Earth in many ways.”
One of the key differences between Earth and Arbre is the division of the “mathic” and the “Sæcular” world. 3,689 years before the novel begins, the “Terrible Events” happened; these were a worldwide catastrophe that led to the Reconstitution, in which nearly “all learned and literate persons were concentrated together in maths and concents.” These "avout" of the "mathic" world are segregated from the “Sæcular” population of Arbre. Unfortunately, this arrangement has not always been peaceful, and the concents have been raided, or "sacked," three different times. The novel begins roughly seventy years after the “Third Sack,” which was especially brutal and violent.
The avout’s food prevents them from procreating and they take in promising children from the Sæcular world to maintain their population. Raz was one of these children when he entered the mathic world, and though he is nearing adulthood when the novel opens, he is still a “fid,” or a student. Raz’s concent is named after Saunt (short for "savant") Edhar. The Edharians are an unusual chapter of the mathic world because of their belief in the “Hylaean Theoric World,” or the “HTW.” The HTW dates back thousands of years to the story of Cnoüs and his two daughters Hylaea and Deät. Cnoüs had a vision of “another, higher world.” Deät believed that this world was a spiritual heaven “populated by angelic beings and a supreme creator," whereas Hylaea believed that this world was “the pure, eternal, changeless entities, such as geometric shapes, theorems, numbers, etc., that belong to another plane of existence.” Edharians believe that these “Cnoöns” or pure ideas travel from the HTW into the minds, or nerve tissue, of those who study those subjects. However, other avout argue that Edharian belief in the HTW is akin to a religion.
Though few avout are Deolaters, life for avout is a monastic life in many ways. For example, they are allowed few possessions, such as their bolt, chord, and...
(The entire section is 3745 words.)
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