Okay, so I finally finished Anathem. This is a spoiler free review, but assuming comments are at some point made, I cannot guarantee the contents of such.
Stephenson managed to do something well that I don't think he's done before...an ending. This book has a denoument. A good one, IMO. We don't get all the answers, and the world will keep on turning, but the plot concludes and it isn't the usual abrupt stop.
Over all, I enjoyed this. I'm going to have to read it again, because I know I missed things at the front while trying to map Stephenson's insistence on using his own made up words over perfectly serviceable equivalent actual words.
The first third of the book is just getting acquainted with the world. It's complex, has a long history, which we get some random bits of, has some oddly stratified social structures which appear to be logical outcomes of the bits of history we're exposed to, and, overall, consistency with its own internal structures. Stephenson has a huge file full of notes, outlines, and logic trees somewhere just to track the complexity and flow of the world he's built. I'd love to get my digital digits on that.
The writing is engaging and once you learn what words actually mean (Seriously...come on...speely? Call it a monitor or a screen already. Speelycam? Camcorder. Jeejah? Cell phone. Quit screwing with us). As I stated in a previous entry, there are some very good reasons for the made up terminology. There are no direct analogs in reality, and using words that describe sort of related reality and trying to point out the differences would actually have been worse and caused more confusion. The three previous examples however, are where we see the author get needlessly superfluous with this.
The plot, once it gets up and running, doesn't stop. It was a hard read in the beginning, mostly because it's a fairly crunchy book that requires paying attention and thinking about what you're reading and tracking the world building.
Then it starts moving. And it doesn't stop. By the time the plot shifts into high gear, the reader should be more than familiar with the terminology and the world and be ready to move on to the book's main themes. This book reminded me of Cryptonomicon in style and pacing. It's longer, but it's on the same scale. Oh, and unlike Cryptonomicon, it has an ending instead of just a stopping point. You'll get some treatises on quantum theory, which I'm sure are adaptations of the actual thing modified for ease of understanding, as well as to make the world work, instead of the raw calculus dumped into the text of Cryptonomicon. The presentation flows well and is integrated into the way the world works. Yes, it's an infodump on the part of the author, but it's not quite so blatant as raw equations thrown into the text, and it fits the scenes where it happens.
As stated in my previous entry, the world we're on has regional ethnicities and religions, and variations of the religious types within a region, as well as small enclaves of religions from other parts of the world. It's the little things that make a world easier to believe in, and things like that are details that I really enjoy seeing.
I wasn't really up for the complexity and work needed to read Anathem when I first picked it up, so I read Pratchett's Nation after I was about two hundred pages in or so. Oddly enough, it's like Anathem Lite. The books even cover similar themes. Pratchett, as always, delivers a book that's both enjoyable, seemingly fluffy, and if you stop and pay attention, has underlying depth and currents that will make you think or thwim. Pratchett's ability to write in a way that makes me visualize the awesomeness always makes me smile (captain of a wooden sailing ship (small ship of the line) singing madly, lashed to the wheel, as it plows through a jungle on the crest of a tsunami? I SOOOOO want to see that). I highly recommend this. It's a quick read, and it's engaging and fun. If you're familiar with Pterry already, this is not a Discworld novel and has a somewhat different feel about it, but it's still got that style.