“Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs,” I said. “We have a protractor.”
– Erasmas, Anathem
So, I’ve done a little light reading lately, and finished up Neal Stephenson’s Anathem–in my opinion, his best book thus far. It’s not nearly as slow as the [Baroque Cycle](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Baroque_Cycle_(novel)), nor as “conventional” as Cryptonomicon, yet remains as cripplingly cerebral. It’s just so engrossing, I couldn’t help but voraciously consume the adventures of Erasmas and the very concept of a “Math” in general.
Considering the polarized opinions on Stephenson’s latest work, I kept putting off reading it, afraid it would be another Quicksilver: likable, but meandering and drastically overwritten. It’s like he took philosophy, mixed in concepts of mathematics, optics, physics (quantum and otherwise), and asked what would happen if monasteries were primarily well-established educational sinkholes, and an outside influence inserted some chaos into the system. The result is something truly interesting, and surprising when also contemplating the copious vitriol I’ve seen bandied about: “If I wanted a philosophy textbook in a foreign language, I would have bought one.”
But, I’ve always claimed to be far too engrossed in conceptual ideas, so Anathem seems written specifically for my demographic. To that end, I also picked up Alan Moore’s Watchmen. I’d not heard of it somehow, with my rather myopic comic and manga interests, but figured I’d give it a chance. Well, I believe these two quotes sum up the entire book beautifully.
“Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or Destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us.”
“Both sides realized the suicidal implications of nuclear conflict, yet couldn’t stop racing towards it lest their opponents should overtake them. Afraid of their weapons, afraid of losing them, afraid to blink or turn their backs… Meanwhile, expensive arsenals meant less cash to spend upon their old; their sick and homeless; on their children’s educations.”
Somewhere in there is a nude blue man who exists in all times simultaneously and sees beauty in quarks and gluons–the very nature of the cosmos a cornucopia of limitless splendor–but he’s just a red herring, a foil meant to distract the reader. Dr. Manhattan is the looming Deus Ex Machina, purposefully unused because Watchmen is a human story. Well, it is once you ignore the laughable science-fiction turn the story takes at the end.
So maybe I’ll have to see the movie, just to see what kind of interpretation the director took from the material. Slavish adaptation or not, personal meanings are difficult to disguise, and rarely equivalent. Anyway, back to my stack of books.