Saturday, October 18, 2008

Itzkoff Sings an Anathem

Well, I definitely can't fault Dave Itzkoff for picking a short book, or an old one, this time -- which I've done for his last few, widely scattered, SF reviews -- since he's just come up for air on the other side of Neal Stephenson's latest bug-crusher, the 960-page Anathem. I haven't read Anathem myself -- Harper apparently decided not to send it to me for review, and getting it from the library would be more trouble than it's worth -- so I won't take issue with any of Itzkoff's pronouncements on the actual book.

And plenty of people have been tentatively saying that Stephenson has inflicted another baggy monster on us -- some have been more pointed in their criticism -- so merely saying that Anathem is not all that good wouldn't be controversial. Though the word is that Stephenson actually managed to write an ending this time, which would be inspiring if true.

Actually, Itzkoff fall smack-dab in the middle of the opinions on Anathem: he thinks it has some good points, but that it is essentially trying to do something non-novelistic and gets carried away in intellectual games at the expense of the core story. Those are Stephenson's great failings, shown over and over again -- he'd much rather intellectually wander off to investigate something cool than to stick to the point at hand -- so I'm inclined to believe Itzkoff.

So no bile this time: Itzkoff did take a whole page of the New York Times Book Review to cover one book, but it's an important book, one of interest to general NYTBR readers as well as those of us in the genre. If he's going to write reviews like this, I could even wish that he'd appear more often than once every four months.

1 comment:

Jo Walton said...

Having read it, I'm inclined to ask "Could Itzkoff pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the sole?"

Yes, it's a plausible review, but it's wrong.

Spoiler -- Itzkoff complains that the world of Anathem is imitative of ours rather than original, whereas if he'd been paying attention he'd have realised that this is because it is a Platonic original of which ours is a copy. There are reasonable things to say against it, but that isn't one of them. I wonder if he even finished it -- it's something you could easily think if you'd only read the beginning, because this is a revelation made about two-thirds of the way through.

Also, it does too have characters.

Also, who doesn't wonder about the inner thoughts of the characters in Plato? In the Symposium at that, sheesh. If he'd said The Laws, which is just Plato ranting, yes, maybe, but The Symposium has a plot and characters and a party and everything. It has Alkibiades coming in drunk in the middle.

I don't think Itzkoff can have read that all the way through either.

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