Set on a planet called Arbe (pronounced "arb"), Anathem documents a civilization split between two cultures: an indulgent Saecular general population (hooked on casinos, shopping in megastores, trashing the environment-sound familiar?) and the super-educated cohort known as the avaunt, or "auts,"
- 1. The planet's name is spelled Arbre.
- 2. They're the avout, not avaunt. It comes from the Latin a- + vovere, to vow. The avout are, literally, those who've vowed to follow the fictional Cartasian discipline.
- 3. No, no, no, an aut in the book is a rite performed by the avout. Why am I huffy about this? Because Stephenson provides a 20-page glossary at the back of the book.
Their society-the "mathic" world-is clustered in walled-off areas known as concents built around giant clocks designed to last for centuries.
- 4. Earth already has a 622 year old clock that still runs in the cathedral at Salisbury, England. The science-fiction clocks on planet Arbre are designed to last for millennia, like Danny Hillis's planned 10,000 Year Clock. Many of the clocks in Anathem are several thousand years old.
[Stephenson's] early books, a satire about big universities and an eco-thriller, were well received but not huge sellers. In search of big sales and big bucks, he collaborated with an uncle on a couple of political potboilers. "We heard that Tom Clancy had made something like $17 million the previous year and thought if we could snag 1 percent of that, we'd still be OK." They didn't come close, and in 1991, Stephenson says, his career "was moving along at low rpms." Then he wrote Snow Crash ...