So I’ve had this vague desire to read Anathem for a while now but have never got around to it. I liked Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, and Snow Crash but at the end of every one of those I ended up blinking and asking, “Is that it?” Really, it seems like Neal Stephenson just ends his books abruptly, it’s rather jarring. My question, for those who’ve felt the same way, is this: Is Anathem different? Or is it so good that I should read it anyway? Come on, I’d really like to know.
No, it’s not appreciably different. I blinked and said “That’s it?”. Well, not really, since I was ready for it having gotten to the last 10,000 pages without any indication that a big resolution was on the way. Stuff happens, but it’s definitely Stephensonian.
Whether you should read it anyway, well… you liked the other ones, right?
No, he hasn’t learned. The beginning of *Anathem *is incredible and the ending is trite and formulaic.
If abrupt endings frustrate you, don’t ever read anything by David Foster Wallace.
Actually, I think that both *Anathem *and *The Baroque Cycle * have actual endings. I think that Stephenson has learned to write them.
The worst of his novels, in not-ending terms, was Cryptonomicon, as far as I am concerned.
Well, forewarned is forearmed, so thanks folks. I guess I’ll read it anyway, I’ll just keep the ending in mind when I start getting to the last bit.
I thought so to.
But trite and formulaic is sort of the opposite of the usual Stephenson ending, where he just sort of stops telling the story, which is what I think the OP is asking about.
I really liked Anathem, but then I’ve like everything of his I’ve read, endings included. You don’t read Neal Stephenson for the destination, but for the journey.
No he hasn’t. But I don’t think he wants to. Is that his fault or a fault of your expectations? Personally, I find a story that is conveniently wrapped up at the end (like a typical murder mystery) to be trite.
I have been trying to read Quicksilver since October of last year and can’t get more than a few pages. He can’t even begin a story well it seems. I have passed 200 pages and haven’t met the two lead characters yet.
There aren’t two lead characters - there are three. You’ve been reading about the first, Daniel Waterhouse, for most of those 200 pages.
Well, I believe I’ve said that I like his books anyway so his endings aren’t a deal-breaker in themselves, for me they just make a good book somewhat less good. I’ve found that a satisfying ending leaves me thinking about a good story for days after. Immediately after closing the book I usually just sit there and think awhile, then later on I’ll probably look online for book reviews and message board discussions just to see what other people thought of it. But if the ending doesn’t feel like an appropriate cap to the narrative then I’ll almost immediately get started on dinner or do some other chore rather than ruminate on what I’d just read.
Neal Stephenson doesn’t end his stories, because stories never end. He simply stops telling you what happens. After investing a thousand pages into the tale of a character, Stephenson says “well you know what, they’ve heard enough” and shuts the book.
Thats how I think of it anyway.
Anathem had an ending I thought was very nice.
Quicksilver, and the rest of the Baroque Cycle, are better read separately in the 8 novel form than the 3 volume form, it stops disappointment in lack of characters.
I’m actually somewhat surprised. The ending for cryptonomicon seemed perfect to me, and tied together both the present and WWII narratives.
I’m curious, what sort of ending would folks have liked?
The endings, I feel, are abrupt and even feel tacked on, but what really gets me with N.S. is that he “pads” his 800 page “bricks” so heavily. Honestly, 15 paragraphs about how a guy likes to eat his breakfast cereal, how the temp. of the milk has to be hust so, and the volume of the bowl just right, and even his chair at the perfect angle. Really. Just come out and say the character has OCD… I can deal with that kind of stuff… Come on, Neil… Save a forest!
I just sited that as an example, but in Anathem, i recall reading 2.5 page descrition of a junk yard/iron mongrey, just to show that the woman that worked there had cred.
But I do admit to having read and enjoyed his stuff, despite my crits. He could use an editor though…
Wow I’m surprised by the other answers. I’ve only read Anathem, so while I’ve heard of his non-ending reputation, I haven’t experienced it first hand.
It definitely has an ending. The main plotline introduced is resolved. There’s even a bit of epilogue.
Is it trite? Only if a more or less happy ending is automatically a bad thing.
That sequence was hilarious. One of my favorite bits. Books don’t always need to go from plot point A to plot point B in as few words as possible.
He just doesn’t seem arsed about structuring his books particularly tightly. Given his ability to write endless pages of discursive embroidery, some of his books are absolutely all over the shop, structurally.
This sometimes manifests itself in a risible ending (e.g. snow crash, crypto (not IMO, but often heard it said)), other times the ending is fine but there are wildly uneven bits in the middle (diamond age). It’s just who he is as a writer.
I though Anathem was brilliant, but a typically baggy NS book. Ironically, for such a long-winded author who everyone wishes would get to the point more often then he does, it might have been more ‘correct’ to make two books out of it and do the plot justice. I’m not sure if there would be the idea’s and story to sustain this, though. I think the uneven but very engaging standalone work is better than a more meticulous approch over 2 or more books in this instance.
ETA - It is hard to write endings in general, I would say. A really satisfying ending usually indicates a novel that overall is extremely well planned and constructed. This is more the exception than the rule.
I don’t think he’s learned how to write endings; he’s always been capable of doing so. Zodiac, his second book (IIRC) is a good example. What I’ve found disappointing in books like Snow Crash is his desire to wrap up everything in a small number of pages. There’s a vast sprawling set of plots and storylines, and it all comes together with helicopters delivering characters we haven’t seen in a hundred pages so they can get in on the ending.
I don’t find the ending of the Baroque Cycle annoying; I wish there was more about some of the characters, because I find them interesting, and there are things that did not get explained along the way (or at least not explained well enough for my taste), but I didn’t have that sense that he’d tried to wrap it all up in twenty pages.
In the case of Anathem, I found it to be well-written and satisfying, although I’m amazed it was a NYT best-seller - it’s a 1000-page science fiction novel that’s heavy on dense philosophy and metaphysics, for crying out loud. How many of the people who bought it actually got more than a hundred pages into it?
Regarding the description of the steelyard in Anathem - that’s not there to establish the street cred of a character, but to provide information about the setting and give the characters clues they will use later to help figure out how to solve things. And in part to make the appearance of another character not just “and here is another character!” but to introduce him in a way that lets him become part of the story as it evolves.