Anathem Wiki
This page is about the novel by Neal Stephenson. For the rite celebrated by the avout of a concent wherein a fraa or suur is expelled from their company, see anathem.

Anathem is a novel, published in 2008, by Neal Stephenson. It contains the account of Fraa Erasmas of the Concent of Saunt Edhar, who begins the tale as an unassuming avout trying to keep up with his studies, and by the end has traversed continents and seas, faced extraordinary dangers, met unexpected persons, and perhaps even saved the world as he knows it.

The novel was inspired by the real-life Clock of the Long Now, an attempt to build a clock that will function with minimal intervention for 10,000 years. Stephenson has said that when asked to submit ideas for the Clock of the Long Now,

"In my little back-of-the-napkin sketch, I drew a picture showing a clock with concentric walls around it. I proposed that you could have a system of gates where it was open for a while at a certain time of year, or decade, or whatever, when you could go in and out freely. But if you were inside it when the gate closed, you'd be making a commitment to stay in until it opened again. And I talked about clock monks who would tend the clock. I put that idea in cold storage because I was working on the Baroque Cycle. When I recovered, I decided, what the hell, I'm just going to try writing this." [1]

Stephenson describes the underlying subject of the book, t

heories of metaphysics, in the 2012 book "Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writings" , in a chapter entitled "Metaphysics in the Royal Society 1715 - 2010 (2012)".  In it he describes a history of metaphysics. In this chapter he says

To tell the story in chronological order, including all of the requisite details about those who have knowingly or unknowingly echoed Leibniz’s views, would require a substantial book in and of itself, of which the following might serve as a brief sketch or outline."

The outline following this quote is the structure that the plot of Anathem was ultimately hung upon.

Extended summary[]

Part 1: Provener[]

Chapter 1: Extramuros[]

The story takes place on Arbre, a planet similar to Earth, but with the scientific caste segregated inside cloisters called Concents, while the average population lives freely. Fraa Orolo, an avout (monk/scientist) from the Concent of Saunt Edhar, interviews Artisan Flec about the behaviour of people outside the gates. The protagonist of Anathem, Fraa Erasmas, serves amanuensis to this conversation. The discussion shifts towards Speelycaptors (video cameras), and Flec is allowed to record a midday sermon named Provener. Erasmas leaves to wind the clock.

Chapter 2: Cloister[]

Erasmas describes several buildings of the Concent, namely the Scriptiorium, the Old Library and the Cloister. He visits the Cloister garden and meets his friend since childhood, Lio. Lio, long since fascinated with various forms of Vlor (combat), watches two groups of ants battle. Erasmas reminds him that it is Provener, and they both leave.

Chapter 3: Aut[]

Erasmas describes the Mynster, which is a building housing the Concent's clock. The actual clock is located inside the Præsidium, the Mynster's central tower, which also hosts the Primate's compound and compounds of the Warden Regulant and Warden Fendant.

Chapter 4: Saunt[]

Erasmas runs inside the Mynster, describing the interior architecture while doing so. Moving through the Decenarian nave, one of eight naves of the Mynster, he takes up position with his clock winding team, consisting of Lio, Arsibalt, Jesry and himself. The Aut of Provener starts, with the Unarian math responsible for the singing on that day. The vibrations of the chanting get the chain system unstuck, and the team winds up the clock.

Chapter 5: Mystagogue[]

The next day, Orolo interviews Artisan Quin, a replacement of Flec. After the interview, Erasmas questions the point of using an eleven-hundred-year-old questionnaire. Orolo defends it by giving Erasmas a calca (lecture) about the Causal Domain Shear, a hypothetical phenomenon where time runs at a different pace in two locations, with no affected person noticing unless they share information with the other group.

During the interview, Orolo asks Quin about the nature of the current type used for writing. Quin explains that animated Kinagrams have replaced the older, pictorial Logotype, both of which differ from the letter-based Orth that the avout use. Orolo label Kinagrams as bulshytt, a term which offends Artisan Quin. Orolo explains the Orth meaning of bulshytt -- to describe two things differently even though they are the same. The artisan is satisfied with the explanation and the interview continues. Quin mentions his Orth-literate son and asks Orolo whether he wants to move to the Centenarian Math when the next Centenarian Apert takes place. Orolo admits that ambition.

The interview then shifts to criminality and later on to the Warden of Heaven, which is revealed to be a religious person in a position of power in the Saecular World. Quin mentions that the Warden of Heaven claims his affiliation with the Mathic world, which is why Artisan Flec, his follower, wanted to attend the interview. Orolo points out that this claim is almost certainly false, making the Warden of Heaven a charlatan. Erasmas recalls that Flec wished to make a speely of Provener, associating this with Flec's belief in Warden of Heaven. However, it turns out Flec was not allowed to make the video because his speelycaptor was too high-quality. The discussion shifts towards speelycaptors but is quickly ended by Orolo.

Chapter 6: Kefedokhles[]

Chapter 7: Proc[]

Chapter 8: Incanter[]

Part 2: Apert[]

Chapter 9: Ita[]

Chapter 10: Avout[]

Chapter 11: Sline[]

Chapter 12: Newmatter[]

Chapter 13: Liaison[]

Chapter 14: Plane[]

Chapter 15: Bulshytt[]

Part 3: Eliger[]

Chapter 16[]

Part 4: Anathem[]

Chapter 17[]

Chapter 18: Gardan's Steelyard[]

Chapter 19: Calca[]

Chapter 20: To Go Hundred[]

Part 5: Voco[]

Chapter 21: Lineage[]

Chapter 22: Ringing Vale[]

Chapter 23: Big Three[]

Chapter 24: Eleven[]

Chapter 25: Terrible Events=[]

Part 6: Peregrin[]

Chapter 26: Peregrin[]

Chapter 27: Bazian Orthodox[]

Chapter 28: Erasmas[]

Part 7: Feral[]

Chapter 29: Reticulum[]

Chapter 30: Sea of Seas[]

Chapter 31: Allswell[]

Chapter 32: Kelx[]

Chapter 33: Vout[]

Part 8: Orithena[]

Chapter 34[]

Chapter 35: Semantic Faculties[]

Chapter 36: Metekoranes[]

Chapter 37: Sconic[]

Chapter 38: Dialog[]

Part 9: Inbrase[]

Chapter 39: Convox[]

Chapter 40: Tredegarh[]

Part 10: Messal[]

Chapter 41: Lorite[]

Chapter 42: Everything Killer[]

Chapter 43: Sphenics[]

Chapter 44: Rebirth[]

Chapter 45: Syntactic Faculties[]

Part 11: Advent[]

Chapter 46: Teglon[]

Cell 317 arrives at the Caravansery of Elkhazg, which contains a solved Teglon in one of its plazas. Fraa Jad creates a new different solution of the Teglon overnight, to everyone's amazement. Cell 317 are informed about their mission to infiltrate the Daban Urnud, although some details of their infiltration are not revealed to them. They train with new space suits and with the Monyafeek. Jules Verne Durand reveals to Erasmas that the dead Laterran from Orithena was his wife. Erasmas writes a note to Ala, hoping to spend his "fourth life" with her.

Chapter 47: Rod[]

Chapter 48: Causal Domain[]

Chapter 49: Requiem[]

Chapter 50: Harbinger[]

In one of the Narratives, Erasmas and Jad meet Gan Odru, one of the two Urnudian leaders of the Daban Urnud. Odru explains the history of the military title "Gan", including their strife with the other Urnudian leader, the Prags. The current Prag, Prag Eshwar, is behind most actions of the Pedestal.

Part 12: Requiem[]

Chapter 51[]

Chapter 52: Rhetor[]

Part 13: Reconstitution[]

Chapter 53: Upsight[]


  1. "Novelist Neal Stephenson Once Again Proves He's the King of the Worlds" by Steven Levy, Wired, 18Aug2008[1]

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